Asif Zakaria (left) with Aakif Habib. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Bandra's legacy is carved in stone, and this suburb's resident aesthete, Aakif Habib, has taken on the task of resurrecting it. Habib who is also the secretary of the Mount Mary Area Locality Management (ALM), has resurrected two stone plaques or milestones near the Mount Mary steps.
Habib says, "Several residents spoke about spotting two milestones near the Mount Mary steps. These markers had been partially buried underground because of road work. Even though the engraving on them was not visible, I realised that these are of historic importance. I decided that I would put in time and money, employ labour, dig these out and place them at a spot where locals could see them."
Support from authorities
Habib had the support of Corporator Asif Zakaria who, in August last year, wrote to BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta about the discovery of these milestones and why it was important to preserve them. Heritage markers are one of the brightest threads in the intricate mosaic of Mumbai's past. Habib adds, "We were delighted to discover these in Bandra. We see monuments or markers of historical import concentrated in South Mumbai. These milestones prove that many similar indicators exist in the suburbs, too, and it is a matter of time before they are discovered and once we do so, it is our duty to preserve them."
In flashback mode
Habib says one stone has on it: 'Presented by: Bomanjee Jeejeebhoy to Bandora Municipality 1879', while the other has: 'Bomanjee's Steps for Public Use 1879'. Habib says, "The stones are now out of the ground and on a pedestal. I got a worker from Rajasthan for the labour as they are familiar with working with stone. The character is intact, no alterations have been made," adds Habib, who says his artistic sensibility was whetted at an early age. "My family lives in a heritage, residential villa in Bandra called Ebrahim Manzil (1906) on Mount Mary Road," Habib explains, saying he did not need to go outside to find art. History whispered in the crevices of his home, the past beckoned within graceful rooms and the winding passages took him on a journey of artistic discovery.
Now, these milestones will spark to life if there is a human element to them. "I do hope to find somebody from the Bomanjee Jeejeebhoy family, I have been asking locals working in the heritage and arts space if they know anybody, so that we can even have a bit of history to go with the plaques. The details are sketchy as of now," said Habib, but, now that these milestones are made visible, "somebody from the Parsi community in Mumbai may find a connection and then, we are hoping they will contact us to fill in the pieces of a delightful, historical jigsaw of the past." Thanks to Habib, Bomanjee Jeejeebhoy's great gift to Mumbai city is signed, sealed and delivered to the steps of Mount Mary.
'Let's preserve our heritage'
Bandra corporator Asif Zakaria wrote to civic chief Ajoy Mehta in August last year, citing the importance of and the need to preserve these milestones. Excerpts from his letter say: Recently the BMC has restored 'V' milestone at Parel and helped keep us connected to our past. Recently, there are two such similar stone heritage plaques at the foothills of Mount Mary steps in Bandra, which have been buried under the road for many years. The plaques go back to 1879, wherein Bomanjee Jeejeebhoy presented the Mount Mary Steps to the Bandora Municipality. It is believed that Jeejeebhoy wanted a daughter and prayed at the Mount Mary Church. His wish was fulfilled and he built the steps on his daughter's eighth birthday in thanksgiving and gifted the same to the 'Bandora' Municipality. Efforts must be made by the BMC to restore the rich heritage buried in the city for our future generations.'