Fiona Fernandez: Musings in Byculla
While the city's oldest museum is reaping the benefits of sensitised restoration, the neighbouring zoo needs a desperate 360-degree rethink by the city's civic authorities
"Say, Pheroze, I hear there's some kind of buzz around in Byculla. A few nights back, when you were visiting Dr Viegas and co. at Dhobi Talao, our old friend Kala Ghoda came by for a quick hello," Lady Flora was apprising Sir Pherozeshah Mehta on one of their midnight walks around the streets in Fort. Sir PM lowered his spectacles, and halted in his stride. "Did he say anything else? Should we take a chance, and head there. It's still a long time before sunrise," he prodded.
Lady Flora mulled over the thought for a bit, and finally agreed. In any case, ever since Metro III work had commenced near her pedestal, she looked for every opportunity to distract herself from the eventuality of the change around her.
Together they set off to meet their friend in Byculla – the one-time glitzy neighbourhood that was the toast of the town with balls, socialite evenings, a buzzing turf club and gymkhanas. "Oh, how I loved heading here over a century ago. Pheroze, would you recall that memorable Christmas ball at the Byculla Club? It was the talk of the town." Sir PM drew a blank. It wasn't exactly the kind of news that he would recall. Soon, they found themselves at the gates of the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum and Rani Baug. The city's oldest museum looked like stately as the January moon's glow painted its history-soaked facade.
Both were transfixed by its beauty until a voice emerged from the thick green cover. "Psst…I'm here. Hurry, I've managed to open gate before that watchman returns for his rounds," whispered Kala Ghoda. It was a long time since the trio had met. They exchanged pleasantries. Sir PM had carried a few baked goodies from Kyani's as well; it was Kala Ghoda's favourite halt in the old days before he was shifted to Rani Baug. "Now that we are here, what's the latest?" asked Sir PM, while Lady Flora broke into a melodious hum as she drifted around one of the trees. Would you believe it's been 10 years since the museum has been restored? It was high time you saw this change. Not a day goes by when I don't gaze at the marvelous restoration. I recall being so afraid to tread anywhere close, forget about inside, before 2007. It was a mess — Hitchcock would've loved to shoot a film here, you know," said Kala Ghoda, with a twinkle in his eye.
It was decades since Sir PM had stepped in too. "Should we, Lady?" She was at the steps already. It took their breath away; step by step, tile by tile, exhibit after another. "My word, Pheroze! This is something else; it's in such good condition," she marvelled, moments after their tour. "What a transformation; it reminds me of the early 1900s," she added. "School children, families, tourists…they've all returned to this spot. It makes me so happy, to watch it all from here," grinned Kala Ghoda.
Suddenly, Sir PM's faced turned grim. "But what about the zoo? Is it true that civic authorities set up a penguin's enclosure, right here in muggy Bombay? Kala Ghoda went pale. "Don't get me started, Pheroze. It breaks my heart. There are other horror stories inside too. It's a complete contrast. It's best we leave it there, and cherish the museum's news." Lady Flora and Sir PM looked at each other. The colours of the night sky were changing; it was time to return. They bid goodbye to their friend, promising to return soon, and hopefully, to happier news at the zoo. Kala Ghoda managed a half-smile, wishing that the coming year would bring better tidings for his friends who lived inside this neglected city landmark. We're with Kala Ghoda on this one.
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