Mumbai GPO building turns 100

Mumbai GPO building turns 100

The British architect was influenced by Mughal structures while planning GPO building

Mumbai GPO building turns 100

In the rain-mist and stormy skies, the melancholic dome, turrets, spires and minarets, shimmers with light like some sort of para-physical energy rumbling the echoes of a time warp.

Possibly, cult rock singer Jim Morrison in his short eventful life when screeching under the influence of poet William Blake, “Break on through to the other side” had the same vision of “The Door” to infinity, as John Begg had while designing the Mumbai General Post Office (GPO) building.

Cars, buses and trucks bustling through the day does not affect the serenity beyond the soft swaying palm trees and fence and iron-wrought gates. The half-shaded corridors, spiral curlicue staircases and stained glasses swirl with deep shadows and fragr­ance of old letters. The majestic stone structure standing just outside the periphery of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station (CST) aka Victoria Terminus (VT) Railway Station, completed 100 years in April this year.

Tracing the history of postal services building,  Mumbai GPO Director Shobha Madhale says, as per the Bombay Gazetteer after East India Company gained political power, it formed three Presidencies in the sub-continent--Bengal, Madras and Bombay (now called Mumbai.)

“The Bombay Presidency comprised districts of Dharwad, Belgaum, Bijapur and North Canara.

Interestingly, the North Canara after bifurcation was included in Bombay Presidency. And the entire histo­ry of the Deccan region, in fact, is closely inter-twined with the postal history of Bombay Presidency.

“The establishing of Imperial Post Offices (IPO) in the Presidencies was necessitated for streamlining administrative communications both inland and outside British India.

The first IPO was housed in the Saint George Fort then shifted to Apollo Pier and then to Flora Fountain... and then to the present location, which is also near the docks. After all the sea-ports then offered the quickest mail transfers and it was also the period which witnessed the laying of railway lines in this region,” Madhale pointed out.

In 1902, Begg, a consulting architect to the government, was asked to come up with a design for the building which would be the epi-centre of postal services for the imperial empire spread out in the sub-continent.

Interestingly, unlike the CST Railway Station designed along the lines of Victorian Gothic architectural style in vogue during late 19th and early 20th century, the GPO Mumbai building has very few traces of European influence.

In fact, architectural historians contend that it was extremely strange that while designing Begg, a British architect, did not opt for the usual Gothic style and instead drew inspiration from Mughal structures.

Though the building became the first to be desig­ned in Indo-Saracenic style (Persian-Hindu-Gothic) the dome with a spire bristling with an energy seeking to leap into skies, was a pure emulation of the iconic Gol Gumbaz of Bijapur.

The massive construction that is considered even in present times as the biggest postal house in South Asia was carried out at a cost of Rs 18,09,000. It took nine years for completion and ironically a majorchunk of the artisans were the local Koli fisher folks.

The building housed in a compound ad measuring 1,20,000 sq ft has an end-t- end length of 523 ft; but the interesting aspect of the building is the central hall rocketing 120 ft high to the a la Gol Gumbaz dome with a diameter of 65 feet.
The building after 100 years stands tall with hardly requiring any sort of reconstruction or restructuring. The reason: according to city historians, lies in the materials, used during those times.

The materials primarily used were local basalt and black stones from Kurla (in Mumbai) ; the dressing was carried out by yellow stones ferried from Malad and softly glistening white stones from Dharagadhra (Gujarat.) And the building that changed the landscape of south Mumbai, has now been accorded by the Archaeological Department, a heitage status.

The massive construction that is considered even in present times as the biggest postal house in South Asia, always buzzing with staff and people. It conti­nues to amaze modern-day architects with its interior Vaastushastra; the highly-ventilated spaces have been structured in such a manner that feelings of claustrophobia or being cramped in any of the rooms never strikes any visitor.

“It may not be having the acoustics wonder of Gol Gumbaz, but the Postal Department has decided to conserve the building. INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art, Culture and History) was engaged as consultant to advise us on the restoration and maintenance of the monument building. And we are awaiting for the final clearance,” Madhale said.

Talking of the present times, Madhale said: “Postal services have undergone a change no doubt, but on any given working day that spans 16 hours in Mumbai GPO, you will find at the end of the shifts that on an average we serve 40,000 customers. People have a lot of misconception that the postal work has gone down... every day we handle 60,000 unregi­stered mail and this does not include volumes of money orders, speed post articles and parcels and most of the parcels belong to foreign tourists. And all this is done in this building.”

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