Fiona Fernandez: A Gothic conundrum

Mar 12, 2018, 06:08 IST | Fiona Fernandez

As the future role of the city's iconic railway terminus hangs in balance, our favourite vintage sutradhars find themselves caught in the crossfire against the backdrop a growing lack of respect for urban heritage

The pillar which was found broken at the CSMT building. FILE PIC
The pillar which was found broken at the CSMT building. FILE PIC

Fiona Fernandez"Lady Flora, are you awake? We seem to have a situation back at VT…oops, I mean CSMT," whispered Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, under his breath, trying his best not to wake up the sleeping strays in the car park nearby. It was way past Flora's bedtime.

Droplets of sweat were dripping from his face. After all, it's no mean feat for a gent of his age to cover the distance from his pedestal outside the BMC building to Fountain in ten minutes. She stirred after his incessant, albeit polite whispers. "Oh, Pheroze, couldn't you wait till tomorrow night? What was the emergency? After days, I was able to sleep since the drilling around the Metro had halted, and now this." Feeling awful for having woken up his dear friend, Sir PM, tried to pack in as much as he could in the next minute before her annoyance turned to anger. "Well…you see, Lady Flora, gargoyle nearly lost his life yesterday! He saw something terrible happen from his vantage seat at the railway terminus, and the next thing he knew, he dodged death," revealed Sir PM, hoping that the dramatic statement would help his case. "Are you serious? Or is it one of your nightmares that seem to be a frequent occurrence of late? We all know the origins of your last one, where you swore that you spotted Sir Edward on his kala ghoda as he was headed towards Banganga Tank for a midnight stroll. It was all bunkum!"

"No, Lady," begged Sir PM, continuing, "Let's go right now, and you'll see it for yourself." Ever ready to play detective, she headed downward, and together, they made their way to the scene. Gargoyle, nursing a cracked forehead, greeted both and ushered them into the Gothic building. Without saying a word, he pointed out to the scene. Lady Flora nearly shrieked, only to be gently shushed by Sir PM, lest the security guard on his rounds would get suspicious. A huge cavity lay exposed on the pillared outer façade; they spotted the broken piece of the pillar below them, on the floor of the complex. Gargoyle was crestfallen, "All these centuries, since 1888, when dear Mr. Stevens brought us to life, never had I imagined that I would live to see the day. After the hair-brain idea to create a museum here, the very same people who are opposing it have done this to their own office. Just imagine."

Lady Flora's jaw dropped. "But why make it a museum in the first place? she asked, turning towards her wise friend, who for once, was at a loss to say something important. "See…the orders came from the gods. These men who work here had no say. Nor does poor Stevens – May his soul rest in peace. He had designed this terminus to be a living, breathing workplace, but his vision seems to have fallen on deaf ears," he rued. "…And if that wasn't enough to deal with, these employers have done themselves no favours by carelessly damaging this section of a UNESCO World Heritage Site," gargoyle interjected.

A week had passed, and one balmy night in March the three met again. "Sir PM, Lady Flora…up here," he called out. The two made their way to the familiar spot. "See, it's been restored. Isn't this a relief?" gargoyle looked at his two friends for some reaction. "It's a good thing. Let's hope this was put the focus back on the building, and why it should remain an office and a railway station." Always keen to have the last word, Lady Flora thundered, "And may these acts of utter disregard be treated as a punishable, jail-able offence; don't you think so, Pheroze?"

"That would be the day, Lady Flora" he smiled.

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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