The Manhole Cover Guide
The despair is evident on R Murali’s face as he spots some antique manhole covers in Bandra covered in fresh tar. “I just saw them a month ago. This is such a shock,” he says. Murali has the most unusual of passions. He is a researcher who spends his days exploring the remnants of 19th century Bombay in Mumbai, and he’s also a manhole enthusiast. It was his love for these British era artefacts, which we often ignore as we walk all over them, that prompted him to start the ‘Manhole and Other Covers’ tour a month ago.
You understand his passion when you walk with him early on a Sunday morning in any neighbourhood. As you compare these old cast iron beauties with the concrete or plastic covers today, you can’t help but wonder why the authorities couldn’t just let the old covers be. “The new ones have no design elements. Most of the old ones have disappeared. Some get stolen. If they are around 75 years old, they fetch a good price at auctions. Many of them got covered up when these paver block roads were laid out. In five years, I will not be able to conduct this tour any longer. Maybe even sooner,” he says.
Most manhole covers on Mumbai’s main roads have been covered up, and it was only in the tiny bylines of Bandra that we stumbled upon some rare examples. There was one made by BB Patel in 1956, and some were laid by the Bandra Municipality in the 1930s. “These covers point towards the way people lived then.
They were designed at the time that water pipes were laid out, and a sewage disposal system was introduced. Similarly, the new manhole covers are a reflection of
the declining standards of our municipality,” says Murali. The other places to spot some rare antique covers are the Kala Ghoda and Kamthipura areas, says Murali.
His two-hour walks are also interspersed with other interesting information—did you know that Mount Mary hill was one of the earliest ‘hill stations’ for Mumbaikars?
At the end of the walk, Murali seems disheartened. “Many manhole companies are now making manhole covers to export—you will find covers in New York that are made in India. But what about us?”