Mumbai loses a part of its history: BMC assistant breaks antique key

Aug 11, 2017, 16:05 IST | Santosh Wagh

A quirk of fate caused a flutter in the corridors of the BMC headquarters at CST.  The structure lost a piece of its 125-year-old history when a key, was broken by an office assistant

The Grade IIA heritage structure

At the beginning of this month, a quirk of fate -- spoken of only in hushed tones thereafter -- caused a flutter in the corridors of the BMC headquarters at CST. The structure lost a piece of its 125-year-old history when a key, apparently as old as the building itself, was broken by an office assistant. The BMC headquarters, built in the Gothic Revival style by FW Stevens, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and a number of repairs are underway.

The door in which the key was wedged

On August 1, hours before the iconic structure was to be permanently illuminated as part of the anniversary celebrations, an office assistant went to open the door of an auditorium where general body/standing committee meetings used to be convened, to allow electrical repairs inside. "A major fire had broken out in 1999 in the auditorium. The place was renovated, but it had been kept locked since then," said a BMC officer. The office assistant tried to open the door, but the key broke and half of it stayed wedged in the keyhole.

That key, it turns out, was a part of the building's legacy. Knowing its significance, the office assistant panicked. He brought his blunder to his superiors' attention, all the while worried of punitive action.

The antique key (broken) used to enter the auditorium. Pic/ Suresh Karkera

His fears, though, were misplaced. Unwilling to draw attention to its own error -- officials had allowed the original key to be used, instead of a duplicate one kept in the commissioner's office -- the civic body gave a quick burial to the near-controversy. A locksmith was called and the key retrieved. The broken piece now lies in the commissioner's office. The civic chief has apparently given strict orders to all to stay tight-lipped.

An official from the commissioner's officer confirms that the key had been broken.

All that remains of the key

Sources, however, say the key's antiquity is a mystery to many officials within the BMC. Few can confirm that it has indeed been around since 1893. Sanjay Sawant, maintenance and heritage department engineer, too, confirms the "unfortunate" incident. "But, I can't say anything about the key's antiquity. I joined the BMC only five years ago. However, I heard from employees that it was over a 100 years old."

City historian Deepak Rao believes that the key, by association with the heritage structure, had historic value. "The BMC is an iconic structure. So, anything associated with it, even a key, has significance," he says.

Grade IIA heritage

At the junction of Mahapalika Marg and DN Road, the BMC HQ are housed in a Grade IIA heritage building completed in 1893. A Grade IIA building is defined as one of ‘regional or local importance, possessing special architectural or aesthetical merit, cultural or historical value...They are local landmarks, contributing to the image and identity of the city’.

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