In the busy Zaveri Bazaar area of Mumbai, near the Mumbadevi Temple and at a road intersection stands this multi-storied building.
At first glance, the greyish brown facade is quite unappealing and unimpressive to look at and gives no hint of its importance or the history associated with it. A passerby might just walk past the building or maybe, just maybe, glance at the large signboard which says ‘Jewel World’ before walking on.
It is only when one looks up and sees a relief panel (the band behind the white board) running around the building and understand the narrative it depicts that things become clear. The band depicts the story of cotton and this building is, or rather was, Mumbai’s Cotton Exchange.
It begins with the sowing of cotton and reaping the harvest…
… after which the the cotton is transported to the warehouse…
Though the shallow relief panel of the ‘story of cotton’ is visible from the ground, I doubt whether many people notice it. I certainly didn’t and if it hadn’t been pointed out to me while on a walking tour of Bhuleshwar in August this year, I would not remained unaware of it. The walk was conducted by Kaiwan Mehta, author of Alice in Bhuleshwar and one of my teachers from Jnanapravaha. The Cotton Exchange building was the last ‘stop’ in the walking tour and when Kaiwan pointed out the relief I was stunned. I had passed the building many times, but had never looked up or noticed the relief or known about it or the building.
Considered to be one of, if not, the world’s oldest cotton exchanges, the Mumbai Cotton Exchange was founded in the mid-1850s, before the country’s stock exchange came into existence in 1875 ! Formally called the East India Cotton Association, the Cotton Exchange building at Kalbadevi came up in 1938.
The building is testimony to the tumultuous fortunes of cotton trading and textile industry of the region. Trading at the Cotton Exchange stopped years ago and the textile mills strike in 1981 and their subsequent closure virtually wiped out cotton trade in Mumbai.
Today, the building and its history is in danger of being wiped out as well. The Cotton Exchange building is owned by a jewellery company now and part of the relief is hidden by signboards with nails having been driven into the relief to fix it. I wonder how long it will be before everything disappears, much like the cotton trade and the textile industry itself?
Is this the end of an era?
Mumbai Lens is a photographic series which, as the name suggests, is Mumbai-centric and is an attempt to capture the various moods of the city through my camera lens. You can read more posts from this series here.