The Grand Tour of Mumbai’s C.S.M.T. Station

For artist Indu Harikumar, a guided walk of the 19th-century UNESCO site is both muse and manna.  

Last July, I had what artists call a creative block and found it difficult to get back to drawing and writing. As an antidote, I picked up The Artist’s Way, a book by Julia Cameron on nurturing creativity. Its suggestions included artist dates—weekly solo jaunts to explore something that interests you.

My first date led me to Mumbai’s C.S.M.T. station. As a young student, the place was often part of my college commute. On days when I wasn’t jostling for that coveted window seat, I wondered what it would be like to work within its stunning architecture, dating back to 1887. I didn’t know then that its heritage wing was accessible to the public.

I bought the ticket and joined two railway employees for an exhibit on the Indian Railways’ history, and then a walk through the building. The station’s inner dome was awash with light streaming through stained glass panels, and the blue vaulted ceiling studded with gold stars at the booking office (the Star Chamber) looked fabulous. At the balcony I watched people rush in and out of C.S.M.T.; for that moment, I was no more a mere pleb caught in Mumbai’s rush hour. I had risen, and had a fresh perspective of the city.

What draws me in every time are the beautiful carved animals on the walls along the station’s two levels. Now that I have been on this tour six times, I rush past the museum to glimpse the monkeys acting as railing holders, a mother bird feeding a worm to her baby, owls, peacocks, and bats. I imagine animated conversations between the stone jackals, and take my time gazing at the monkeys who look menacing, and others munching on fruit.

The tour has given me new eyes. I return enchanted every time, inspired with a fresh perspective, ready to start drawing again. The effect doesn’t wear off even when I walk along South Mumbai’s Indo-Saracenic buildings, looking at carved animals hanging from vines; I think of them having similar secret conversations. If you are at C.S.M.T. sometime, don’t forget to say hello to the hanging monkeys or the rat who is peeping out curiously.

The tour commences from The Heritage Museum’s entrance, next to the bus depot beside C.S.M.T. (Mon-Fri 3-5 p.m.; ticket Rs200, Rs100 for students).

  • Indu Harikumar is an artist and storyteller who strongly believes in recycling everything, especially love. Her work is at @induviduality.

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