Inspired by St Pancras Station in London, F.W. Stevens designed Victoria Terminus, the most barmy of Mumbai’s buildings, as a paean to “progress”. Built in 1887 as the largest British edifice in India, it’s an extraordinary amalgam of domes, spires, Corinthian columns and minarets that was succinctly defined by the journalist James Cameron as “Victorian-Gothic-Saracenic-Italianate-Oriental-St Pancras-Baroque”. In keeping with the current re-Indianization of the city’s roads and buildings, this icon of British imperial architecture has been renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, in honour of the famous Maratha warlord. The new name is a bit of a mouthful, however, and locals mostly still refer to it as VT (pronounced “vitee” or “wee-tee”).
Few of the two million or so passengers who fill almost a thousand trains every day notice the mass of decorative detail. A “British” lion and Indian tiger stand guard at the entrance, and the exterior is festooned with sculptures executed at the Bombay Art School by the Indian students of John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard’s father. Among them are grotesque mythical beasts, monkeys, plants and medallions of important personages. To minimize the sun’s impact, stained glass was employed, decorated with locomotives and elephant images. Above it all, “Progress” stands atop the massive central dome.