Fiona Fernandez: Not cool for the city

May 14, 2018, 07:37 IST | Fiona Fernandez

The suggestion to introduce air-conditioning inside CSMT, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ought to be reconsidered for it tampers with the very core of FW Stevens' unique architecture and planning

Representational Image
Representational Image

Fiona Fernandez"Pheroze… is it true what I've heard? Dr Viegas was privy to the buzz around Dhobi Talao that had reached some of his nonagenarian friends at Kyani's. They were chatting about it last morning over their brun-maska routine," Lady Flora checked with her old friend during their daily midnight stroll. The two had to re-route their trail post the Metro III work, and were now happier around Rampart Row, Lion Gate and the back lanes of Colaba. Sir PM Mehta rolled his eyes and adjusted his spectacles; he was a tad surprised at how quickly the news had spread among their ilk.

"Well, if you must know, Lady Flora," he began, "The gods who run Victoria Terminus…oops! I mean Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, are planning to install air-conditioners inside the railway station. Isn't it a highly questionable and extremely debatable suggestion?" The timing couldn't have been more apt though. The city was reeling under another humid and terribly uncomfortable May. Crows and pigeons were falling off the sky, and sparrows, well; the poor little winged fellas didn't stand a chance as water fountains, spouts and pyaus vanished by the day. The city's residents carried on with their daily grind and commute as they braved the elements. Seasons may change, but Bombaywallahs don't complain, as the two icons had grown to realise.

Sir PM and Lady Flora were both witness to all kinds of challenges with each summer that hit Bombay. Yet, and somehow, the idea of an air-conditioned railway terminus, didn't sit well with the duo. "You see, Pheroze," as she wiped a few droplets of sweat off her freshly restored face, "This must be just a rumour. What do those old bumbling uncles sipping on their chai know about the real khabar. I am pretty sure this won't go through," she said, trying to calm her own doubts, and then convince her friend. "Tell me, Pheroze, does it make sense logistically, and from a heritage viewpoint?"

Sir PM was happy to take the stand. "Lady Flora, when several great architects and urban designers, most of whom hailed from the British Isles, were commissioned to plan these magnificent Gothic and Victorian landmarks in a tropical city for the public, a common feature that bound their plans was the focus on ventilation. This was a departure from the norms of buildings in their part of the world. From what I can recall of a chat with the very talented FW Stevens - who designed the terminus and the corporation building - his plans kept the city's humidity in mind," he shared.

"Not only did they 'Indianise' the style by including fine motifs and emblems that celebrated the Indian Subcontinent but they also created high arched windows and ceilings with plenty of avenues for cross ventilation that made possible for the sea breeze to pass through." By now Lady Flora was all ears. They had reached the iconic terminus and she gazed at the landmark with new-found reverence. "Pheroze, this will be tragic - if they were to go ahead and box up the fine architectural template of this place. I cannot recall even the historic St Pancreas station having to face this kind of predicament."

Sir PM's face looked wrinkled with worry. "I know that one thing is sure to happen if this is passed – the station will be less of a train terminus and more of a comfortable and very, very crowded sanctuary for all those who wish to nap or relax in 'AC' comfort. Heaven help us! Lady Flora do please consider my suggestion to retreat to Panchgani for the summers, will you?"

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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