Mumbai’s iconic Flora Fountain was renamed in the 1960s as Hutatma Chowk. Carnac Road changed its name to Lokmanya Tilak Marg, Elphinstone Circle was named anew Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Mayo Road as Bhaurao Patil Marg, Queens Road as Maharshi Karve Marg… and this list is long.
Mumbai (or Bombay) had fair share of historians, even in those days too, and as far as my information goes, there was no vociferous volley of protests and chest thumping, protesting the change of colonial names.
Colaba Causeway, another happening place built in 1838 was then packaged with patriotic fervour, renaming it as Shaheed Bhagat Singh Road.
The crescent-shaped arcade is Mumbai’s foremost Art and Cultural District Kala Ghoda, got its name from the Black Horse, a black stone statue of King Edward VII (Prince of Wales) mounted on a horse. The statue was removed from the precinct in 1965 and put inside the Byculla Zoo. Even Prince of Wales Museum in the vicinity, has changed its name as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya! I was rather curious to know, what happened to those magnificently sculptured statues of British Kings, Viceroys and Governors, that stood there on Mumbai roads for more than a century? Someone told me that they were thrown into a Sarkari Godown, and many of them perished forever.A few of them however, found their place, among all other places, inside city’s zoo and natural Museum complex, at Veermata Jijabai Udyan in Byculla!
The lawn inside the Zoo is full of British statues in various shapes and shades of neglect, on one side, the other colonial period stone artefacts on the other and perhaps the third side is taken up by a huge lamp post-fountain that was once a landmark at the junction near Metro Cinema. Inside a wooded lawn tucked away between the Veermata Jijabai Udyan and the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum next door, the yester era statues are piled up in row. Vikas Dilawari, a conservation architect who was involved in the restoration of Mumbai’s past architecture had said: “The damages perpetrated speak in themselves. Lord Cornwallis lost his head while Blaney kept his.” Dr Thomas Blaney was the British philanthropist, who had worked in the city of Mumbai for more than 50 years, ardently taking care of city’s public health. Lord Wellesley, the sixth Governor-General of India is also headless. Statue of Lord Cornwallis is severely damaged. Queen Victoria’s head is intact, but you can discover sign of repairing near the throat. Perhaps it was also saved from being decapitated. Director of Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, however said:“Victoria no longer has a nose. But we’ve restored the statues and maintain them carefully now.”
Conservationists said that much of the damage to the statues occurred during the ‘Samyukta Maharashtra Movement’ in the 1950s. Mihir Bose, the well known cricket and sports writer and correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, London, wrote in his book, “The Magic of Indian Cricket”(2006), about Flora Fountain in the eyes of an old Mumbaikar: “The Centres of the world are well etched in the mind: the New York’s Time Square and the Paris’s Champs Elysee, London’s Piccadilly circus. Even now I feel a curious magic about Mumbai’s Flora Fountain. We called it the heart of the city and so it was”. So, to erase out any Angrez sounding name, they have been morphed in Mumbai with a much Indian sounding name!
Apollo Street is now Bombay Samachar Marg, Apollo Pier Road has changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Marg, Churchgate Street is Veer Nariman Road, Esplanade Road is now P. D’Mello Marg, Home Street is Charanjit Rai Marg, Juhu Lane is C. D. Barfiwala Marg, Meadows Street turned Nagindas Master Marg, Marine Drive as Netaji Subhash Marg, Waterfield Road is Ramchandra K. Patkar Marg…you name it, we have it!
For nearly 150 years, Calcutta was the British Capital in India and the most important city, in British Empire, after London. Obviously it has the fair share of British Heritage buildings, statues, insignias and road names.
After independence, Kolkata also started renaming its roads named earlier, after the British. So, Amherst Street became Raja Rammohan Sarani, Auckland Road turned into Khudiram Bose Road, Brabourne Road became Trailokya Maharaj Road, Camac Street was Abanindranath Sarani, Canning Street as Rashbehari Bose Road, Charnock Place turned Netaji Subhas Road, Clive Row as Dr Rajendra Prasad Sarani, Cornwallis Street became Bidhan Sarani, Harrington Street turned Ho-Chi-Min Sarani, Harrison Road became Mahatma Gandhi Road, Hasting Street as Kiran Shankar Roy Street, Lansdown Road became Sarat Bose Road, Lindsay Street turned Neli Sengupta Sarani. Princep Street became Biplobi Anukul Chandra Street. So on and so forth.
Mind it, James Princep was the known ideologist, who is also the founder of Bengal Asiatic Society. The nineteenth century Bengalis has named a Calcutta Ghat, after him, in their indebtness to his role in rediscovering ancient Indian languages and literature.
A substantial blow came when the United Front Government in Bengal which renamed the iconic Monument at the Maidan in Kolkata as Shahid Minar, also became hyperactive in the late 1960s and decided to rip up all the 37 statues of King, Queen, English Lords, Viceroys, Governors, Statesmen and noblemen spotted all across the vast great span of green space called Maidan in the heart of the city. To get rid of symbols of British imperialism, they unceremoniously dumped the gigantic statues of King George V, Viceroy Canning, Curzon, Mayo and other English Viceroys , uprooting them , and replacing them by the statues of Indian national leaders.
Some of these statues were also stored in Victoria Memorial, while the rest remained scattered at other sites in the city. And most of them dumped later at Barrackpore’s Flagstaff House. Ignored since 1969, the statues had turned green with moss and erosion had set in when they came to the notice of the then Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi(2004 to 2009). Governor Gandhi was taken in by their exquisite beauty and craftsmanship, and proposed a restoration project. In one of his notes on the Flagstaff House he wrote: “What particularly held my attention is the Raj statues, the house’s true residents”. The team of restorers estimated then that at least a month was needed to clean each statue. “Each statue is of a mammoth size, almost 15 feet high, especially the ones that are on horseback. All the statues are bronze cast and can be easily damaged by harsh chemicals. Each will be chemically cleaned and this is a laborious process because we will first have to test the layers of depositions before deciding on the nature of chemicals to be used,” said G M Kapur, the West Bengal Convener of INTACH. Kapur also added that after the restoration was over, the statues would be given a protective coat that would last the next 15-20 years.
A few years earlier too, Kshiti Goswami , the Left Front’s Public Works Minister also came out with a restoration project. “There is no longer any wrath against the British in West Bengal.” And the statues would be re-erected on the banks of the Ganges, in a theme park, he said. “They’re precious and have universal appeal. It’s time to take these statues out of the darkness and into the light,” The Minister wished then. “These statues have considerable historical and aesthetic value,” said the then Mayor of Calcutta Municipal Corporation.
The Left Front Government was about to form a four-member committee to select sites where the statues could be erected once again. The committee was to be set up under the aegis of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). But not much has been heard about the projects, thereafter.Earlier, the Government authorities had turned down a request that the statue of Lord Mayo be sent to the Mayo College in Ajmer, Rajasthan which is named after him. They felt that the collection should remain in Calcutta, imperial India’s capital until 1911. Though, the statue of Earl of Auckland was sent to New Zealand after the Government of New Zealand requested for it.
Et Tu Delhi!
Delhi’s intelligentsia, so called historians and chatteretti are fervently discussing these days about the renaming of central Delhi road, named earlier after a despotic Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, who ruled in the seventeenth century!
But about the British heritage they are too elusive and evasive. John Elliott wrote in ‘The Independent’ on 17 December 2011: India hasn’t known quite how to mark the first centenary this week of the founding of its modern capital city, Delhi, by Britain’s King George V in 1911. Though many of the country’s elite continue to polish their English accents, and relish their links with long-dethroned maharajas and lesser royal families, for them it is not quite politically correct to celebrate things done by former colonial masters.
So, after much debate (while British High Commission diplomats kept their heads well below the parapet), it was eventually decided earlier this year to celebrate the historical “re-emergence” 100 years ago of Delhi as the capital – a sly dig at the British who had earlier built the capital away from Delhi, in Calcutta in the late 18th century”.
Ben Sheppard wrote in ‘Sunday Times’ on December 04, 2011: New Delhi reaches 100 next month, not knowing whether to mark the birthday with celebrations of its run-away success or to ignore a date that revives memories of British colonial rule.
…“Yes, there is ambivalence on what to celebrate and how to celebrate,” Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dikshit admitted in early November, as questions grow over whether any major events are planned for the city’s centenary. “(The) ministry of culture has to draw up a plan… I feel they don’t have a clear direction yet,” she added.”
Delhi too had changed its British Colonial names and replaced them with those of Indian nationalists. Kingsway was renamed as Rajpath, King George’s Avenue became Rajaji Marg, King Edward Road was changed to Maulana Azad Road, Clive Road was made Thyagaraja Marg, Curzon Road became Kasturba Gandhi Marg,Curzon Lane turned into Balwant Rai Mehta Lane, Albuquerque Road was renamed Tees January Marg, Baird Road became Bangla Sahib Marg, Cornwallis Road turned into Subramaniam Bharti Marg,Hardinge Avenue became Tilak Marg, Elgin Road became Netaji Subhash Marg, Irwin Road was renamed as Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Minto Road became Vivekanand Marg…and there are so many others too.
Surprisingly, the Islamic Colonialist heritage of Delhi was kept intact! So, there are Akbar Road, Babar Road, Humayun Road, Tughlaq Road, Lodhi Road , Taimoor Nagar, Qutub Enclave, Safderjung Enclave, or Jahangir Puri and the names were not touched upon!
Delhi’s British statues were uprooted one by one, from their plinths and dumped into sheer oblivion, in a place which is known as ‘Coronation Park’, where the British Monarch declared the shift of British Capital form Calcutta to Delhi.
Actually, the Coronation Park is a misnomer. It is not at all like any other park in Delhi. It is, in fact, the antithesis of a park, perhaps can be described aptly, as a junkyard of Raj-era statues–of Kings, Viceroys and British Nobles! They are exposed to sun, rain, dust and filth round the clock. Forgotten totally and neglected, are being whittled down by the elements, day-by-day. “A graveyard of statues” the conservationist A.G. K. Menon described the spot in north Delhi that hosted three royal assemblies organised by British viceroys. Locals, meanwhile, think of it as a spot for relieving themselves, or dumping garbage. Uncared-for statues of the former British King and other dignitaries stand half-hidden by shrubs and trees, abandoned one after the other. Stray dogs loiter around in umpteen numbers and in the unkempt weeds, there are the snakes!
Three Durbars were held at Coronation Park — the first in 1887, the second in 1903, and the final one in 1911. In December, 1911, King George V and Queen Mary themselves came here to make two most important announcements . The first was that the Capital of British India would be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, and the second was the annulment of the Partition of Bengal.
Coronation Park, is that void, where statues of King George and other dignitaries were dumped on brick plinths in the 1960s by the government that was unsure about, what to do with the uneasy relics of a not-so-distant past.
Today, it’s a forgotten, dusty patch of land is all that remains of the Delhi Durbar site. Most Delhi people know nothing about it.
A British journalist who had visited the place and shocked to see the ground reality, wrote: “Totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union and China we know, destroyed such statues, but from the world’s largest democracy it was expected some more conscious caring”.
Several statues had vanished or vandalised, leaving topless plinths that added to this desolate symbolism. After British and Irish visitors wrote about the utter neglect, some of the statues also went to the UK, Ireland and Australia. Rufus Daniel Isaacs, the 1st Marquis of Reading and also the Viceroy of India in the 1920s, now found its place in the English town of Reading. The Park has reportedly lost three or four ‘deadlines’ for completion of the beautification project. The INTACH and DDA, the two stakeholders are now gradually losing interest!
By Deep Basu
Images by author