Bombay Clocks

In 1996, I was still a greenhorn photographer. Already bored with the nature of the routine assignments at the newspaper I then worked at, I had begun walking long hours around the city searching for pictures. And curious as this may sound also looking to find buildings that had clocks mounted on them. These clocks were once an important part of the city’s daily life, striking the hour when people attended or left work, kept appointments or prayed to their Gods. Today, they are just relics from an era when personal watches were dear and digital timepieces pure science fiction.

It all started in Calcutta when I struggled to shoot an old building while on an assignment for The Sunday Observer. Among other features, that building at Esplanade – The Metropolitan Building – boasted a clock on its façade. I had not photographed many buildings till then nor had reasons to give much thought to photographing public clocks. But, after Calcutta, I began making a mental note of similar clock adorned buildings I

It all started in Calcutta when I struggled to shoot an old building while on an assignment for The Sunday Observer. Among other features, that building at Esplanade – The Metropolitan Building – boasted a clock on its façade. I had not photographed many buildings till then nor had reasons to give much thought to photographing public clocks. But, after Calcutta, I began making a mental note of similar clock adorned buildings I might have come across in Bombay. On my return, I started keeping a list on my person and, each time I came across another such building, I would make a note of it. Within a few months, what had started as a whim had turned into a full blown obsession.

Photography had presented me with unprecedented freedom and in those days my assignments at the newspaper often took me to neighbourhoods I had never visited. I was for the first time consciously seeing my city, gradually discovering it one building, one lane, oneneighbourhood at a time. As a photographer too, I was yet to discover the themes that would go on to become life-long preoccupations. When I first made pictures of these buildings, the idea of documenting our cities – writing about them and photographing them – wasn’t as fashionable as it has now come to be in India. Bombay was not yet the flavor of the season. The streets of Bombay, which I was discovering, was like theatre for a street photographer and the buildings of south Bombay were often the backdrops against which the drama of city life would be played out. During my wanderings I found clocks at the city’s docks, on cathedrals, agiaries, mosques, temples, stadiums, colleges, drinking water fountains and even a few residences. These buildings stretched from the Sassoon Docks in Colaba, in south Bombay, to the northern suburb of Santacruz where I spotted a clock on the gable of a residential bunglow. Each new discovery seemed like a great victory since many were difficult to spot – like in some of the Art Deco buildings where the hands had fallen off and the clock face had merged with the surface grime and other detailing on the façade making it indistinguishable. I found myself walking around the city as though looking for my daily fix and as the months rolled by, I would, one day catch a clock face peeping from behind a tree or staring down at me as I walked into a previously unexplored lane or then spot another as I turned my head to look out of a bus window. They seemed to be everywhere and till now, two decades since I made the first photographs, I have spotted 52. Almost a third of these are in the Fort precinct – the original business district in old British Bombay where appointments were important and time was like money.

buildings I might have come across in Bombay. On my return, I started keeping a list on my person and, each time I came across another such building, I would make a note of it. Within a few months, what had started as a whim had turned into a full blown obsession.

Photography had presented me with unprecedented freedom and in those days my assignments at the newspaper often took me to neighbourhoods I had never visited. I was for the first time consciously seeing my city, gradually discovering it one building, one lane, one neighbourhood at a time. As a photographer too, I was yet to discover the themes that would go on to become life-long preoccupations. When I first made pictures of these buildings, the idea of documenting our cities – writing about them and photographing them – wasn’t as fashionable as it has now come to be in India. Bombay was not yet the flavor of the season. The streets of Bombay, which I was discovering, was like theatre for a

which I was discovering, was like theatre for a street photographer and the buildings of south Bombay were often the backdrops against which the drama of city life would be played out. During my wanderings I found clocks at the city’s docks, on cathedrals, agiaries, mosques, temples, stadiums, colleges, drinking water fountains and even a few residences. These buildings stretched from the Sassoon Docks in Colaba, in south Bombay, to the northern suburb of Santacruz where I spotted a clock on the gable of a residential bunglow. Each new discovery seemed like a great victory since many were difficult to spot – like in some of the Art Deco buildings where the hands had fallen off and the clock face had merged with the surface grime and other detailing on the façade making it indistinguishable. I found myself walking around the city as though looking for my daily fix and as the months rolled by, I would, one day catch a clock face peeping from behind a tree or staring down at me as I walked into a previously

By the time I had begun photographing these clocks, most of them were already in a state of disrepair, their purpose, one could argue, redundant. Since then I have seen others lost to apathy and callousness – a fire burnt down the Swadeshi Mills at Kurla and its clock tower, the Art deco clock on the Brabourne Stadium, above where K. Rustom’s, the famous wafer ice-cream shop is, and which was always obliterated from view by trees and which I could only catch a glimpse of occasionally when a kind breeze allowed has disappeared during renovations, a hollow exists in the place of the clock on Sanghrajka house on S.V.P Road, cables, like creepers, blocking its view, the Indian Sailor’s Home has a similar gaping hollow that you can spot as the train passes through Masjid station.

unexplored lane or then spot another as I turned my head to look out of a bus window. They seemed to be everywhere and till now, two decades since I made the first photographs, I have spotted 52. Almost a third of these are in the Fort precinct – the original business district in old British Bombay where appointments were important and time was like money.

By the time I had begun photographing these clocks, most of them were already in a state of disrepair, their purpose, one could argue, redundant. Since then I have seen others lost to apathy and callousness – a fire burnt down the Swadeshi Mills at Kurla and its clock tower, the Art deco clock on the Brabourne Stadium, above where K. Rustom’s, the famous wafer ice-cream shop is, and which was always obliterated from view by trees and which I could only catch a glimpse of occasionally when a kind breeze allowed has disappeared during renovations, a hollow exists in the place of the clock on

In this era of technological convergence the wristwatch is, today, a mere fashion accessory – if you now need to know the time you might just glance at your mobile phone. Given this scenario it is interesting to look at these photographs (or better still, the real buildings, if you care) from a period, when perhaps, architecture served another parallel, unarticulated, social function.

Sanghrajka house on S.V.P Road, cables, like creepers, blocking its view, the Indian Sailor’s Home has a similar gaping hollow that you can spot as the train passes through Masjid station.In this era of technological convergence the wristwatch is, today, a mere fashion accessory – if you now need to know the time you might just glance at your mobile phone. Given this scenario it is interesting to look at these photographs (or better still, the real buildings, if you care) from a period, when perhaps, architecture served another parallel, unarticulated, social function.

These photographs have been made over a period of 20 years. The ones you see here are a small selection. These photographs have been made over a period of 20 years. The ones you see here are a small selection.

SASSOON DOCK.
Colaba Causeway.

CLOCK TOWER OF THE NAVAL DOCKYARD AT LION'S GATE.
Shahid Bhagat Singh Road.

DAVID SASSOON LIBRARY.
Kala Ghoda.

RAJABAI TOWER.
Bombay University Fort campus; Fort.

INDUSTRIAL ASSURANCE BUILDING.
Veer Nariman Rd; Churchgate.

BOMANJI HORMASJI WADIA FOUNTAIN.
Junction of Perin Nariman St. and Pherozshah Mehta Rd.

LAXMI BUILDING.
Pherozshah Mehta Rd.

BOMBAY MUTUAL BUILDING.
D N Road

CHATTRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS.
(previously Victoria Terminus Stn.); Bori Bunder.

CRAWFORD MARKET.

ST. XAVIER'S COLLEGE.
Mahapalika Marg.

ANJUMAN ATASH BEHRAM.
Jagannath Shankar Seth Rd, Marine Lines.

RAM MANDIR.
Bhuleshwar

PRINCESS DOCK.
(Ghadial Godi). P D'Mello Road.

INDIAN SAILOR'S HOME.
Nandalal Jani Road, Masjid Bunder (East).

KHOJA SHIA IMAMI ISMAILI JAMATKHANA.
Masjid (West).

BRAHMAN SABHA.
D D SatheMarg; Girgaum.

SRIDHAR BHALCHANDRA & CO.
PrarthanaSamaj, Girgaum.

HALLAI MAHAJAN BHATIAWADI CHAWL.
Kalbadevi.

DWARKADHISH TEMPLE.
Kalbadevi.

SIKKA NAGAR.
Khetwadi; Girgaum.

SANGHRAJKA HOUSE.
Junction of Bhadkamkar Rd. and Sardar Vallabhai Patel Rd.

FULCHAND NIWAS.
ChowpattySeaface, Dr. PurandareMarg.

RASOOL MASJID.
ShaikhBurhanKamruddin St, Nagpada.

SASSOON CLOCK TOWER OF THE VICTORIA GARDENS.
Byculla.

REAY ROAD STN.

PRINCE'S TRIUMPHAL ARCH.
Mahalaxmi Temple Rd.

R. A. PODAR AYURVED MEDICAL COLLEGE.
Dr. Annie Besant Rd; Worli.

TEEJOOKAYA PARK.
Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar Rd; Matunga.

BHAGAT BUILDING.
S. V. Rd; Opposite Juhu Aerodrome.