Fiona Fernandez: Who moved our gargoyle?
The growing threat to Mumbai's restored heritage and absence of a concrete plan by the civic body to curb this menace is a matter of concern
The restored Mulji Jetha Fountain in Fort
"Do international tourists visit India to marvel at its new bridges or highways? It's our diverse culture and rich history that draws them here, time and again. It's up to us to showcase this legacy," said Sabyasachi Mukherjee, during a recent chat, when the museum director of Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) shared plans of the upcoming children's museum that will open in its premises next year.
His observation resonated. After all, it was only a few months earlier when we witnessed a sight that would have pained many heritage buffs [and others too]. It was nightfall when we were driving past Byculla until we reached the buzzing main junction, where the Khada Parsi stands. We nearly missed the landmark. Seth Cursetjee Manockjee's statue, which is over 150 years old, and was restored in 2014, appeared neglected and in desperate need of maintenance. Worse, the surrounding area that included a picket fence-like enclosure had been taken over by squatters, who used the fencing as a clothesline. This, after over a crore of rupees had been spent on its restoration, and had been reopened with much fanfare.
Last week, we stumbled upon another reminder. Even before the Mulji Jetha Fountain in Fort gets inaugurated, its restorers, the KGA (Kala Ghoda Association) and conservation architect Vikas Dilawari are staring at an unpleasant reality. Come nightfall, the fountain and its adjoining space becomes a safe haven for drug addicts and squatters. "It's tough to see this happen to a structure that you've toiled for years together to bring back to life," rues Dilawari. Over the past few months, we've followed phases of painstaking restoration to the Indo-Saracenic monument – from the curve of the elephant's trunk to the mane of the lion, and the snout of the alligator - most of the 42 animals that grace its façade have been brought back to their former glory. This fountain was the joint labour of love between celebrated 19th century architect FW Stevens and John Griffiths - the then head of Sir JJ School of Art. Sir Ruttonsee's memorial for his 15-year-old son Dharamsee is one glaring example of the larger picture that faces Mumbai's restored public heritage.
Horrific reports are everywhere; even UNESCO World Heritage Site, CST wasn't spared during work in September 2013 when, mid-day had reported about gargoyles and other elements being mindlessly shunted away along with the rest of the rubble. Officials at the time had assured that they would be reinstalled.
The KGA is confident that after having presented a formal complaint to the police, parity will be restored. However, shouldn't Asia's richest corporation take a holistic approach to safeguard the city's historic treasures? "What we need is a committee that will ensure all restored heritage structures and sites are protected and surveyed at regular intervals through the year," suggests Mukherjee. Mumbai's unforgiving monsoon and proximity to the sea means its structures are under constant threat from the elements, not to mention the ever-imminent attack from vandals, and poor civic sense. With the lack of a concrete, reassuring approach by its administrators, it's left to citizen associations and heritage welfare groups to play watchdog. But for how long?
The writing is on the wall.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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