Fiona Fernandez: Bouquets won and battles to be fought

Nov 06, 2017, 06:09 IST | Fiona Fernandez

A stupendous showing at UNESCO's regional heritage awards should propel others to throw in their support behind Bombay's heritage - especially its residential fabric that is under imminent threat from new projects

If you're one of the handful heritage buffs in the city, last week would certainly have felt as if Christmas made a surprisingly early entry, gorgeously gift-wrapped from none other than UNESCO.

Four restored sites in the city - Christ Church, Royal Opera House, Wellington Fountain and the Wadia Clock Tower and Fountain - were honoured at the 2017 UNESCO Asia Pacific awards that were announced in Bangkok. It was an unprecedented sweep for India that bagged seven awards from the 16 winning slots, the most by a country from the region, despite having tough entries from China, Iran and Australia.

"It's a great win for Bombay's heritage movement," summarised Abha Narain Lambah, when we spoke to the conservation architect whose work for the prestigious Royal Opera House won an Award of Merit. "It reiterates that private support and backing by individuals or families can go a long way to ensure that our city landmarks are in safe hands."

There was much to celebrate for Vikas Dilawari and his team too. The conservation architect scored a hat-trick where two of his wins, Wellington Fountain and the Wadia Clock Tower and Fountain were backed by the city municipal corporation with aid from corporate house Mahindra & Mahindra and the Kala Ghoda Association.

Simply put, all four wins made for an admirable exhibition of the city's intent to safeguard its heritage, where diverse associations across quarters – private and public – came together for a common cause. The awards from UNESCO should serve as a shot in the arm for similar undertakings, and also a nudge for others to follow suit and do their bit for Bombay's heritage.

Amidst the celebrations, Dilawari was quick to put the wins into perspective. "It will hold stronger ground only if this thought process and assistance is translated across the residential fabric of the city that is under constant threat in the name of development and modernisation." He went on to reiterate that while these landmarks (the winning sites) are not lived-in full-time occupied sites, the real challenges for conservation architects from his ilk continue to be with living-breathing homes that date back decades and centuries. These are slowly being chipped away, one brick, beam and tile at a time. "Until that movement gains momentum and we see results there, we cannot claim a total victory," he cautioned.

He is right. A walk through the leafy (for how long, we wonder) lanes and inner roads of Matunga's once-sprawling Hindu Colony will reveal a classic example of rampant fadeout of a charming neighbourhood.

In fact, it's not been easy going for its famed landmarks as well. Mid-day had reported (October 1, 2017) how work for Metro III had cause damage to the recently-restored Flora Fountain as well as buildings along Dr DN Road, including the UNESCO-awarded JN Petit Library and Reading Room and the historic Siddharth College started by a trust founded by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. And these are just reported cases that are in the public eye.

Still, despite an endless battle, we must raise a toast to these champions of our city's heritage for continuing to take knock after another, to ensure that the real Bombay and its treasures, can lead a protected life, for future generations. These awards make the journey sweeter.

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

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