The ‘1860’ etched on the arch at the entrance of Pydhonie police station at Bhuleshwar dispels any theories refuting its claim of being the city’s oldest.
Hand-drawn carts, narrow lanes with old structures, the sounds of adhan (call to prayer) from Hamidiya mosque and songs from the Jain temple across the street surround the police station, reflecting the diverse population of the area.
“Pydhonie jurisdictional area is a commercial area, wherein several wholesale markets, transport companies, steel, grocery, dry fruits, hardware, grain, sugar, oilseeds merchants carry on their business. Though the predominant population of this area comprises Muslims, there are a few pockets like Cheeky Street, Narayan Dhruv Street, Narsi Natha Street and Keshavji Naik Road where there are pockets of Hindus clustered together. Sixty per cent of the business activity in this area is controlled by Hindus. This area has 28 mosques and 39 temples,” reads an unedited excerpt From Volume II, Chapter I of Justice BN Srikrishna Report.
The stone façade with its iron-railing arch balconies on every floor, the iron stairs with ancient grills that cover the sides and teak ceiling provide a glimpse of what the 154-year-old three-storey station may have looked like, despite its current modern interiors. “This is the oldest police station in the city from records,” said city historian Deepak Rao.
Historians also claim that this structure is the oldest state executive office.
Having been built just three years after the first mutiny of 1857 could explain its unique design, said Rao. “Unlike most police stations where the duty room and senior inspector’s room are on the ground floor, at Pydhonie, all offices are on the first floor and above. It was designed in an era where officers were concerned about their safety in a city populated with locals. It is like a fort, such that officers could command the area and have control over who entered the station. Pydhonie station is part of the old Native Quarter,” Rao said.
Maybe it was intuition. More than 100 years later, this police station was where cases related to gang wars, smuggling, drugs and communal tensions were mostly filed. “Dawood aide Rajji (Mehendi), gangster Chhota Ghassu and famous outlaw Shakti Tufani had cases lodged against them. Even Jenna Bai, who used to settle scores between gangsters and was an influential woman among gangs, at times worked as an informer for Pydhonie police,” said a former ACP.
In 1993, Pydhonie police station became the epicentre of the Bombay riots. “According to the police, the first major communal incident occurred in this jurisdiction near Minara Masjid on December 6, 1992,” the Shrikrishna report says. “The first bullet during the riots was fired near the Pydhonie station and the first bus stoning during the riots also happened in this jurisdiction,” said Madhukar Zende, the ACP during the 1993 riots and famous for his arrest of serial killer Charles Sobhraj.
Nevertheless, for Pydhonie police station’s current officers who seem oblivious to its rich history, the ground floor holds an important piece of history. “The ground floor has one of the oldest lock-ups in the city; it was here that freedom fighter Veer Damodar Savarkar was kept after his second arrest,” said S R Bamble, inspector.
The lock-up is a small room with no natural source of light and whose ventilation vents open into other rooms. “Though we don’t have papers to prove it, this is what we have heard from our seniors,” said Dinesh Ahir, senior inspector.
Although historians concede that this could be one of the oldest lock-ups in the city, they refute the Sarvarkar claim. “There is no evidence of this,” said Rao.
Now, this room houses police records and the adjoining rooms with their heavy iron latches house stolen goods as evidence. The Pydhonie police jurisdiction previously had the oldest police chowkie (Null Bazaar) in the city, until recently, when it came under the JJ Marg police station. “Nobody pays much attention to the heritage value of this police station. Only those who want to write books on the city’s heritage care to know. I have pleasant memories of this police station,” said Zende.