H for Heritage: Mumbai

By Fiona Fernandez

Published by: Harper Collins India 2023; Paperback:124 pages; Price: Rs 499. Available at all major bookstores  and online portals.

As inhabitants of this gigantic metropolis, the typical Mumbaikar is always zipping and rushing from one place to another, from one engagement to the next, in keeping with the frantic pace of this city. In the bargain, we seldom find time to halt and soak in the beautiful sights and sounds of this city, the rich and historic culture, architecture, statues of iconic men and women who shaped the destiny of 'Bombay', and of course, many of its iconic buildings and monuments that have strong connections not just to national events, but also to global history and ancient civilisations.

Being a South Mumbai resident myself, my daily travels often take me by many of these iconic buildings and landmarks, which dot this part of the city. Always desiring to know more about them, yet never finding the time…but more importantly, never understanding where to begin(especially if you loathe dense literature and too much information!).

This is where 'H for Heritage: Mumbai' drops down as an answer to our prayers. The author Fiona Fernandez is passionate about this city she calls home, and has a throbbing heart that listens to the rich and diverse stories that this city has to offer about its past and present. As an Associate Editor at Mid-day, her weekly Monday column Bombaynama is something that I have always looked forward to, in which she regales readers with narratives, anecdotes and humorous illustrations about the culture and heritage of Mumbai. With this book, she has not only outdone herself, but most importantly, provided an important service to preserving the legacy of this city, and ensuring that younger generations have an important peephole into the vast beauty and heritage of this city.

That's why this book is a 'must have' for every Mumbaikar who loves all things Bombay. Presented in an accessible A to Z format, Fiona gives us just the right amount of information in brief and concise words to whet our appetite and get us hungry for more. The entire book is profusely illustrated with charming watercolours by Sumedha Sah, and is written in an engaging style to amuse and inform anyone of any age, young and old alike.

Did you know for example that the huge elephant statue from which Elephanta caves gets its name now stands in the lawns of Rani Baug in Byculla? Or that the famed satirist and writer Mark Twain lived for a brief time at the Esplanade Mansion at Kala Ghoda? Even more, the mansion which then housed the luxury Watson's Hotel was the first place in India where the Lumiere brothers screened their short films on their projector as part of their historic world tour in 1896 to introduce cinema to the world!

'H for Heritage: Mumbai' is a must have for every school, library and home that wants its young minds to appreciate and preserve the essence of Mumbai. Rapid urbanisation and mindless expansion threatens to destroy many of the endearing and long-standing traditions and places of this city. A major reason for this is ignorance about our cultural heritage and history, and a great way to begin correcting that is this book.

For old timers, reading this book will be an enjoyable trip down memory lane. For those like me who love the city, but know little about it, the book is a treasure trove of knowledge and anecdotes that will inform and enlighten. And for children and youngsters, the beginning of a new adventure of appreciation and acknowledgment of this beautiful and unique city that we call home!

This book is the first in a series that will travel to other Indian cities - Kolkata being the next stop.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues