An off-track idea

Updated: Feb 10, 2020, 07:45 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

The revived interest by the Rail Ministry to convert CSMT into a museum defies the very purpose of what its architect FW Stevens had envisioned for the landmark

The CSMT building is a UNESCO World Heritage site
The CSMT building is a UNESCO World Heritage site

Fiona FernandezYears ago, at an exhibition held inside the Sir JJ School of Architecture, I had the good fortune of poring over some hand drawn plans for Victoria Terminus (today's CSMT) created by its architect FW Stevens. Having a keen interest in original plans of buildings (the heritage kinds) I had seen quite a few splendid works of precision and most importantly, 360-degree, all-inclusive visions on paper in the past. But Stevens's works were something else altogether.

First of all, his clarity of thought that covered the plan for every floor was fantastic. Collectively referred to as the GIPR (Great Indian Peninsular Railway, former name for Central Railway) Terminus Station and Administrative Offices Plan, not only had he outlined sections on every floor but he had also taken great pains to sketch out stunningly accurate architectural details that included arches, ornamentation and pillars.

As I soaked in the information, one thing came across strongly. Stevens believed, conceptualised and executed a plan for this building that was meant to be a living, breathing citadel of Gothic splendour. Hence, the word 'administrative' is part of the title of the plan. He had clearly stated in his vision that it was and will always be a functional space where railway staff could operate from the very same building where local and long distance trains arrived at or departed from the prestigious terminus, the pride of the Empire, as it came to be known.

And, so, the renewed interest after the idea was first proposed in 2017 to convert the working terminus into a museum defies Stevens's plans and baffles the mind. This newspaper has been reporting about the objection to the idea from not just staff and conservationists but also Stevens's descendants since the first announcement had been made. It was later revealed that the project would be reconsidered but now we see it return with a R25-crore sanction for it.

Why not convert a section of the building into a museum instead of the entire site? One also needs to take a closer look at the ongoing restoration in parts of the building. Again, this newspaper had reported about some very questionable modifications in the name of preserving the building and 'modernising' it. Why jump into another grandiose plan when the ongoing one itself needs a miraculous rescue act? Why not use the allocated amount to better facilities for commuters and improve overall cleanliness inside the terminus with the same precision that Stevens had thought of while drafting his historic plans?

One hopes that common sense and logic prevails, because if this goes ahead and actually happens, the city will lose the all-inclusive character of an icon in the truest sense. Oh, and in case you're keen to have a look at those magnificent plans, get a copy of A City Icon by Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra. It'll make you fall in love with Stevens and his ideas, if you needed a reminder.

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 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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