Fiona Fernandez: Neighbourhood watch

Jun 25, 2018, 07:47 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Localities with rich histories of their own ought to be documented for future generations, or else Bombay will be remembered by them as just another 'modern' Indian city

Fiona Fernandez: Neighbourhood watch

Fiona FernandezAs a journalist, it always is double the fun when we stumble or observe other fascinating sights and sounds while in pursuit of the actual story. This is exactly what happened last week while we made our way to a chapter from our growing-up days.

We were in one of original Thane's oldest parts - Cherai. It was nearly a decade since we last trudged around this charming neighbourhood connected by circuitous roads that made even Google Maps go awry.

The boundary walls of St John the Baptist Church and School seem have seen it all, so did some of the low-rises and tiny establishments with quaint sounding names like Joe, Peter Pereira and Piedade. We craned our necks to spot some of the crosses at T-junctions and the odd surviving hedge-lined bungalow or teak-wood lined staircase leading up to a long, wide balcony lined verandah.

Rapid change
There was change sweeping these parts, and it was of the permanent kinds, unfortunately. Apart from these odd nostalgic footnotes, the area was fighting a tough battle to keep its identity and past intact amidst a tornado called commerce and real estate.

The reason we were in Cherai was to meet with historian Dr Fleur D'Souza whose chronicle, Witness, was to be released on June 24, on their patron saint's feast day. While the 110-pager, a well-illustrated tome about the origins of the parish, and Christianity in Thane, offered tremendous insight that wowed history buffs like us, it also shared lesser known information about the evolution of the same parts that were had negotiated, and Thane in general - right from its days as a prosperous port city to establishing its rightful place in Indian and world history. As Bishop Allwyn D'Silva had told us during a chat, it was important to document these historic moments because they often get lost with time, and coming generations miss out and are unaware of what they are sitting on.

Those words stayed with us. Because all cosmopolitan cities with wonderful pasts are made up of such small pieces of tradition, culture, character and a uniqueness that is truly theirs.

Cherished memories
Revisiting Cherai brought back cherished memories, and reminded us of all other such neighbourhoods in Bombay that are on the cusp of shedding their special identities. While some parts like Fort and Colaba, Bhuleshwar and Kalbadevi, Bandra and Santacruz, and Dadar-Matunga, have been documented by historians and experts, the concern is that the other parts of the old city with significant treasures and histories lie untapped, untold, as we speak. And with time, these stand the chance of being phased out for good. This is a critical need of the hour, making such books worth their weight in gold.

Bombay, Mumbai - in whole and in part, its layers and its microcosms - must be documented because that collective being is what gives our city its soul. We sign off in the words of famous Turkish thinker and novelist Mehmet Murat Ildan - 'A soulless city creates soulless people.'

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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