Markers of history

In April this year, during one of the BMC’s demolition drives in Parel, officials happened upon a milestone from the British era. These milestones, classified as Grade 1 heritage structures, are believed to have been installed before the 1830s. But, small as they are, they are integral parts of the city’s urban heritage, and like other larger, better-known structures, they tell a story about the city and how it has evolved. That they were accidentally rediscovered during a demolition drive tells a sad story.

There were 16 such milestones, measuring the distance from St. Thomas Cathedral, colonial Bombay’s ground zero, to various places in the city, as far as Sion, then the city’s outer limit. They were originally four to five feet high, but as the level of the roads came up over the years, many of these structures were built over or damaged, or at best, partially submerged in concrete or tar.

Conservation architect Tapan Mittal-Deshpande says that of the 16 original milestones, only about 10 have been located so far. Some, she says, may have been permanently removed. Ms. Deshpande is now spearheading an initiative with the BMC to restore them one by one.

Work on two milestones in F South Ward have already begun. Earlier this year, a five-mile marker in the ward was the first to be restored. “Only one-and-a-half feet of the milestone was above the ground with four feet submerged,” Ms. Mittal-Deshpande says. “The layers of concrete around it were removed.”

Plans have now been drawn up to restore six more milestones in the city. “This is a unique project,” Ms. Mittal-Deshpande says. “BMC workers are contributing toward the restoration, working in collaboration with a private corporation that was funding the project, conservation experts and the community that lives around each of these milestones.”

Four miles away from St. Thomas Cathedral in Kalaghoda, this milestone on Arthur Road looks in relatively good condition and could have potential for restoration. Once again, the structure is now hidden away amidst the bustle of the pavement, sheltered during the day by a makeshift cobbler’s shed. The cobbler, a young man, has no idea about the “stone”, saying he is new to the locality.

This milestone marks one mile from St. Thomas Cathedral and nestles inconspicuously near the Sunlight Bar in Kalbadevi. So much of it is submerged that only the Roman numeral ‘I’ is visible

Half-hidden beneath the pavement, this milestone near Grant Road station lies just outisde a Central Bank ATM. Before the ATM came up, locals say that the street space was used by fruit and vegetable vendors and that the milestone simply sat amongst them, making for an odd sight.

The milestone on Tamil Sangam Road stands out from most others in the city since it has had a coat of yellow paint. Road work had seen it become tilted and it was recently broken due to a vehicle collision. It was immediately safeguarded, however, in a local BMC shed under the jurisdiction of F North ward officials. Its restoration is now being carried out, and it will be reinstalled at its original location with appropriate signage and lighting.

Next to the fire station, near the Dadar TT flyover, is another milestone in Dadar that bears the number VI. Weatherbeaten and damaged due to repeated road works, the restoration of this structure has now has been initiated by municipal authorities in F South Ward, and it will be reinstalled in its original location with appropriate signage to mark it out as a heritage structure.

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Printable version | May 14, 2022 8:45:39 am |