Whiff of freshly factory baked Wibs bread, sight of fresh catch sold by Koli fisherwomen, buildings with Chinese names, details of historical families etched on the walls of a Catholic church, Goan music in the background and elderly Muslim men enjoying a cup of tea at an Irani cafe – all on one stretch. Walking from Dockyard railway station to Mazagaon Pier leaves you stumbling on pieces of history.
The engraving “church 1794” on the outer wall of Our Lady of Rosary church standing across the railway station catches your eye. On further inspection, you find details of the old Portuguese and Goan families that resided in the neighbourhood on each one of the church’s holy water-containing marble holders as well as the donor list on the church wall. “It took as little as Rs 1,000 to be a part of history,” said Rafique Baghdadi, an expert in the city’s heritage.
The Joseph Baptista garden atop the Bhandarwada Hill beside the Dockyard station has a water reservoir constructed by the Bombay municipality in 1884. “When the part of the hill where the Electricity Board now stands was scooped out to make a railway line and a fish marked and cast into the sea, there disappeared along with it an ancient house that had been variously known as the Belvedere of Belvidere, Mazagaon House or the Mark House; the latter name was due to the 18th century practice of white-washing it regularly so that it should be a landmark for vessels making their way into the harbour,” read an excerpt from City of Gold: The Biography of Bombay by Gillian Tindall.
As you walk through the Nawab Tank road adjoining the church and its bylanes, you will discover the site of the original Gloria church (now in Byculla), one of Mumbai’s thinnest buildings, the city’s only Chinese temple and one of the city’s two Goan village clubs.
According to city historian Deepak Rao, the Nawab Tank road was named after Nawab Ayaz Ali, one of the disciples of Tipu Sultan. At the corner of its “Church Street” bylane stands a cross – one from the original Nossa Senhora de Gloria church, taken care of by the de Souza family in 1632.
In the adjoining bylane, nestled between the Koliwadas is a three-storey wooden frame building called See Yup Koon, named after the native village of the Cantonese migrants who came to work at the docks, according to proceedings of a seminar on ‘Foreign migrants to Bombay’ by Dr Teresa Albuquerque in 1996. On this red building’s uppermost floor is the Kwan Tai Shek temple established in 1919 by the sailors, which houses a huge statue of Kwan Tai Kon, a warrior deity, dressed in silk garments. “This (Cantonese) community established a kind of seamen’s club in the vicinity of a Goan ‘kud’ or village club. In those days, it was customary in Bombay for migrants of various communities to have their own exclusive clubs,” wrote Albuquerque.
And true to this, you will discover the still standing kud named “Club of St Anthony Deussua (1880)”, a members-only club for villagers from the Chinchinim village in South Goa, according to Antonio Barretto, its current general secretary. Inside this kud, you will find store rooms filled with metal boxes containing documents and utilities of old members who went sailing and never returned, preserved long after their deaths.
Leaving the Goan music behind, you follow the smell of fresh fish catch to stumble upon one of the city’s thinnest buildings ‘Kodhak Cottage’. According to Baghdadi, the owners were to built a joint house, but after a fight ensued with their neighbours, only a thin sliver of a building could be built and the adjoining building was never built. “The Mazagaon docks influenced the lives of different communities that lived in this neighbourhood, which was in the true sense cosmopolitan,” he added.