When the British first interested themselves in Bombay, a natural port on the west coast of India, 'the Island', as it was commonly called, consisted properly speaking of not one island but seven: these were grouped around an expanse of salt flats which, in the monsoon, became a dividing flood, but which, in drier seasons and at low tide, united the islands and was eventually to be reclaimed and made part of one whole.

The East India Company, which had been granted its charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600, had its eye on the place from the start, but it was then a Portuguese trading post on which the Dutch, too, had designs. Sixty years of manoeuvres and warlike forays were to elapse before the British Crown acquired the Island, almost absent-mindedly, as part of the dowry of Charles II's bride Catherine of Braganza. The only person at the time who seems to have appreciated the potential significance of this transfer was Antonio de Mello de Castro, the Viceroy of Goa, the main Portuguese colony down the coast. He wrote to his king: '... I forsee the great trouble that from this neighbourhood will result to the Portuguese, and that India will be lost on the same day on which the English nation is settled in Bombay.' Given the apparent insignificance of Bombay at this date, it was an amazingly prophetic statement.

People have been coming to Bombay for 300 years, hoping to make their fortune. But in their search for gold many have died. Their bodies were laid in a place known as Sonapur, which also means 'the city of gold' since, according to an Indian saying, to die is to be turned to gold.

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