Give Mumbai its heritage back
Today, on World Heritage Day, eight diehard Mumbaikars talk to Fiona Fernandez about a feature in the city, which they would like to bring back, preserve or change for the better. From mangroves to red double decker buses, it's a wish list that can be fully realised. Now, if only the powers that be would sit up and take note
Tasneem Zakaria Mehta: Realise South Mumbai's art district
Mumbai has always been India’s gateway to the world, with a wonderful cosmopolitan character that still imbues the city with a vibrant energy that is both contemporary and yet celebrates tradition. One of the areas that epitomises this interesting juxtaposition is the SoBo Art District that is part of the Gateway of India precinct. Most of the buildings retain their heritage character, which is increasingly being appreciated by Mumbai’s creative fraternity whose interventions celebrate rather than efface this unique feature.
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, (INTACH) has worked on the restoration of the Gateway of India Plaza, which unfortunately remains incomplete due to various bureaucratic hurdles. The project proposal included the refurbishment of the area, upgrading of pavements, relocation and rationalisation of hawkers, garbage disposal facilities, removal of inappropriate accretions on heritage buildings and the painting of the facades, as well as the removal of faulty signage etc. As an art historian and conservation activist, I would really love to make this change happen.
Hemant Oberoi: Raise a toast to our street food
My life revolves around food, and naturally, the Taj Mahal comes into the picture, instantly. At the Sea Lounge, which is a historic landmark within the Taj, we've tried to preserve the heritage of our city by saluting its street food in particular. Almost 40 years back, we were the first five-star hotel to dish out Mumbai Bhel, Mumbai Chaat and the Bombay Toast Sandwich - each being iconic culinary representations of this city. It’s remained a hit with our guests since then.
So that its authenticity was intact, we undertook extensive research to meet the highest standards. Spice levels were adjusted as per patron's preference. For the ingredients too, puffed rice (bhel) was a given, but we decided against using peanuts. However, we stuck with the kachhi kairi (raw mango) to retain the snack’s tanginess. After all, it’s a flavour that is intrinsic to Mumbai. Even Sea Lounge’s interiors exude an air of old world charm. Besides, it remains a famous venue for matchmaking among Indian families too!
Mustansir Dalvi: Where are those red telephone booths?
Mumbai’s street furniture is fast disappearing. South Bombay has been reduced to paver blocks, streets usurped by hawkers and a few bus stops. One object that has nearly become extinct is the telephone booth. These lovely red-and-glass tallboys with their little domes were designed by the British architect Giles Gilbert Scott (son of Gilbert Scott, who designed Mumbai’s University buildings) and are listed heritage in other parts of the world.
Built in several versions from 1925 onwards, the one we are most familiar with in Mumbai is the K6, which is the iconic red booth (also known as the ‘Jubilee Booth’ built to commemorate King George V’s reign). In recent years, the booth has been included in contemporary art installations by David Mach and Banksy.
Thanks to cell-phone technology making it functionally obsolete and our callous attitude about anything other than the here and now, I wonder how many of these once ubiquitous kiosks have made their way to the scrap heap. The only one I know still in a public setting is outside The Times of India building. There are two in the Sir JJ School of Art Campus, much loved by the students of architecture. This is one object that can easily be readapted (mobile charging booths/ WiFi hotspots) and definitely deserves to reappear in the sightlines of our city.
Krsna Mehta: Mumbai deserves a cultural centre
Mumbai is my home. It has been the core of my inspiration for long and continues to inspire me as an artist and designer. One part of this city that remains my favourite includes Kala Ghoda and Horniman Circle. I love its Victorian architecture and Art Déco buildings. I would like to see a conversion of this area into the cultural centre of the city with the restoration of some of its buildings. It would be amazing if on weekends the area were allocated for pedestrians only.
If its streets were cobbled properly and restaurants and cafes were allowed to place tables on its pavements, where artist and musicians could perform, with kiosks scattered throughout, it would create an unbelievable atmosphere. The area around the circle could function as Mumbai’s High Street. The circular garden can host cultural events every weekend. Mumbai lacks a cultural district and a high street. Instead of having it scattered across the city, it would be nice if it were concentrated in one area. I would like to see this happen, and if the opportunity presents itself, I will do all I can to contribute.
Bittu Sahgal: Protect our mangroves
Living and non-living heritage combine to give each of us a compass by which to measure the quality of our existences. Few Mumbaiites residents realise just how fortunate they are to be living in a city garlanded by mangroves. Not only do these miraculous plants protect us from being battered by tidal waves and high-velocity winds, they also offer spectacular sights such as the flamingos that now attract a dedicated set of avian aficionados, who are also treated to the sight of something like two million waders and migratory water fowl that arrive each year to rest and recuperate in the magnificent Thane creek region.
Newcomers, who visit this ‘best known avian secret’ located at the Sewri jetty near the ancient fort, can scarcely believe their eyes when they witness the wild spectacle in the very heart of polluted Mumbai. Yet, mangrove patches throbbing with marine life have managed to survive the almost incessant assault of builders and land grabbers who cold-bloodedly consume Mumbai’s irreplaceable natural heritage. Though some public-spirited citizens have indeed united to protect mangroves, most ‘ordinary’ urbanites tend not to give these hardy plants a second look.
Yet, as any fisherman will confirm, the mangroves of Sewri, Nagla, Thane and Gorai are not merely magnets for birds, but also the aquatic life that is so central to the lives of the Kolis and others for whom fishing means sustenance for their families. On World Heritage Day, perhaps it would be appropriate for thousands of aware citizens, young and old, to regularly visit the relict mangrove patches left alive in Mumbai and work with others who want this magical arena of biodiversity to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Visit www.sanctuaryasia.com for more on such living natural heritages of Mumbai and conservation issues.
Sanjna Kapoor: Bring alive Opera House
Imagine if your month would feel incomplete without a pilgrimage to your favourite haunt - to catch an evening performance, to experience morning ragas, to take your kids to a live show, to watch great world cinema, to browse through an intimate bookshop, to visit exquisite exhibitions, to mingle with fabulous writers and poets’ gup (chit-chat) about their work, to listen to live music as you sip a cool ice-tea or beer at your favourite café? Does this sound like bliss? To have a place in Mumbai where you can let your hair down and breathe, recuperate in your little oasis seems impossible to realise. The place that could be all of this is the transformed Opera House!
For years, I burned with these dreams of what Opera House could become! For me it is doubly precious - not only because it is an amazing heritage building and theatre but also because it was ‘home’ to my grandfather’s theatre company, Prithvi Theatres. Prithviraj Kapoor also had his office and stored his sets at Opera House, for years.
As his company rehearsed every morning for their shows, my parents romanced each other under the shade of the trees, sipping chai. Later, I would regularly drop in and be taken around by old caretaker Garivarsinghji, who remembered those days - and would delight me with his stories. My dreams were shattered when I discovered that the owners had other plans. Today, I no longer yearn for the Opera House but I would be delighted to see it live again!
Jerry Pinto: A lament for red
So many of the things that I remember from my childhood seem to be missing. I don’t see those fire-engine red water hydrants. As the pavements rise, they get buried. I wonder if this is all right with the Fire Department. I wonder what has happened to all the red double-decker buses? I remember the bus on route No 1, which I would take from Mahim to Byculla where my mother lived. If we were lucky, my sister and I would get the first seats on the top and watch the world pass by.
I wonder what happened to the colour red, the colour of the unions in my city? When workers were mistreated, they went to the union and the union fought for them. Now the workers must fight lone battles or use extra-constitutional means to get justice from corporations. When an airline retrenches, the young people who were so eager to sign contract labour jobs, find themselves without protection and they wonder whether it is fair.
No, it isn’t. That's what your grandfathers and great-grandfathers discovered. That the little man won’t win against the power of the rich and the rich will divide and rule because that’s what they do whether they’re British or Indian. They’ve divided us, when they bleached the red of Mumbai, the red that held communal forces at bay, the red that cocked a snook at the Congress, the red that held the fabric of the city together. What happened to red, the colour of my city?
Michael Ferreira: Hail Bandra’s sporting legacy
Hockey has to thank Bandra for an inexhaustible supply of players at the national and international levels. Olympian Leo Pinto, Joachim Carvalho, Viren Rasquinha, Marcellus Gomes, Edward Aranha, Francis D’Mello and Cedric Pereira spring to mind. Every national, state and company team had boys from Bandra on their roster.
There are several reasons for this flow of talent. Bandra’s leading schools, St Andrews and St Stanislaus have great grounds with outstanding principals who’ve encouraged sport. Fathers Donnelly, Rodney Esperance and Reginald Rufus took personal interest in the sporting careers of their wards. If “daudoge, kheloge banoge kharab, padoge likhoge banoge nawab,” was the mantra, these educationists also recognised the value of “mens sana in corpore sano” (Latin: healthy mind in a healthy body).
Other sportspersons feature prominently in the Bandra Hall of Sporting Fame too. The father of Indian badminton was George Lewis, while the brilliant Nandu Natekar, Thomas Cupper Asif Parpia, Uber Cupper Maureen Mathias and national doubles champion Owen Roncon impressed on court. Tennis had Davis Cuppers and national champions Gaurav Natekar, Mark Ferreira and Nasreen Sujatalli, while Paul Ferreira was national squash no 2. (Ferreira Sr. is a four-time World Billiards Champion). Bandra uber alles! (German: Bandra, above all).