Updated: September 21, 2021 4:14:50 pm
More than 125 years ago, the architectural executive engineer to the Bombay Government, John Adams laid down the plans for the police headquarters in the Mumbai city. Located right opposite Crawford Market, work on the Anglo-Gothic building started in 1894 and was completed in 1896.
For Dhanashree Goregaonkar, a 22-year-old restaurateur, the Office of the Commissioner of Police is reminiscent of the work done by her great-great-grandfather, Harishchandra Jagannath Goregaonkar. Harishchandra and his team carried out the actual construction of the office based on Adams’ designs. A plaque inside the commissioner’s office at an ornate staircase, solely used by the Commissioner of Police, attests to this little regarded detail and credits “Harishchundra Juggannath Contractor” for executing the plan. As it turns out, the contractor built more than just this iconic structure; he is connected with the city’s chawls and bungalows, railway lines and police chowkis.
As the surname indicates, Harishchandra was originally from Goregaon. In the 1850s, he shifted to Gamdevi. A road named after him runs close to Kennedy Bridge and on it are two structures that are connected to the Goregaonkar family. One is Harishchandra Smriti, also commonly referred to as the green bungalow, the family home where he lived. Beside it is a taller building, built by his son, solicitor Krishnarao, which served as a studio for later generations. This one has “Goregaoker Bros’ Art Studio” emblazoned on its facade.
Growing up in Harishchandra Smriti, Dhanashree wasn’t always aware of her family’s history. “We have a bust of my great-great-grandfather in our living room and as a child, I thought it was Lokmanya Tilak. I often wondered why we have him in our house. It was only years later that I realised he was our ancestor and that he has contributed a lot to the architecture of Mumbai,” she said.
Much of Harishchandra’s work has come to light in recent years due to the research of city experts, Sandeep Dahisarkar and Mohammed Esa Shaikh. Shaikh, an architect by profession, has highlighted Harishchandra’s contributions in his new project, Contractors of Bombay. A virtual project at the moment, Contractors of Bombay showcases contributions of many native contractors, engineers and architects who worked closely with the Raj to improve the city’s infrastructure. “We mostly see credits to British architects but not native contractors, who were crucial in sourcing material and labour.
Harishchandra was one such person. He started off by making furniture and there is evidence that shows he built police chowkis, such as the one at Null Bazaar, and the annexure of the Nagpada police station. The police commissioner’s office was his first big break, so to say, after which he got more government projects,” Shaikh said. He added that Harishchandra also built the interiors of railway stations and laid the tracks for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR) in Bombay and Bombay, Baroda and Central India (BBCI) Railway.
Dahisarkar, an Indologist and art historian, came across Harischandra in relation to a Ram temple in Oshiwara, the one that lends its name to the railway station, Ram Mandir. The temple was built in 1835, though Dahisarkar said it’s not clear who built it. By the last years of the 19th century, the bubonic plague had the city in its clutches and the temple fell into disuse and disrepair. Dahisarkar’s research shows that the temple was repaired through the efforts of Harishchandra and his brother, Bhikoba. He also initiated a Ram Navami celebration with his own funds.
Harishchandra was remarkable for his scope of work, which ranged from commissioned projects for the British government to housing projects that he personally undertook. Across the city, there are notable chawls that bear the Goregaonkar stamp, such as those in Kalbadevi, Girgaum, Prabhadevi and Dadar. Harishchandra was a landlord and some of these chawls were built on land he owned.
Dahisarkar said, “He was working for the people and building residential structures as much as he was building government offices. Contractors usually only worked with the British but that was not the case with Harishchandra.”
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