Mumbai's bunga-lows and highs

May 28, 2014, 09:34 IST | Maleeva Rebello

Resisting the lure of big buck redevelopment and braving high maintenance costs, residents are still clinging on to their old bungalows in a city where high-rise is the way to go

With impossibly small flats that pass as apartments in the city and some the priciest real estate in the world, owning a home, even of miscroscopic dimensions in Mumbai, is still a dream for so many.

This bungalow stands behind Mehboob Studio in Bandra. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
This bungalow stands behind Mehboob Studio in Bandra. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

At a time when redevelopment is the norm and high rises are dotting the city's skyline, there are those who cling on to their old bungalows with tenacity, resisting the lure of the big bucks that builders offer for a myriad reasons.

The Felizardo house in Khotachiwadi. Pics/Prashant Waydande
The Felizardo house in Khotachiwadi. Pics/Prashant Waydande

Some of these may be sentimental, others, logistical. In Bandra, behind the landmark Mehboob Studio stands a bungalow West View 15, which is owned by Ingrid Pinto.

The D'souza family at their Kurla home
The D'souza family at their Kurla home

A two storey-bungalow, the 80-year-old house has Pinto and her family living on the first floor. Her brother's family live on the ground floor.

Ingrid Pinto at her 80-year-old house. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Ingrid Pinto at her 80-year-old house. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Old is gold
Pinto says, "We owned the land behind our house which we sold to a builder some years ago. We are keen to keep this house. Maintenance is difficult but this house is where I grew up, where my children grew up and we have so many memories attached to it. We paint the house every two years and do all the water proofing, tiling, etc every year before the monsoon."

Wilfred Felizardo at his house at Charni Road
Wilfred Felizardo at his house at Charni Road

Talking about Bandra over the years, the mother of three says, "There were only bungalows here, but now, many of our neighbours have chosen to sell their houses and chosen to live in flats. I have received many offers from builders for our house, but I have always said no. My brother and I have both agreed that till we are alive, this house will stand."

Inside West View where the Pintos live. Pic/Sayed Sameer AbediInside West View where the Pintos live. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

At a time, when houses in the city are getting smaller, Pinto says she is proud to own a bungalow. She says, "Though owning a bungalow has some drawbacks like bills, maintenance, having to answer calls from builders and others, it has many highs too. We have privacy, open space as well as a big house in a prime area. This is something I hope my children's children will also have."

Vallerie D'souza's bungalow in Kurla gaothan
Vallerie D'souza's bungalow in Kurla gaothan

Portuguese touch
With architecture that is testimony to the Portuguese style, West View 15 has wooden windows, panels and an altar which is built like those in many churches in Goa that have been built by the Portuguese.

The Felizardo house has been standing for more than 100 years
The Felizardo house has been standing for more than 100 years

Explaining the altar arrangement, Pinto says, "We wipe and polish the wooden altar, there is this tip that broke and fell off, we were unable to fix that as modern design doesn't have that.

In the rains, there is leakage sometimes and we need to be careful with the wooden panels and windows to avoid them from getting infested with white ants. The wooden works is a feature of Portuguese architecture which we (my brother and I) have tried to retain in this house."

Gaothan sanctuary
The D'souza family lives in Kurla. They have never had a builder approach them for their house or land. Vallerie D'souza says, "We live in a gaothan in Old Kurla and our house, a bungalow has stood for more than 100 years.

In 2002, a pillar fell which caused part of our house to collapse, so we were forced to rebuild the house. Though we have gone in for a modern bungalow, we have chosen to keep the four pillars of our old house. We have tried to keep the old feel and look." There are seven members who live in this house.

This is an area where there are several bungalows. Vallerie adds, "Since we live in a gaothan we are safe from the encroachment of builders. So far, we have never got any offer to sell our house," she says in response to a question. "Even if we got an offer we would not consider it as having our own house is like we are in a small world of our own."

Living in a joint family, in a village-like atmosphere in mainland Mumbai makes them feel special. Vallerie says, "Many of my work colleagues express surprise when I tell them that I live in a bungalow. My brothers ensure that all the maintenance of our home is done - from roofs to walls to cracks and leaks. It is economically quite a strain to maintain a bungalow, but we love our house and money is not a factor."

Iconic home
The sound of music is in the air as you enter the lane that leads to Khotachiwadi in Girgaum, past the small chapel. The Felizardos live in a bungalow, House No 57; it is more than 100 years old. It has birds, fish and a rabbit in the courtyard. Wilfred Felizardo who works at a garage near Charni Road station lives here.

Home to the Felizardo family, Wilfred who spends his evenings teaching children from the area to play the guitar says, "I was offered R 9 crores by a diamond merchant from the area. But I will never sell my house as I have many memories attached to this place.

As a young man, I spent many happy days with friends in this wadi and the memories that are connected to this place still resound in every lane of Khotachiwadi."

Though huge sums of money have been offered on numerous occasions, the amounts have never tempted Felizardo as he says, "Here people can come and go as they like, the breeze is nice and I have my own space.

A building is like a match-box, there is no space and you can't enjoy community feeling. Christmas here is a festival like no other, there is song, dance, drink and merriment. In a building, this freedom would be missing as each person would be cooped up in their own apartment."

Maintenance woes
This is an area where East Indian and Goan families lived together for many years. Felizardo says that over the years the houses have become old and difficult to maintain.

He explains, "Many houses have become weak and dilapidated. Teak wood is expensive to maintain. With many residents going abroad, there are only their old parents left. Living in the house is difficult for them especially when the rooms need constant attention."

Though money needs to be spent for maintenance of the bungalows, Felizardo says he happily shells it out. "This house is like a wonder of the world, it has rich history associated with it.

As a matter of fact, all the houses at Khotachiwadi are part of the rich heritage of the city. I intend to keep my house standing sturdy and tall for many more years to come."

>> People keep their bungalows for sentimental reasons.
>> Maintenance is high for many bungalows, with excessive repairs needed specially before the monsoon.
>> Resisting the offers by builders for redevelopment is tough.
>> Bungalows are a fast vanishing feature of the cityscape.

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