Descending the broad steps of the Town Hall of Mumbai after spending a few hours at the Asiatic Society of Mumbai has always felt like walking on history. The layout of the roads branching from the grand circle laid out in front of the building is exactly the same as it was in 1860, when the vast open space called the Bombay Green was truncated into the Elphinstone Circle, later the Horniman Circle. Many of the buildings also date from the same period, while a few are older. The roads and buildings might have new names, but the old ones linger on.

As I walk past the Mint, built in the 1820s, turn on to Pherozeshah Mehta Road, and head towards Dadabhai Naoroji Road, I am transported to an almost mythical Parsi Land. Both these political heavyweights have been dead for over a hundred years, but their presence still looms large in the city. On my right is Modi Street, a name which can be traced to the last decades of the seventeenth century, when the Mody or Moody family were ship-chandlers to the East India Company.

Further up is Bazaar Gate Street, now Perin Nariman Street, which leads to one of the...

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