Last week, two bits of news came as a shot in the arm for city lovers, heritage buffs, and anybody who wishes that Mumbai retain its original fabric and character despite it appearing as a daunting, if not Herculean task.
City visionary Jamshetji Tata’s former residence, Esplanade House in Fort, was restored to its former glory by Vikas Dilawari and his team after a decade-long laborious initiative. In a couple of days, mid-day broke the news that industrialist Mukesh Ambani was to pledge R1.8 crore for the running of the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla. Both developments should serve as ideal springboards for others to follow suit and dig deep to direct their funds for the city’s historic and cultural landscape. In fact, one heaved a huge sigh of relief that city founding father, entrepreneur and philanthropist Jamsetji Tata’s home got this much-needed restoration.
If one were to do a quick headcount of the number of public libraries, museums, historic tourist attractions and galleries in Mumbai, and were to compare it to any world or Asian city even, we sit dismally low in the list. It is too embarrassing to spell it out. If Mumbai has any chance of promoting itself as a world-class city, these citadels of culture, history and learning need more than the occasional cosmetic facelift. As this journalist has spelt out in many of her earlier columns, it is the need for industrial houses, business barons and entrepreneurs to come forward and
save such remarkable landmarks in the city. Taking it further, young, enterprising minds and groups should be roped in by owners to step in -- ideate, inspire and eventually ensure -- that these spaces become people-friendly, proud reminders of our rich, multifaceted and dynamic character. Sadly, until now, and barring a few exceptions, India’s richest city, in its pursuit of getting richer, doesn’t seem keen to give back.
While speaking with us on the work at the Esplanade House, conservation architect Dilawari repeatedly credited the owners for having the vision to identify that this landmark needed more help structurally, than from a beautification angle. This, we believe, is where the thought process must change. People with money and in places of authority need to move out of their mindsets and believe that there is scope, and see reason, why these important landmarks need to be around. Most crucially, these must be opened up to make them living, breathing examples of a vibrant, cultural city in the most dynamic way possible. The city needs a seismic shift to ensure it doesn’t become a concrete jungle lacking a cultural, historic spine. Only then can Mumbai hold its own on the global map.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day