When you stare into a camera the camera stares back at you

Things look different when you point a camera at them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve passed through the ticketing office of the downtown station of central railways, the one called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus now and called Victoria Terminus when it was opened in 1853. Imagined as an Indian palace in the then-current Gothic Revival style by its architect, Frederick William Stevens, the building took ten years to complete. It doesn’t seem long by today’s relaxed standards, but then it was cause for many agonized letters to editors of newspapers. The featured photo shows the recently restored ceiling of the suburban ticket counter.

The odd heraldic bearing that you can see in the photo here caught my attention. Could it belong to the company which built this station, the Great Indian Peninsular Railways? Apparently not. The lower half of the shield makes up the complete arms of the company (a further inscribed shield into the upper left quadrant of the cross has been chiselled away). The upper half of this strange device, the railway and the steam locomotive, threw me. Could it be the bearing of the terminus building? I’m sure someone out there has the answer.

The station is aligned north-south and the ticketing counters are to the east of the road passing in front of it. Just in case you are lost, you could orient yourself by the compass roses in the floor of the hall. The Family and I had walked into this place on a Sunday to avoid the massive crowds which we would have found otherwise. We’d wanted to explore the restored building, but found that it is open to visitors only during working hours of the week. As a result we explored this part of the structure, both familiar through long use, and unfamiliar because we usually hurry through it without looking.

The stained glass windows, in particular, are not things we have paid attention to. Nor did I know that this was called the Star Chamber, and that the marble used here was shipped from Italy. The building was renovated in 1888, on the occasion of the golden jubilee of the coronation of the British queen after whom this station was then named. I couldn’t find a record of who made the stained glass. However, since much of the ornamentation of the structure was done by the faculty and students of the Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Arts, it could be that the glass is also due to them. There are some pieces here well worth one’s time.

The doors are not grand, but in keeping with the place, they are ornate. I’m not sure whether the ones that you see here are original or whether they have been replaced. Unfortunately I hadn’t taken photos before the restoration, so I can’t check now. Maybe one should take photos of the doors of historic public buildings every ten years or so. It would be an interesting project.

As we exited to the pavement outside, I took one last shot of the interior. I’ve tried many times to imagine the events of 26 November, 2008, when two armed terrorists entered the station from the north and killed 58 people. Panicked commuters ran away from them, and many would have exited through these doors. They are always open.

Look on his works

Outpatient building of the J. J. Hospital in MumbaiIn my decades in Mumbai I’ve passed the J. J. Hospital often enough to look up the fact that it is named after the 19th century philanthropist, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, who donated the funds required for setting up this hospital. I’d never had to visit the hospital. So this week when I had to look for the outpatient department I realized how large it was. The doctors who I know claim that interning here is the best training possible, because of the volume and variety of cases that you need to attend. As I arrived at the neo-classical facade of the out-patients building, it was clear to me how large this volume is. The next morning I read in the papers that I had underestimated the numbers of cases the hospital deals with; apparently this week medical interns are on strike, and the number of visitors has dropped dramatically. As I thought about this, I was reminded of an observation by Atul Gawande about the innovations in medical practice created in Mumbai just to keep up with the demands on services.

Statue of Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy in the hospital named after himI wandered into the administrative building for the case papers I was there for. The crowded corridors smelt of strong bleach. As I stood in the queue outside the clerk’s office one of the people ahead of me tried to take off his slippers before entering. The clerk was furious “This is not a temple”, he told the man, “You are not here to pray”. After my work was done, I walked through the busy crowds to an alcove which held a statue of the person the hospital is named after. One person came by, took off his slippers and placed a flower at the feet of the statue. There was a small pile of flowers there. I thought that it was good that the staff kept the distinction between a hospital and a temple in mind. But for the poor who come here for treatment, the availability of government health care is a prayer come true.

There is a little donations box near the base of the statue. Even if it were full every day, it would not suffice to keep the hospital running. I wish that a larger fraction of my taxes would go into maintaining and expanding such health services.