Immediately north of Colaba, Kala Ghoda (“Black Horse”) district is named after the large equestrian statue of King Edward VII that formerly stood on the crescent-shaped intersection of MG Road and Subhash Chowk. Flanked by Mumbai’s principal museum and art galleries, the neighbourhood has in recent years been rebranded as a “cultural enclave” – as much in an attempt to preserve its many historic buildings as to promote the contemporary visual arts that have thrived here since the 1950s. Fancy stainless-steel interpretive panels now punctuate the district’s walkways, and on Sundays in December and January, the Kala Ghoda Fair sees portrait artists, potters and mehendi painters plying their trade in the car park fronting the Jehangir Art Gallery.
Northeast of Kala Ghoda stretches the yawning expanse of Oval Maidan, where impromptu cricket matches are held almost every day, against a backdrop of giant palms and even taller Raj-era buildings. Green during the monsoons and parched yellow for the rest of year, it is flanked on its eastern side by some of Mumbai’s finest Victorian piles, dating from the high point of British power. The travel writer Robert Byron famously described them as forming an “architectural Sodom”, claiming that “the nineteenth century devised nothing lower than the municipal buildings of British India. Their ugliness is positively daemonic”. Today, however, they appear not so much ugly as intriguing.