Bombay Before Mumbai

Essays in Honour of Jim Masselos

Edited by
August 2019 9781787381483 432pp
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‘City of Gold’, ‘Urbs Prima in Indis’, ‘Maximum City’: no Indian metropolis has captivated the public imagination quite like Mumbai. The past decade has seen an explosion of historical writing on the city that was once Bombay. This book, featuring new essays by its finest historians, presents a rich sample of Bombay’s palimpsestic pasts. It considers the making of urban communities and spaces, the workings of power and the nationalist makeover of the colonial city.

In addressing these themes, the contributors to this volume engage critically with the scholarship of a distinguished historian of this frenetic metropolis. For over five decades, Jim Masselos has brought to life with skill and empathy Bombay’s hidden histories. His books and essays have traversed an extraordinarily diverse range of subjects, from the actions of the city’s elites to the struggles of its most humble denizens. His pioneering research has opened up new perspectives and inspired those who have followed in his wake.

Bombay Before Mumbai is a fitting tribute to Masselos’ enduring contribution to South Asian urban history

Table of contents

Acknowledgments: xiii

List of Illustrations: xv

Note on Contributors: ix

1. Introduction, Prashant Kidambi: 1


2. Mohammad Ali Rogay: Life and Times of a Bombay Country Trader, Murali Ranganathan: 15

3. Parsis and Bombay City: Community and Identity in the Nineteenth Century, Jesse S. Palsetia: 35

4. The Great Persian Famine of 1871, Parsi Refugees and the Making of Irani Identity in Bombay, Simin Patel: 57

5. Bombay’s European Community during the Interwar Period, Douglas E. Haynes: 77


6. Reading Social Spaces: The Life of the Bombay Theatre, 1770–1843, Erica Wald: 99

7. Selling Home: Marketing Home Furnishings in Late Colonial Bombay, Abigail McGowan: 17

8. Social Geographies of Bombay’s Sex Trade, 1880–1920, Ashwini Tambe: 47


9. Worthy Objects of Charity: Government, Communities and Charitable Institutions in Colonial Bombay: Preeti Chopra: 171

10. Proletarian Bodies and Muslim Festivals: Disciplining Pleasure in Colonial Bombay, Nile Green: 195

11. ‘A Powerful Weapon for the Employers?’: Workers’ Housing and Social Control in Interwar Bombay, Vanessa Caru: 213


12. The Transnational Career of the ‘Indian Edison’: Shankar Abaji Bhisey and the Nationalist Promotion of Scientific Talent, Dinyar Patel: 239

13. Civil Disobedience and the City: Congress and the working classes in Bombay, c. 1930–32, Robert Rahman Raman: 263

14. The Politics of Business: The Congress Ministry and the Muslim League in Bombay, 1937–39, Danish Khan: 285


15. Remembering Bombay: Present Memories, Past Histories, Jim Masselos: 305

Appendix, J. C. Masselos’s Publications: 315

Notes: 327

Bibliography: 397

Index: 413


‘Conjures up … a captivating collage of an Indian city during two hundred years of British colonial rule … [A] thoughtful and insightful foray through distinct spaces and places of Bombay.’ — The Journal of Asian Studies

‘An excellent collection of essays [that] provides fresh insights into the history of Bombay.’ — The Book Review

‘The essays in this book, immensely profitable reading for academics and general readers alike, offer a nuanced picture of a bygone Bombay.’ — Economic & Political Weekly

‘This volume of essays inspired by and dedicated to the Australian scholar James Masselos, the most important historian of colonial Bombay, represents an equally important contribution to scholarship in its own right. Bringing together many of the best historians and specialists in popular culture working on urban India, and Bombay in particular, it sets a new benchmark for studies of this financially, culturally and politically crucial city, and will almost certainly become a point of reference for new work on it.’  Faisal Devji, Professor of South Asian History, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford

‘An exciting and engaging set of essays on colonial and modern Bombay, responding to the work of eminent urban historian, Jim Masselos, who has written on Bombay for several decades.’  Aparna Kapadia, Assistant Professor of History, Williams College, Williamstown

‘A feast of writing on the history of Bombay, in honour of the pioneering Jim Masselos. This stimulating collection probes the inner life and many contradictions of India’s great metropolis. These richly vivid essays represent the cutting edge of South Asian urban history.’  Sunil Amrith, Mehra Family Professor of South Asian Studies, Harvard University

‘Anyone wishing to understand the transition of Bombay into Mumbai will profit immensely from this rich array of essays, which dig deep into the city’s many-faceted history. Their quality is a fitting tribute to the depth and range of Jim Masselos’s scholarship on the metropolis.’  Gyan Prakash, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Princeton University



Prashant Kidambi is Associate Professor in Colonial Urban History at the University of Leicester.

Manjiri Kamat is Professor at the Department of History, University of Mumbai.

Rachel Dwyer is Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS, University of London.

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