Fiona Fernandez: Oh! Lady Flora

Sep 19, 2016, 07:46 IST | Fiona Fernandez

As work begins on the heritage fountain, let’s hope that this ethereal icon is resurrected to its glory

Phase I of the restoration project at Flora Fountain will go on for six months
Phase I of the restoration project at Flora Fountain will go on for six months

It was beginning to feel as if we were part of a maze. Back in March 2010, as we wound our way through its Gothic-styled staircases, somewhere between the second and the sixth floors of the BMC building, the report tabled by conservation architect Vikas Dilawari on the restoration of Flora Fountain seemed to have been lost in a game of hide-and-seek. The buck was passed with alarming hilarity, until we lost track. That mystery was unsolved. Yet, thankfully, a year later, when news that the BMC had approved the same restoration plan was out, heritage buffs like us heaved a sigh of relief. Five years later, and after several false starts, work has finally begun on this celebration of stone, engineering and Romanesque architecture.

As reported in this newspaper last week, the project will be executed in two phases: plumbing and engineering, and beautification. Named after the Roman Goddess of flowers who stands atop the summit, this three-tiered fountain has been a silent chronicler of an evolving city. Like most cities in the Western Hemisphere, the idea to build a prominent fountain was floated by its rulers. Sir Bartle Frere, the far-sighted Governor of Bombay (1862-67) had decided to bring down the Fort walls and decongest the city. During his tenure, a site was chose in the middle of Esplanade Road (today’s Mahatma Gandhi Road) and the Church Gate (the westernmost of the three gates that formed part of the Bombay Fort’s city walls). The site occupied a central position and was built on a traffic island where five of the city’s most important and central roads met.

From those glory days to its present state, the neglect hasn’t been easy to swallow. Those who drive by Flora Fountain will notice how this ethereal landmark, planned and designed by Robert Norman Shaw in England and molded and chiseled in Portland stone by artist James Forsyth, has reached such decay. The stone appears dull, some of the figurines have cracks or are limb-less, paint is chipped in corners and algae veils it in a rotting shroud. Having been whitewashed insensitively, and on countless occasions, heritage experts cringe at this assault on the original structure.

Which is why the nod to go ahead with its restoration and conservation is heartwarming. Even more reassuring is the fact that experts like Dilawari and INTACH are being roped for this mammoth project. The city’s diverse heritage needs more such high points in the coming days. Only then can it stand up and be counted as a truly global city that respects its past as much as it is buoyant about its future.

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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