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Part II: Bunga-lows and highs

Owners speak out about resisting tempting offers and what Generation Next would do with these homes, in this, the second part of the series on bungalows in the Mumbai

Built in the 1950s in what is known as the 'original Immaculate Conception (IC)' colony, DX Vaz House in Borivali stands tall more than 60 years later. Talking about his bungalow, Schubert Vaz, a musician by profession says, "My father and three of his musician friends bought land in Borivali around India's Independence, when the area was a deserted place with a large forest cover.

Dennis Baptista (L) and Percy D'Souza discuss Matharpacady's history. Pics/Shadab Khan
Dennis Baptista (L) and Percy D'Souza discuss Matharpacady's history. Pics/Shadab Khan

This area grew to a village and is now a buzzing metro space with buildings all over. The change has left me astounded." Vaz goes on to say, "Living in a bungalow has a charm of its own as we can avoid the bickering of neighbours, plus we have our own compound and space. I live with my wife and sons here, and within the four walls of our house, we have a little world of our own."

DX Vaz bungalow in IC Colony has been standing for more than 50 years. Pic/Ronak Savla
DX Vaz bungalow in IC Colony has been standing for more than 50 years. Pic/Ronak Savla

Owner's pride
As the owner of a bungalow in the posh IC Colony area, I have many people who look at me in awe. I get many 'wows' from people and it makes me feel nice. I have nine rooms which include my music room. As a musician, music is a vital part of my world; I share my knowledge by conducting classes for those who want to learn. I also have practice in this room. In a smaller house, things would get too crammed, having a big house proves to be a plus," adds Vaz.

Schubert Vaz, a musician by profession with his wife in their Borivali home. Pic/Ronak SavlaSchubert Vaz, a musician by profession with his wife in their Borivali home. Pic/Ronak Savla

The Borivali resident says he is not sure whether his children will keep the bungalow. Vaz says, "Builders have come on and off to offer me a good deal in order to build a multi-storey building here. But I have managed to put them off a number of times, I am happy with my house and the way it is. I have to shell out a lot of money for maintenance, leaks, painting work requires a lot of money, but I have never been tempted to sell."

That’s what the Vaz family think of their home. Pic/Ronak Savla
That’s what the Vaz family think of their home. Pic/Ronak Savla

Builder pressure
At Matharpacady in Mazgaon, Martin and Lavina Cardozo live at House No 32 on the first floor, while Martin's younger brother's family live on the ground floor. Living in the Grade 3 heritage area has seen the family receive numerous threats from builders for their house.

The Cardozo bungalow in Mazagoan
The Cardozo bungalow in Mazagoan

Lavina says, "We used to get calls on our landline from goons who claimed to be from some underworld don or the other saying that we should sell our house at the earliest. The thugs would come over at 2 am and 3 am to harass us. Now, thankfully, they have stopped. Those times were pure mental torture and for the last two years we have been able to live in our house in peace."

Lavina and Martin Cardozo at their home
Lavina and Martin Cardozo at their home

Her husband Martin adds, "My family has been living in this house for more than 50 years, Burmese wood has been used in this home. I know that the builders are seeking to get their hands on this wood that once sold will fetch a huge sum of money. Till we are alive, I will not let this house be demolished nor will I sell it."

This chapel at Matharpakady was built when a plague killed many in the city in the 1880s
This chapel at Matharpakady was built when a plague killed many in the city in the 1880s

Close quarters
Residents of the area have formed the Matharpacady Residents' Welfare Association in order to combat builder pressure as well as to deal with the government agencies in an organised manner.

Percy D’Souza one of the oldest members of this association that was started in the 1970s says, "Many of the bungalows here have been in existence for more than 100 years. St Isabel's High School was housed in a couple of them many years ago. When Matharpacady was declared a slum by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corportaion (BMC) we all rose up and fought for it to become a heritage village."

Revealing how the association uses the Right to Information (RTI) Act effectively, Dennis Baptista, president of the group says, "The RTI is our only way of fighting for the right to live in our homes. Builders often come and build illegal constructions in and around the village, we use this tool to avoid letting our haven become a concrete jungle."

Joy of living
Explaining why she and her husband continue to live in a bungalow even though they have been threatened and offered huge sums of money to shift, Lavina says, "We have everything close by — Crawford Market, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai Central stations, the top city hospitals. Everything is convenient for us. My daughter lives in Malad and commuting is cumbersome from the suburbs."

Agreeing with his wife, Martin adds, "The life here is what I have lived all through the 70 plus years that I have existed, I cannot imagine a life away from here. Many of our neighbours have chosen to sell their bungalows and move to faraway Vasai, Virar, Thane, Panvel and some even stay in Pune, now."

D'Souza goes on to say, "If a person lives here, he or she will never want to live anywhere else. We have spacious houses, a small world of our own here. Our neighbours are like family and friends, we literally live in each others houses, this sense of belonging and oneness is something that along with the love for our houses, helps us fight each time a builder or the government opts to offer to raze our houses and do redevelopment."

Shelling out money
With the monsoon set to hit the city in June, many houses in Matharpacady have tile and roof repairers working on them. "Every year, I end up spending at least R 50,000 on house repairs before the monsoon so that we don't have a leaky roof during the rains.

Varnishing the wood, painting the house and looking after the external and internal structure of the house is a costly affair, which has forced many people who used to live in this area to sell their houses to others," says Martin Cardozo.

Praising the cross ventilation in bungalows and pointing that out as one of the top reasons why even today they live in these big houses in Mumbai, Baptista says, "Lokmanya Tilak's close associate Joseph 'Kaka' Baptista was born and lived here.

This village is not just historic because of the houses that have been here for many years but also people who have been a part of India's freedom struggle. Descendents of the great freedom fighter's associate still live here. This area is perhaps the best ventilated part of Bombay; yes the city will always be named that in my view. We all do our bit to keep our houses in the best possible condition."

Lavina Cardozo adds, "The water and electricity bills, taxes, etc come up to a huge sum since the house is huge. If we stayed in a flat I think we would pay a little lesser, but we would have less space. We pay the old tax rates and so if this place is redeveloped, we will have to pay more taxes."

Standing strong
Years from now, the residents of Matharpacady are confident their village and houses will still be standing. Baptista says, "The same love that we have for our houses is what we have ensured is inculcated in our children. As much as we love our bungalows and this village, even the children and young people of Matharpacady care and are passionate about preserving this heritage. "

Agreeing with him, D'Souza says, "Seeing us fight against the government, builders and various politicians in the last few years has, in a way, made our children and youngsters more aware. When you tell friends that you live in a bungalow, their reactions are interesting.

As a child, it is exciting to be looked at in awe since you live in a huge house, I enjoyed the attention and my children also are happy to bring friends home. Seeing their joy, I know that they will fight to keep our bungalows even after us."

Claiming that bungalows have strong structures, Martin Cardozo says, "There was a time when they claimed our house had white ants. The BMC sent some people who used saws to cut the wood. Three saws broke but the wood wasn't cut, that is how strong it is."

"If there is an earthquake today, I can assure you that many high rises in this area will fall but our houses will still stand. We will have enough time to take our cupboards and valuables with us," ends Baptista.

Highlights
>> Wooden floors and pillars are a characteristic of most ancestral bungalows.
>> Cross-ventilation and multiple windows add to the charm.
>> Gardens with many flowers and fruit trees around the house are a bonus.

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