After attending a discussion on Mumbai's heritage where Sharada Dwivedi was one of the panelists, a fellow heritage buff had remarked, "If Mumbai's historic legacy were to be compiled into a magnum opus, Sharada Dwivedi should write its foreword." The Grand Dame of Mumbai's history and heritage is no more. For many of Mumbai's students, researchers, journalists and lovers of history and heritage, 70-year-old Sharada Dwivedi remained the citadel of knowledge and a veritable treasure trove of information about the corners and contours of our city. She wore many other hats as well -- columnist, conservation activist, and publisher; above all, a respected, balanced voice on city affairs. Her repertoire as an author extended to children's fiction and fashion.
Queen's Necklace: An image from Bombay: The Cities Within by Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra (Published by India Book House). Pic/AL Sayed
Fact of the matter
"One shouldn't rely on everything that's floating on the Internet; FW Stevens was the big boss in those times, he was a consulting architect to the Government of India so he could take a call when he learnt of the swap," she thundered while in conversation with this journalist last year, refuting claims made by a few Australian-based websites who had fuelled rumours that the building plans of Mumbai's CST station had been swapped with Melbourne's Flinder's Station. It was always a delight to listen as Dwivedi spoke her mind about Mumbai -- in all its hues, spanning eras, and backed by solid facts.
Ground level research was her mantra. A lesson for the modern-day armchair researcher -- smug with using the web as a convenient ally. An authority on all things Mumbai, she wrote 11 books on her beloved city.
It was common practice to forewarn interns and cub reporters in the newsroom of getting their facts right before approaching her for a quote on a city heritage story. "Why can't they do their homework?" she remarked once, quickly adding how the newer generation was impatient and that they needed to appreciate the city for its fascinating past.
Passionate to a fault about the city, she was ever ready to draw from her repository. Young authors keen on documenting the city found ready inspiration in her never-say-die spirit as she played guide and mentor to them. Her exhaustive research and eye for detail were second to none as is obvious from the content in each of her titles.
Dwivedi's views were accepted as the gospel truth whether it was verifying a hotly debated fact or the feasibility of a new city project. She never minced words, played devil's advocate on burning issues related to the city's urban landscape and till the end, worked to keep Mumbai's rich historic legacy alive. She's left a vacuum that Mumbai will find hard to fill.
Fiona Fernandez, Features Editor MiD DAY, is the author of Ten Heritage Walks of Mumbai (2007, Rupa & Co)
The MiD DAY connect
Back in the 1990s, she along with architect and co-author for many books, Rahul Mehrotra wrote a fortnightly column on the development of Mumbai's precincts for MiD DAY. Poetic justice then that she played her part in validating facts when MiD DAY's City Editor Vinod Kumar Menon broke the story in October 2010 about an ancient tunnel that was discovered under the General Post Office building premises.