Preeti Chopra

The Native Intermediary and the Engineering of Colonial Bombay

Bombay’s Victorian architecture was built by British and Indian architects, engineers, and craftsmen, however, the role of Indian architects and engineers in the making of British Bombay has been largely ignored. Macaulay’s Minute (1835) articulated the aim to create through missionary education “‘a class of interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern – a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect,’” or as Homi Bhabha notes, “mimic
men.” This talk examines the role of the Indian architect and engineer Khan Bahadur Mucherji C. Murzban who was the architect of many buildings around the Fort area and might offer an early example of a “mimic man.” Born in 1838, Murzban worked in the Public Works Department from 1857 to 1893 and became the Executive Engineer to the Municipality. He was responsible for the design of many examples of Gothic architecture on the Esplanade including the Indo-British Institution (1884-87) and the
Elphinstone College (1889). Is Murzban the perfect “mimic man” who could imitate the architectural forms desired by the British in his designs and yet forge no independent path of his own? Or, are there other ways of analyzing the work of Murzban and others like him? This talk examines the biography of Murzban to show that his expertise as an engineer and his local engagements – as a Freemason, his involvement with social reform, and the Parsi community from which he hailed – helps us to understand the meaning of his constructions.

Dr. Chopra completed her Ph.D. in Architectural History, University of California-Berkeley, in 2003, with her dissertation, The City and Its Fragments: Colonial Bombay 1854-1918, under the direction of Professor Dell Upton. While at Berkeley, she published “La Ville Imaginee: Nommer Les Divisions De Bombay Coloniale (1800-1918),” in Divisions de la Ville, ed., Christian Topalov (Paris: Editions de la Maison des sciences de l’hommes; collection “Les Mots de la ville, 2002).