For decades, we’ve marvelled at the charming architecture that greets us each time we approach Bandra’s railway station. It’s almost as if one were entering a sprawling, Mangalore-tiled roof bungalow in Goa, or Alibaug, even. The crowds inside are quick to shake us out of our dream-like imagery, of course. Still, it always makes for a rare, treasured sight in concrete Mumbai. Which is why, it came as great news when we heard that UNESCO was keen to play a role in supporting the maintenance of this railway station that is integral to not just Bandra’s, but Mumbai’s railway heritage. It’s vital to mention here that many survivors of the city’s lifeline need immediate attention. Having stood the test of time for over a century (in some cases), it’s important to respect these citadels from the past.
This brings me to the present. It’s been over 10 years since the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) earned its place of pride in the world when UNESCO gave it World Heritage Site status. The city rejoiced at this prestigious accolade, and we hoped that it would mean a safe insurance cover for this awe-inspiring icon. Have things changed for the better? Is it status quo? Or is it on the road to becoming just another forgotten landmark?
In the past, there have been a few public awareness initiatives centred on CST that have caught the eye. Top of the list was the rich display of FW Stevens’ drawings at an exhibition inside the Sir JJ School of Architecture. There was also the inclusion of guided tours of the railway terminus. A while back, we saw the introduction of technicoloured lighting for its outer facades. This, interestingly, has become a tourist attraction and a favourite photo backdrop. There was talk to spruce up their in-house museum, but so much more needs to be done, especially when we are sitting on a vast historic legacy.
Today, a majority of commuters who pass by its archways and ceilings are unable to articulate its significance. How would they? After all, beyond the efforts spelt out above, there hasn’t been much thought - let alone action - to capture the public’s imagination to this landmark that was once the second most photographed structure in the Indian subcontinent after the Taj Mahal in Agra.
Having been fortunate to visit the St Pancras station in London often compared for bearing a resemblance with CST one was amazed to note how different bodies and groups worked in tandem to not only conserve, but also showcase, its heritage to visitors and commuters. It can be a great living lesson for our authorities to learn a thing or two in highlighting the fact that our city is home to one of the world’s most magnificent railway stations to have ever been built. We owe it to Mumbai.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day