Mumbai: A road at the confluence of Nawab and Chinese cultures

While one set of influences relates to its link with Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan, the other has to do with a Chinese community. Local residents talk about how the road has a serenity, quite unlike the cacophony that symbolises several other city roads.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai | Updated: November 7, 2018 8:28:07 pm
Mumbai: A road at the confluence of Nawab & Chinese cultures (Left) The plaque of Nawab Ayaz Ali and the See Yup Koon building. (Express photo)

The Nawab Tank Road near Dockyard Road railway station along the eastern end of the city is the sum of two diverse influences. While one set of influences relates to its link with Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan, the other has to do with a Chinese community. Local residents talk about how the road has a serenity, quite unlike the cacophony that symbolises several other city roads.

Bharat Gothoskar, founder of Khaki Tours that organises heritage walks in the city, said Nawab Ayaz Ali, a distant relative of Tipu Sultan, the 18th Century Mysore ruler, had moved to the city after the Mysore ruler lost the battle of Seringapatnam in 1799, leading to his death. Ali settled down in Mazgaon, one of the first suburbs of colonial Bombay. “During his time in the city, he built two mosques and a graveyard that exist to this day,” Gothoskar says. Historian Rafique Baghdadi says, “A water tank was constructed by him in the area. Today, a small playground has come up in its place.”

A visit to the Eknath Bandal Maidan that now stands in place of the water tank still shows traces of the past. A plaque stands on the ground with the engraving, ‘The Nawab Ayaz Ali Baug’. Further down, it reads, ‘The Nawab Ayaz Ali Baug forms the site of the Public Tank known as Nawab Tank which was reclaimed in the year 1916’. As one walks further down the road away from the P D’Mello road, crossing the Nawab Tank Road Marathi secondary school and picturesque buildings, the road grows quieter.

Just at the turn, one comes across the See Yup Koon building that houses a Chinese temple on the second floor. While the ground and first floors are residential, the second floor hosts a temple that is open for visitors on Sundays. The temple is a shrine of Kwan Kung or the warrior god, who is believed to remove all obstacles. The temple is thronged by devotees and the local Chinese population during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

From the outside, the only thing that indicates the presence of the temple are the red gates. As one steps in, on the mezzanine floor there is a painting of ‘Fuk, Luk and Sau’, the trinity stars, deities representing Prosperity, Authority and Longevity. As one walks up, there is a framed picture of Chinese philosopher Confucius, and then the temple.

Gothoskar says, “During the 19th Century, Chinese families worked in the docks. This particular group of Chinese families called ‘See Yup Koon’ was a community of innkeepers located in south China. After the 1962 war with China some Chinese community members, even those residing in the Shuklaji Street area, left. Today around five to six families reside in the building opposite the temple.”

Kamruddin Shaikh, a tailor who lives some distance from Chinese temple, says the place is busy on Sundays. “The locals have been living here for decades now and communicate with us in flawless Hindi,” Shaikh says. “This is one of the most peaceful areas in the city. While you are in Mumbai, you don’t feel the rush and noise here.”

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