The pyaus of an erstwhile Bombay

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The pyaus of an erstwhile Bombay

While we modern Mumbaikars lug around our plastic bottles with cold-gone-tepid-water, our forefathers had intelligent ways to combat this tropical heat we call summer – by tapping into natural springs. In the early 19th century, the arterial roads of Mumbai used to have drinking water fountains or pyaus, which meant unlimited, cool water through the day. By mid 19th century, with the water pipelines running right inside the homes, these pyaus fell to disuse and were eventually reduced to mute ornamental pieces, and then some went missing. The most saddening event was when a 19th century pyau in Parel was demolished for road expansion in 2010 and the ‘rubble’ sold at Rs. 15 per kilo!

I went about Mumbai to discover some of these antique pieces before any evidence or trace of them vanishes.

Horniman Circle

Near the gate of Horniman Garden, stands one of the oldest fountains in the city. This two-storey structure is believed to have ground water that was accumulated in a brass pot. There was a time when traders and merchants would queue up. Unused and falling apart, today this structure is a bench to rest those weary feet. Some years ago, a bore-well was dug at this point the water is filled in earthen pots placed under a large banyan tree – in a way, this spot still offers fresh and more importantly free water.

Ratonsee Muljee Fountain, corner of Mint Road, Fort

Built in 1892-93, this fountain served humans and cattle. It was built in memory of Muljee’s deceased son Dharamsee, whose statue crowns the fountain. It was considered a blessed activity to build water fountains, especially when in the memory of a deceased family member. Most of the rich businessmen gave to society through ‘water charity’.

This fountain is one of the most ornate and undoubtedly the prettiest I saw on my walk.

Reay Road Fountain

Merchant Megji Lowji built this pyau in 1924. It stands in the middle of deserted, broken mills, seemingly a part of the ruins that surround it. The entire scene – a testament to the time when this area was buzzing with commerce and this pyau was always in use. You can see it while on a harbour line train – it stands to your left as you go from Cotton Green Station to Reay Road Station.

Courtyard of Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum

Looming tall and darkened with age and air, this is one multi-faceted pyau. It is also a beautiful lamppost that stood at some street corner! Built in 1867 with stone and iron, it was moved into the museum years ago. Today it has company with the other statues from the British Raj. I am glad it has a protected and safe retirement here at the Museum.

Gokhale Road, Dadar

Somewhere along the winding Gokhale Road, as you go from Parel towards Dadar stands this simple fountain for cattle. It is believed to be a replica of the one that was demolished at Parel. I read that Anand Vital Koli built this fountain, but I am not certain. It is in the worst possible state – surrounded by human excreta and garbage.

Bandra Fountain, outside St. Andrew’s Hill Road

On one of the busiest roads in Bandra, stands a fountain marking the passage of time. I have gone by so many times and never noticed it. This fountain was built in 1894 and was donated by Jafferbhai Ludha Chatu. The two lions on either side almost seem friendly and inviting – don’t you think?

As I walk around in the Mumbai summer heat with nightmares of sunstroke, I empty my precious bottle of water to the last drop, yet feel parched. I think about how I could use some water from one of these fountains? These pyaus might not be unique to this city but they speak volumes of the life and customs of this city.

The story doesn’t exactly end here. There are a few more I have heard of, but couldn’t find. Maybe that could be the start of your own discovery of Mumbai or even the one you live in!

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