Unlock The Secrets Of Mumbai’s Past With Miss Bombaywalla’s Tours

Ballard Estate
Ballard EstateThe Wall Street Journal

Stop everything. Get up and take a look out of the nearest window. Unless you’re among the lucky few, you’re probably looking out over a sea of concrete and urbanisation. Not a particularly pleasing view but if you look closely, there are secrets to be discovered. Especially in cities like Mumbai which have been standing strong for over a century, there is history to be found in the unlikeliest of places.

For Simin Patel, these hidden histories have become a lifelong fascination. While she was studying for her masters in English Literature she attended a class - Modern South Asian History by Prof Ravi Ahuja - that piqued her interest. She had engaged with themes of post-colonialism, gender, nationalism through interpreting Indian and international fiction but two new books on Bombay by Jim Masselos and Sandip Hazareesingh, that she read for the class, inspired her to focus on colonial Bombay.

She feels that her Parsi heritage played a large role in her interest in the city and the historic structures there. She has studied, lived and worked in some of Bombay’s finest buildings and as the years pass her relationship with the city is constantly evolving. “Now in my middle age (33), I have turned into my mother and my Parsi heritage is best expressed through my exasperation with the city- my impatience with getting a taxi, my concern over sanitation and soong laagech (feeling unclean) using all the shared amenities.” she jokes.

Over the course of her studies for her Doctorate in Philosophy, she had collated a lot of information about Bombay of the 1860’s and wanted to share her findings. With a few college friends from St. Xaviers, she started a blog in 2013 and from there, the journey to becoming Miss. Bombaywalla began. Today one of her favourite pieces she’s created was one about the milestones of the city which was an adventure from start to finish, I spent several Saturday afternoons locating the historic milestones that marked distances in Bombay in the early 1800’s. I was hit by a bike during my explorations, made new friends and wrote the post in a classic 1860’s style.”

Another one of her pet projects is a book on the iconic Irani cafes of the city in collaboration with photographer Hashim Badani for Roli Books. They spent over a year interviewing partners at various establishments and turned up some pretty unusual histories. Unfortunately they’re keeping the details under wraps until nearer the date of publishing, but it promises to be a fascinating read.

Her latest contribution to the city are her curated heritage walks that were launched at the beginning of November. They are a unique look at the everyday sights of the city and the social world within these historical buildings. “We use archival visual sources, quotes from early press reviews and promotional literature published by the establishment to relive the experience of purchasing a ticket from the booking office of the Royal Opera House in 1916.” Simin tells us. This is not your average guided tour, this is a full-blown interactive experience.

For more details about their upcoming tours, check out their Facebook page.

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