Fiona Fernandez: Wake up the neighbourhood

Diverse neighbourhoods, Ballard Estate and Khotachiwadi, thrust into the spotlight

Last week, two different parts of the city were thrust into the spotlight, and for all the right reasons. Ballard Estate and Khotachiwadi have remained integral to the landscape of a city of contrasting styles and character, and hence it was refreshing to see these neighbourhoods come into public eye.

A group focused on urban heritage had organised a three-day workshop in Khotachiwadi to assess and relook at the space. A host of ideas emerged from the discussions by students, lay folk, and planners. At the other end, Ballard Estate will throw open its broad, well-planned roads and sidewalks to an annual cultural festival, starting this week.

Ballard Estate, the first consciously planned sub precinct in the city, was named after General JH Ballard, the first chairman of the Bombay Port Trust. Opened in 1922, the area was built and designed by George Wittet (Gateway of India is his more famous design). The space was developed from the spoils obtained from constructing the Alexandria Dock. From then to now, this premium business district has remained a silent non-happening zone after sundown, when business establishments shut shop. Now, with this news, we hope that one more area will be revitalised into a cultural zone for citizens and tourists alike.

In the heart of Girgaum, off Sir Jagannath Shankarshet Road, lies an urban village, a quaint pocket tucked amid the din of concrete Mumbai. Here the original plan of the village is intact, as the familiar blue-and-white-lined BMC nameplate announces ‘Khotachiwadi’.

Centuries ago, it was home to one of the largest concentrations of the Catholic community in south Mumbai. A crucifix here, a chapel there, and trellis work everywhere - the reminders are unmistakable. Once a colony of land tillers, the area was blessed with palms and tropical vegetation; it was assigned to land revenue officer Dadoba Waman Khot in the 1800s. With time, occupancy changed hands. Thankfully, till today, passersby will still notice its unique character — carved mahogany and teak furniture, strains from a gramophone, and a slice of old world charm lilting through the woodwork. It’s a living, breathing example of survival against the odds, albeit for how long, we wonder. Urban heritage lovers continue to do their best to keep it in the public domain, citing and reiterating its importance in the scheme of Mumbai. Such awareness programmes are a great idea, but we need more sustained initiatives to keep it alive. For this city’s sake, we hope that Khotachiwadi is allowed to survive, and thrive, as a unique ecosystem within a bustling metropolis.

For all those who are picking their brains, unsure about the existence of both areas — this columnist suggests that you put your GPS system to good use next weekend, and head out to discover these delightfully diverse neighbourhoods of the city — the real city.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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