Parsi Lying-in Hospital: Unsafe but productive

Parsi Lying-in Hospital lost its chance at revival but the derelict structure produces grads and a mag that Bawas dig

Lying defunct for more than two decades, the 122-year-old Parsi Lying-in Hospital in Fort, declared ‘structurally unsafe’ by the managing committee of the Parsi Lying-in Hospital Trust, houses company secretary classes for commerce students as well as the office of Parsiana, a community magazine.

The Parsi lying-in hospital at Fort has been defunct for over two decades
The Parsi lying-in hospital at Fort has been defunct for over two decades

A notice by the managing committee of the hospital at the entrance of the building reads: The building standing on this property is structurally unsafe and no person should enter into this property or building. Any person entering this property or building shall do so at his or her own risk. Neither the management committee nor the trustees shall be responsible in the event of a mishap.

Men undertaking repair work after a slab caved in at the hospital.  PICs/ONKAR DEVLEKAR
Men undertaking repair work after a slab caved in at the hospital.  Pics/Onkar Devlekar

A portion of the slab on the top floor on the three-storied structure caved in a few weeks ago, a worker busy piling wood into a room, told this paper. Repair work is being undertaken to maintain parts of the structure.

This structure, built in 1893 once functioned as a maternal and recuperating hospital for nursing mothers. What were maternity wards are now barren rooms gathering dirt and grime. Bird droppings, feathers and debris cover the floor and staircases. The rafters creak and fine wood dust rains on the floor every now and then.

The notice at the hospital’s entrance declaring the building structurally unfit PIC/APOORVA PURANIK
The notice at the hospital’s entrance declaring the building structurally unfit Pic/Apoorva Puranik

Yet, up the creaking staircase, on the first floor, a small room doubles up as a classroom for company secretary students of the JJ College of Commerce. The classes have been functional since 2006.

Principal of the college, Professor Homain Mehta said the structure was "safe," adding that she can’t say anything more. According to Viraf Mehta, a Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP) trustee and son of former BPP chairman, Dinshaw Mehta, the JJ College of Commerce was shifted from its premises in the BPP owned Dhun Building at Fountain, to the Parsi Lying-in hospital around 2004-2005. He said that it is for the Parsi Lying-In Hospital Trust’s managing committee to say why the college and magazine’s office continues to function there.

A notice outside one of the wards of the hospital
A notice outside one of the wards of the hospital

Editor of Parsiana, Jehangir Patel, says that this office is one of the two offices the magazine has in Mumbai. "The notice outside is just to ward off miscreants from entering the property. Some parts of the building are in a bad condition, but it is not unsafe."

Anahita Desai, CEO of WAPIZ
Anahita Desai, CEO of WAPIZ

Members of the managing committee of the hospital have a different story. Yazdi Bhagwagar, managing committee member says that after a BMC mandated structural audit of the building was done last year, the structure was deemed ‘unsafe’, following which the trust issued notices to JJ College and Parsiana office.

Viraf Mehta,  BPP trustee
Viraf Mehta, BPP trustee

"The structural audit report concluded that the building was unsafe after which the warning notice was put up outside and notices issued to both organisations working on the premises. Despite warning them about the dangers of the place, they continue to function in the building. We have sent several reminders to both parties against operating in the building," said Bhagwagar.

When we were there, we saw repair work being undertaken, parts of the long parapet running around the courtyard was precarious and broken in places.

The once magnificent, Gothic structure used to be abuzz with doctors, midwives, nurses and wailing babies, recalls Sheroo Master, a member of the hospital trust, who occupies a tiny office on the ground floor.

Master adds, "Some parts of the building are not in a good condition, hence the repairs. The commerce classes and Parsiana’s office have been functioning out of the building for a long time. There is no problem.

"About 30 years ago, mothers used to recuperate at this facility for 40 days post child birth. Ritually, new mothers would not be allowed back home before a certain period to maintain purity of the house. The women would be taken care of here, and, taught to take on their new role as mothers. People then started preferring fancy hospitals and the tradition of resting slowly faded, leaving the hospital in shambles."

"The structure is beautiful and is woven with the community’s history. The fact that JJ College company secretary classes are being held in the campus here is true, but those conducting the classes are helpless, since the college’s original building is in worse shape than this," says Anahita Desai, CEO of WAPIZ, an umbrella organisation for community welfare.

Members of the Parsi community rue that the hospital remains defunct. Yet, it is the safety of the people that is paramount. The fact that they ignore this notice and continue to operate inside, is cause for some concern.

Today, the hospitals ivy covered walls, crumbling roof and grounds are attest to the former magnificence of this property, which finds itself at the centre of a controversy.

It’s chance of resurrection faded this month when a firm that was to turn it into a state-of-the-art facility, pulled out due to bickering BPP trustees.

Fond memories

Meher Panthaki, 72, resident of Cusrow Baug (Colaba) gave birth to her son at the hospital in 1965. For her, it was a sanctuary, and she has fond memories of it. "In some Parsi households, this tradition of lying-in (rest for mothers after giving birth) was strictly followed, including mine. I remember the beautiful building with its large terrace and verandas. I was late by several weeks, and, was made to take long walks around the hospital. I met so many mothers, babies and had a good time there. I would like to see the structure put to use. It is really sad to see the place fall into such disrepair."

>> Parsi luminaries came together in the 1890s to construct the Parsi lying-in hospital, one of the first maternity facilities in the city.
>> The hospital was inaugurated on March 28, 1893.
>> Muncherji Marzban was the architect commissioned for the project.

From Rs 25,000 to more than Rs 100 crore
On a faded plaque inside the building, the history of the structure reads that the building and property belongs to the BPP. The cost of the land in 1893 (the year in which the hospital was built) was Rs 25,884 while the cost of construction was Rs 74,657. The estimated cost of the contentious property right now is over Rs 100 crore.

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