This is the story of Mazagon, once an island inhabited by Kolis, Bhandaris and Agris. It remained so under the Portuguese, fetching them the highest revenue among all the islands of Bombay. Falling into British hands through a disputed dowry deed, Mazagon retained its identity as an island for many more years with its own fort, dock, churches and even a gunpowder factory. Then, like the other islands of the archipelago, Mazagon too got merged into a single entity called Bombay. But that did not diminish the importance of this place, which soon became a sought-after suburb of British Bombay, patronised by the rich and famous. They connected up Mazagon to the rest of their Urbs Prima in Indis with tramways and railways, and extensively reclaimed the waterfront to expand the dock and harbour to berth and build sail-ships and steamers that conveyed colonial commerce.
Mazagon, which once upon a time grew mangoes for the Mughals and got attacked by Sidis on their behalf, has a history of its own. It is from here that steamers sailed with cotton and opium; and Eliza, the lover of a romantic novelist eloped with a seafarer. It is here that a hanging garden was built, and an East Indian gaothan came up. It is here that Christian missionaries set up churches, schools and orphanages, and an unlikely nawab built a mosque and a tank. It is here that justice was dispensed for crimes committed in many parts of Bombay. It is here that dockworkers built the only standing Chinese temple in Bombay, and darghas came up for saints who never came here to preach their faith. It is also here that Aga Khan, Rattanbai Jinnah and Meena Kumari were laid to rest.
This book rediscovers the forgotten history of Mazagon and resurrects the identity of Maza Gaon, or ‘My own Village’.
Captain Ramesh Babu, recently retired from Mumbai after serving the Indian Navy and Mazagon Dock, lives in a Kerala village, pursuing his interests in social service, heritage conservation, horticulture and writing. His published works are Calicut Heritage Trails, a guide to the medieval port city, and After You Sir, an anthology of school stories. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.heartandheritage.org.
“I am sure any citizen of Bombay, especially those of my generation, will be most interested in the facts you have told us about in your book.” ~ Zubin Mehta, music director emeritus of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor emeritus of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“My own Mazagon is a Captain’s fascinating voyage of discovery and a thoughtful gift to history lovers.” — Manu Pillai, author and historian