A mansion to save

Published: Jun 10, 2019, 06:21 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Our sutradhars are unhappy about the news around the possible demolition of Esplanade Mansion and have gone into protest mode in a unique way to show their objection

A mansion to save

Fiona FernandezAs Sir PM approached his seating spot by a popular Irani café located around a corner inside the heart of Fort, he swore he felt someone's presence right behind him. Beads of perspiration began to trickle from his forehead. He hadn't been mugged since he had walked down Sassoon Dock for a case nearly a century ago. He felt a hand on his shoulder and let out a loud cry. To his surprise, the person turned out to be his walking companion and friend, Lady Flora

"Lady! Why are you wearing black and creeping up on me like this?" he exclaimed, his heart still pounding. She didn't expect the extreme reaction, and profusely apologised to Sir PM. She owed him an explanation for her wardrobe change. "Well, you see Pheroze, this is my way of showing my objection to what's been happening in our backyard. You do know about the rumblings at Esplanade Mansion, don't you?" Sir PM, took a few moments to give her an informed reply. "Yes, of course. That magnificent building, the toast of the city's hospitality industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is all set to be demolished, I hear. What a shame, Lady, but why the black robe?" he added.

"This is a sign of my utter shock, anger, helplessness and regret of the possible end of an era. What a shame that this city cannot save this unique building. I will wear this for a while to make a statement as a fellow heritage site. The tourists will have to make do with a different looking Lady Flora. I think all of us should show our solidarity with this heritage landmark. People of today can't even imagine what this means because they are not even aware of its uniqueness," she rattled off. She was clearly upset by this development, Sir PM could tell.

"But Lady, what do you think tilted the scales in favour of this awful decision? I still thought the building had a chance at revival. This, especially after the UNESCO World Heritage Site tag that this sub precinct was honoured with, which the site is a part of," enquired Sir PM. By now, Lady Flora decided to give the black robe a break. After all, it was the middle of an unbearably muggy May in Mumbai, and she had never realised how uncomfortable it felt to wear black. Until now, of course.

"See, Pheroze, it has always been very clear from where I stand and what I have been privy to. The tenants wish to stay on after the place gets restored and sensitively renovated but the landlord — I am very confident of this — is hand-in-glove with the babus and other gods, and is looking at making a hefty sum of money by giving it up and allowing some new building — an eyesore — to rise in its place," reasoned Lady Flora, seeming quite convinced of her theory. "This new explanation floated by some reputable institution to say that it cannot be restored is humbug. All bogus talk, I say; it's just another way of joining hands with the land sharks who are eyeing this prized piece of property."

Sir PM nodded. He had to believe her. She must have been a spy or an investigative journalist in another life, he thought. "Lady…I am with you in full solidarity. We must support and show our displeasure at this act. In my heyday, I would have turned up in my black robes to save the mansion. Today, I can remove it from my almirah and don it at least for this cause," he assured her.

They made their way, albeit in silence, to this one-time impressive, now sealed landmark. The place resembled an eerie reminder of its glory days. It was pitch dark. A couple of stray cats ambled around near the entrance. They were probably displaced with the shuttering of the space. A loss of home. Much like what will happen if this demolition were to go ahead. Bombay, too, will lose some of its soul and character.

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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