Bombay Showcase

The absolute BEST

The 20-plus year-old BEST museum in Mumbai is up for revival. The BEST Undertaking has roped in museum professionals to give a boost to the only such institution in the city. The museum has become a hub of activity with a group of students restoring old paintings in one corner, and the artefacts lined up for a more professional display in a chronological order.

The museum is housed on the third floor of the Anik Bus Depot’s administrative building near Sion. Set up around 1983, the space has significant relics of Mumbai’s transport and electrification history. From the earliest power meters, to old bus tickets, ticket dispensing machines, working models of miniature trams and buses, a host of archival photographs, and also a clay and plastic storyboard of how Bombay once thought of running underground local trains.

“The museum has been popular among schools and educational institutions and there is consistent flow of students and educational trips,” says museum curator Sanjay Chaulkar. Originally located at the Kurla bus depot, the museum shifted to Anik in the 1990s due to a space crunch. It has remained there ever since. Enthusiasts have been complaining that it is in one corner of the city and inaccessible as those wanting to visit have to climb three floors. BEST officials said that they are aware of its popularity and are now in the process of finalising plans to shift it to south Mumbai where it can be brought on the city tourist map.

The tram tracks that were found recently at Flora Fountain have also found a place here.

Daimler Double Decker bus chassis

This is the centre of attraction of the museum. It’s a 1938-built chassis of a Daimler double decker BEST bus that has been lifted up three floors and placed in the centre. This is an important piece of Mumbai’s transport history as double decker buses were introduced in 1937 to cope with the increasing crowds. Daimler Motors’ double decker buses were the first generation of their kind to be introduced in the city. BEST still maintains about 122 double decker buses on select routes.

Horse tram two-way seats

The two-way seats made of teak were once a part of horse-drawn trams that operated in Mumbai. Horse-drawn ones were the earliest form of trams introduced in Mumbai in 1874. They were a popular mode of transport for about 30 years till electric trams came onto the city roads. The back-rest of the seat can be shifted backwards or forward as per the direction of the vehicle movement. BEST archives state that the first batch of 23 wooden cars fit for double- and single-horse open cars had been imported from America. The subsequent ones were built in Bombay and entirely composed of the best Burmese teak, with the exception of the roof and flooring which were constructed of American pine. These seats are a part of that early era.

Old archival photographs

The BEST museum has hard copies of black and white unseen tram photographs taken by their staff photographers. The collage of images show tram vehicles of various types and in different parts of the city.

One of the rare photographs of the Dadar tram workshop shows a number of tram cars under repair with a number of employees in different headgear as was the fashion back then. Notice the large advertisement for Ovaltine milk powder. The museum also has an image of the Metro Talkies of the 1930s with the gigantic cast iron Fitzgerald Fountain in front of it. The fountain is now lying at the Byculla Museum and will soon be restored. The latest archival photograph is dated 1972 of the Andheri station bus stand.

Model transport city

One thing that you should not miss in the museum are the working models of all the modes of transport that BEST has operated so far. From a horse-driven tram car to electric trams, single and double decker

buses, the museum has a small city model that runs on electricity and battery power to educate people on how the systems used to operate once upon a time in different eras.

Dial ticket machine

Among the other curious things, the museum has a rare piece of hand-held steel-made dial ticket machine that conductors used during the British era. The machine was a regular feature since the 1930s and documented every ticket that was issued from the machine so that it could tally with the cash that the bus/tram conductor would deposit. Slowly, the machine went out of use as it was found to be misused by many conductors who would dial it in reverse and pocket the extra cash.

Early tram and bus tickets

Original tram tickets of the Bombay Electric Supply Tramway Company with route maps, time and date columns worth one anna are on display at the museum. It has old-era names like “Two Tanks” for Do Tanki area in south Mumbai and “Bori Bunder” for Mumbai CST printed on them. The tickets not only have the route map, but also route numbers for convenience.BEST used to issue bus tickets in English till 1986. Original tickets of most of these denominations are also saved at the museum.

Tram/Bus staff mannequins

The unique part of the museum is the row of tram and bus staff uniforms from the earliest times to the present. The tram and bus uniform changed over a period of time, since the days of the introduction of tram, then buses, later after independence and also during later years. The museum has life-size dummies with all those uniforms saved and depicted in their original colour and form, including headgear, conductor’s ticket boxes and driver’s transport permit badges.

City gas lamps

Much before electric street lamps became the norm, the city was illuminated with gas-lit lamps. Two such ones from theBEST’s electricity department are now a pride of the museum. The earliest lamps were the kerosene kind introduced in 1843, replaced by gas variants 22 years later in 1865. The two gas lamps at the museum are from south Mumbai, though the exact location from where they were removed has not been recorded. BEST archives state that Bhendi Bazar, Esplanade Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) and Churchgate Street (now Veer Nariman Road) were the first streets lit by gas lamps. Later the Queen's necklace on the Marine Drive was also illuminated with gas lamps. A gas lamp-lighter, employed by the Bombay municipal corporation, would run along the streets from one side to the next. The employee would carry a long pole with a hook at the end to bring the gas flame in contact with the gauze to light it up and again make the trip early in the morning to extinguish it. In the first few days, excited Mumbaikars would follow the lamp-lighter in crowds.

Mumbai Underground Railway

In 1962, the Engineer-in-Charge of the BEST Undertaking PG Patankar was sent to Berlin and Milan to study the Underground Railway System so that BEST could work out a similar solution for decongesting Mumbai. In 1964, the BESTGeneral Manager was invited to Japan to study the underground railway system there. Patankar recorded all his observations and suggestions on Underground Railway for Mumbai in great detail after these studies and submitted it to the undertaking. The plan was later rejected by the government as it proved to be very expensive. The detailed plan with models is exhibited at the BEST Museum. Ironically, the Maharashtra government is now building the Metro-3 Underground corridor on similar lines.

Traffic dome

The glowing traffic dome another attraction in the central room of the museum. It’s actually a metal dome with a power connection that was, once upon a time, placed at major traffic junctions before traffic signals came into regular practice. The illuminated dome was used on Bombay’s streets between 1905 and 1950s. These glowing lights were basically placed at major traffic junctions during the night and powered by the BEST Undertaking’s electrical department.

Not to miss

Look out for radiator grilles of buses that include Daimler, Titan Tata and Ashok Leyland; large electric meters; the rare wooden four-blade fan near the curator’s seat; antique ‘Bombay Tramway’ wall clocks; and a huge iron bell that hangs in one corner, found while digging at Dadar Bus Depot.

Time: Wednesday to Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm

Place: Anik Bus Depot, Sion Entry is free

Rajendra B Aklekar is a freelance journalist and author of Halt Station India, a book on the railways

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 8:37:39 AM |

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