A boost for public heritage

Updated: 19 October, 2020 08:01 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

As an MOU is floated between the BMC and MTDC to open up the former's headquarters for walking tours, our sutradhars hope it is a start, and that other public heritage buildings in Bombay follow suit

Fiona Fernandez"You're finally going to get your deserved space in the spotlight. And, it has something to do with your workplace," Lady Flora simply loved to throw these teasers at her friend, Sir PM Mehta, and wait for his imagination to figure the rest. Except that this time he was more focused on tucking into Ms. Mehta's mawa tea cakes, diluting the result that Lady Flora was hoping to get. It was one of those peaceful October nights when both friends found themselves in a laidback mood as they languidly paced their walk around their favourite haunts in these new normal times.

"I have absolutely no clue about what you are referring to - am I being conferred an honour? Is another road being named after me? A law school coming up in my name?" Sir PM threw in as many guesses. "Alas, none are true, Pheroze. But this should be better. I've heard from my highly placed sources that your former bosses have floated an MOU with the state's tourism department to start a guided tour inside the BMC headquarters. I'm told that officials from both sides are working on securing permissions and approvals to ensure these walks can go ahead. This means that your contribution to this great city will come to the fore, finally," Lady Flora was beaming; Sir PM could tell despite the fact that she was wearing a face mask.

"That's kind of you to mention," Sir PM nodded gracefully, partially baffled at how he missed getting even a whiff of this big news that was brewing right under his nose. "This is a good sign; in fact, it's long overdue. This is one of the most stunning pieces of Gothic grandeur and was designed by the great FW Stevens; it was meant to compliment his other architectural wonder – Victoria Terminus," he added, trying to divert the attention from his miss. "Bombaywallahs ought to know about its architectural gems. They need to look at it as beyond just another old building occupied by babus buried under piles of files. It's the nucleus; the hub where the functioning of the city takes shape and form," he elaborated, quickly adding, "Lady Flora, dare I ask, but have you ever been inside my former office?"

His friend realised that despite their association that went back a century, it had never occurred to him to offer a guided visit. "It's a shame, Pheroze – that I never egged you on to take me for a personalised tour. My loss, really," she rued. "I do hope this is just the start. Bombay has so many beautiful public buildings that are heritage sites. And these do not operate on weekends, so this is a golden opportunity to introduce not just city folk but also tourists to gaze at the history, and unlock lesser known stories about its origins," elaborated Lady Flora. "My cousins back home tell me that it's a common practice in cities across Western Europe, where general post offices, legislature buildings and public libraries are accessible to tourists on weekends. I shall go a step further to say that it might just be what the doctor ordered when it comes to respecting our public heritage," uttered Lady Flora. "What do you mean?" Sir PM asked. "The writing – I mean the spitting – has always been on the wall, literally. All our public heritage buildings have been at the receiving end, thanks to the public's general apathy; they seem oblivious even now, as we battle a relentless pandemic. Hopefully, if some of these disruptors can appreciate these marvels from a different perspective, it might increase awareness. It will be a win-win, really," thundered Lady Flora. Sir PM was impressed by her passionate reasoning. "You have a valid point. In fact, insiders have been telling me how staffers sometimes treat the building with disdain; so this move, whenever implemented, is bound to instill a sense of pride among them," hoped Sir PM.

By now, the duo had reached Stevens's masterpiece. "If you're up to it, and as a belated birthday gift, would you be my guest for a tour?" Sir PM smiled. "I would be delighted, Pheroze," she blushed, as the two headed up the stunning wooden staircase to relive the wonders of the Gothic masterpiece.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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First Published: 19 October, 2020 07:02 IST

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