Fiona Fernandez: Who moved my heritage?

Apr 16, 2018, 12:35 IST | Fiona Fernandez

As one more piece of our urban history faced the axe last week, isn't it high time for the BMC to wake up to these shocking actions, and hopefully, execute a plan to safeguard crucial historic footnotes that shaped the very city that it runs?

An over-century-old portion of a platform on the CSMT railway station was being brought down to make way for 'modernisation' work planned at the world-famous landmark. pic for representation
An over-century-old portion of a platform on the CSMT railway station was being brought down to make way for 'modernisation' work planned at the world-famous landmark. pic for representation

Fiona FernandezIt was one of those typical mid-week afternoons at the office. Weekends or weekdays don't really dictate the pace of the day but we had sufficient time to break into a broad smile. We had just wrapped up a read on a UNESCO website about a heartwarming account where a bunch of heritage-loving students in Indore were busy conducting a series of walks, thus doing their bit to 'make heritage fun.' This was part of a worldwide initiative to support and showcase small, hyper-local activities that introduced neighbourhoods and localities to the idea of heritage.

And then, as if a really dark, massive rain cloud decided to upstage a perfectly summery sky, we learnt that an over-century-old portion of a platform on the CSMT railway station was being brought down to make way for 'modernisation' work planned at the world-famous landmark. Just as we had feared when the proposal was floated, the inevitable was happening. Slices and chunks of railway history were being wiped out. No second thoughts when the hammer fell on those pillars. And certainly, no site visit by experts to access the property, or make an attempt to save these invaluable pieces of heritage from a permanent wipeout.

A while ago, Bhandup station met with the same fate. And before that, we've lost count, actually; there have been numerous instances of railway bridges and roadside structures across the city, including pyaus, pedestals and railings, all dating to over a century, that have fallen prey to upgrades in the name of making the city a world-class one.
For every Sassoon Dock revival or revoking of the plan to make CSMT a museum, news like this takes us 10, or even 20 steps back. One loaded question continues to hit us in the face like a bad rash that refuses to leave — why does old have to be destroyed to make way for the new? Why can't the two be allowed to co-exist?

Babus from the BMC might not bat an eyelid when it comes to hopping on to the next 'phoren' tour to cool Toronto or hip London but it is in these cities that lie countless lessons of a successful, aesthetic blend of the traditional with the modern. I recall this one visit to Ferry building in Auckland. The impressive 1912 build Edwardian Baroque structure had welcomed sea traffic to New Zealand's northern shores for over a century. For a heritage buff like yours truly from Bombay the date didn't wow us.

We've stepped into older cafés in our city, let alone having walked past far more impressive built heritage that boasts of pre-dating its counterparts across the world. Yet, the sense of pride that the one building occupied among the Auckland's residents was unbelievable. Most importantly, it wasn't tampered with because of its high real estate value. The one-time address for the country's ferry operators today houses some of the city's finest restaurants and swish cafés, offering stunning views of its natural harbour. Most of these operators, we were told, had moved to the new building.

Examples like these, we're sure, aren't tough to source. It's the initiative and intent by our lawmakers to safeguard a great city's heritage and urban history that is a cause for concern. The other option would be for our museums and citizen groups to come together and create a strong forum to protect these priceless footnotes of our beloved Bombay. We need to act fast before this train leaves the platform for good.

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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