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Created on Jul 21, 1995. Last modified Dec 28, 1999.

Index to page

  1. The Remaking of Bombay
    1. The suburbs
    2. Modernising Transport
    3. The New Heritage
  2. A Midnight's Tryst
  3. The Children of Midnight

Related images

  1. Merchants demonstrate for independence, May 1930: 73 Kb
  2. Mumbai map, 1954: 21.1 Kb

The Twentieth Century

The Remaking of Bombay

The last years of the 19th century ended with a textile manufacturing boom, and attracted huge numbers of workers to a city unprepared to give them healthy living quarters. Slums spread across the city and epidemics of plague added to the already high mortality rates. The 20th century began with a damage limitation exercise.


The fashionable areas of Bombay in the 19th century were the inner suburbs on the east-- Parel, Sewri and Bycullah. The mills and their effluents began to push the British and the Parsi merchants out of these areas. The plague completed this process and transformed these areas along with Worli into working class areas. The upper classes moved into Malabar Hill. Other opportunities had to be developed for the middle classes.

Several city planning agencies were set up in the aftermath of the plague epidemics. The City Improvement Trust developed the suburbs of Dadar, Matunga, Wadala and Sion to house about 200,000 people. New roads connected the inner city to these suburbs. By 1925 electrified suburban trains were running in the city, and the distant northern suburbs were already being built.

In the first years of the century, the inner city was already as congested as the rest of Bombay became in the 1980's. The CIT sought to open up these areas by building wide roads through them to channel the westerly breezes from the sea. The decreasing mortality over the years was probably not due to this, but to other health schemes which were slowly put into place.

Modernising the Transport System

As the distances within the city grew, the transport system had to be modernised. In 1901, Jamsetji Tata was the first Indian to own a car. By 1911 motorised taxis were already plying in Bombay, and on July 15, 1926, the first motorised bus ran between Afghan church and Crawford market. Trains began running on the harbour line in February 1925. Electrification of the railways began at the same time.

The New Heritage

Meanwhile, the Fort area had already become a business district. The Gothic revival of the late 19th century gave way to the exuberant Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. The first building in this style was the General Post Office. A spate of Bombay's loveliest buildings followed-- the Prince of Wales Museum, the Gateway of India, the Institute of Science, the offices of the BB&CI Railways (now the Western Railways), and many others. This phase of British imperial confidence, culminating with George V's Delhi Durbar 1911 was to come to an end with the new political developments set into motion when the lawyer, Mohandas Gandhi, returned to India from South Africa in 1915.

A Midnight's Tryst

The early stalwarts of the Indian National Congress were mainly Parsis from Bombay. Even after the congress became a truly national movement, Bombay retained an important place in the struggle for independence from Britain. The very notion that the Congress was not merely fighting for rights but for independence, swaraj, was first enunciated from this city. Gandhi, already famous for his non-violent struggle for rights in South Africa, returned to India through the port of Bombay. The merchants of Bombay financed the independence movement. The famous August 1942 call for the British to Quit India was issued from the Gowalia Tank Maidan at the base of the Malabar Hills. India gained independence at midnight, becoming a free country from August 15, 1947.

The Children of Midnight