Floored by history
A showcase put together by a homegrown tile manufacturer will highlight the history of Mumbai through the construction industry
If you've lived in South Mumbai long enough, chances are you've heard a Mafatlal Park story. We've heard the one where people sat till the wee hours of the morning on the grass to discuss "ideas". Built in the 1930s, it was home to Bombay's intellectuals — Romesh and Raj Thapar, Frank Moraes and Attia Hosain. Now called Sea Face Park, the complex was of such prime importance that a special feature was carried in a daily with a strap, "Sixty Airy Flats with Ocean View at Breach Candy". But what is often left out of the larger discourse, regardless of who lived in these buildings, is the mechanics that go into constructing one. This week, a three-day exhibition promises to bridge this information gap.
Curated by heritage management company Past Perfect and presented by one of the country's oldest titling company, Bharat Flooring and Tiles (BFT), the exhibition titled Paving the Way aims to shed light on the city's history through images, 3-D printed models, newspaper articles and advertisements related to the construction industry. "My mother, Dilnavaz, has had some archival material related to BFT for years. We discovered that there was a very strong nexus of craftsmen and the change of materials from terrazzo tiles to marble, for instance. So, this exhibition is not just about our company," BFT director Firdaus Variava tells us.
Art Deco Terrazzo flooring at JN Petit Library and A note on an air terminal (1955)
When we speak to curator Sanghamitra Chatterjee, she sheds light on how the coverage on Mafatlal Park (on display at the event) was not incidental. "We have seen that there was a lot of print space allocated to the construction industry in the 1930s. So, we were determined to not just talk about the facades of these buildings but dig deeper. For instance, a note on the layout of Kalbadevi's Cotton Exchange building clearly states its narrow pathways and how workers need to be mindful about it."
Variava has grown up hearing stories of his grandfather, Pherozesha Sidhwa, who founded BFT. "He wanted to become a lawyer and Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta [regarded as the Maker of Modern Karachi] came to Bombay to tell him to start a business and encouraged him to become a tile maker," he shares. But while working on the exhibition for over a year, Variava uncovered new facts. "I wasn't alive when he was born. But there is correspondence [available] between my grandparents that reveal the tough times they went through. A letter highlights how when the British banned cement, our company had to shut overnight. And we had 600 employees [to worry for]."
In the age of Instagram, where most are satisfied to only touch the tip of the iceberg by posting pictures of pretty interiors and walk away, the event encourages you to drive straight into the ocean. Chatterjee says, "We've only just started looking at floors and we want to create awareness. At the entrance foyer of many structures today, we noticed that the tiling hasn't survived unless it was patterned. In some places, even kadappa stone has been used as a replacement. It is one thing to see a heritage value in something and make money by selling it in Chor Bazaar, and quite another to inspire someone to care for it."
On: May 8 to May 11, 11 am to 7 pm
At: Chatterjee and Lal, Kamal Mansion, Colaba.
A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli