It was Mehernosh Shroff’s dream to have a houseboat. But a few months after the deadly 26/11 attacks, he had to destroy his dream with his own hands, after police tightened security measures at the port, which, says Shroff, resulted in harassment many times. Shroff bought the fishing boat in 1999 for Rs 12 lakh from a friend and named it Darya Mahal Sea King. Between 1999 and 2001, he had it converted into a houseboat. “I spent over Rs 60 lakh for constructing the teakwood finish houseboat with the help of shipbuilding carpenters from Darukhana. It had a bedroom with a pearl panel worth $12,000 bought from China. It was air-conditioned and had a kitchen along with a barbeque, antique chairs, lamps, carpets and mats, which were brought from Kerala,” he says, describing the boat.
The houseboat was used by the Shroff family for relaxation, and often, he hosted private get-togethers onboard, which saw several big names and popular celebrities. “His Holiness Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS), Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Donatella Versace,” he rattles off some names. On that fateful night of November 26, his master driver, oilman and sukhani (steering man) were on- board the boat.
The entirecrew was stuck without food and water, as no one was allowed ashore.Soon after the mayhem ended, police put in strict measures tomonitor activity at the port. The local Colaba police and Yellow Gate police made it mandatory to provide photographs of guests and also the details of where they were going. “With guests like these, it put huge pressure on me when such formalities were conducted. That too would take around three hours to complete. Even at sea, the marine police boat would stop and check my papers. They would then demand exorbitant bribes to let me continue on,” he told this newspaper. Unable to cope with the financial and mental strain, he demolished it a few months after 26/11 and donated the fine teak to a Hindu crematorium at Reay Road.
“The cutlery and antiques are preserved. The steering of the boat is in my office. I sold the engine and other equipment as scrap, and got less than a lakh rupees,” laments Shroff, who owns a shipping services company. His family first came from Surat to Mumbai during the Portuguese rule as Mani-Wadias, to repair wooden vessels for the voyage back and provision ships. Shipping has been in the family for generations and his late great-grandmother had also landed a contract to work with the British at the Kasara Basin at Mazgaon Docks.
“I built Mumbai’s first houseboat thinking I could help the Koli folk, since fish catch was very low then in the 1996 – 2001 period. I thought I could guide and mentor Kolis to convert their vessels into houseboats using my own patented technology to help them. We have a deep and abiding love for the community for the last 500 years.” Krishna Prakash, additional commissioner of police (south region), who came in after the attacks, said, “It is unfortunate that he had to destroy his houseboat. He should have contacted senior police officers, who would have suggested some alternatives. I had learnt that many vessel and yacht owners, post 26/11, couldn’t bear pressure from all agencies, including the police, and had left Gateway. I learnt that they started parking their vessels at far flung places like Uran, Alibaug and even Goa.”
He added, “Most of the boat owners would only have permission to park at the port, but would not take any entertainment licence, which is mandatory under the Bombay Police Act. We had suggested that they take an entertainment licence from Mumbai police and renew the same every year by paying nominal fees. This would help them to reduce any unwanted inquiry by police.”
He also told MiD DAY that the police would introduce stricter measures. “Come December 1, the police will maintain a register at the Gateway of India jetty, wherein it will be mandatory for everyone to write down their details in the register before taking a ferry or even a private yacht. Also the ferry staffers have been instructed to take a videograph of each person and maintain a record, which will be used by the police in case of any untoward incident. Also as a part of the ‘Tourist First’ programme that has been initiated, over 35-night vision cameras will be installed in and around the Gateway, and it will be monitored round the clock by the police from a nearby police chowky. We intend to put up bag scanners and other security gadgets to ensuring safety of tourists and properties,” he informed.