Pink with envy
As Jaipur's walled city is honoured with the coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site tag, our envious sutradhars believe Bombay has a long way to go to be in contention
"Was Dr Viegas cooking up one of his famous Sunday bluffs with me or were you actually trying to board a train to Jaipur from Bombay Central terminus? A rather bold move, if I may add," Sir PM asked his walking companion and old friend Lady Flora, in the middle of one of their strolls that had resumed after torrential rain kept them mostly planted on their pedestals. He was afraid that his sudden query might upset his temperamental comrade.
Stunned, Lady Flora halted in her stride. "Oh…that was nothing. Well, you see, I was really curious about Pink City and wanted to visit it. Sir Albert had narrated such wonderful things about its heritage and landmarks, and I now hear that the walled city has won a tag from none other than UNESCO. Isn't that fabulous?" she added, trying to divert the attention over being spotted heading towards on an almost-adventure to the World Heritage Site. After all, she knew that her overprotective friend wouldn't take kindly to her secretive escapade.
"Pheroze, I wasn't going to board that train without telling you; it was a harmless visit to check about train timetable," Lady Flora tried to win over her friend's mood. "See, I even heard that their state government was planning to announce a complete ban on new constructions in the heritage neighbourhoods. This would mean that no new buildings or extensions would be allowed in these buildings of high historic significance," she rattled on, armed with information from a recent chat with Sir Albert, who had returned from Jaipur. She loved being in that position of importance.
"Doesn't it sound a bit too Utopian in our times?" asked her ever-sceptical friend. "From what I heard, the tourism lobby is quite strong, and such moves are bound to receive strong opposition. Honestly, if you ask me, I am disappointed that Bombay was nowhere in the reckoning. I mean, it should have been in contention; we have such a celebration of architectural styles, the docks, the railway terminuses – so much of history built on these islands; don't you think so, lady?"
"Pheroze, how can you be so naive?" she said, after a long pause. "We have three UNESCO tagged sites in the city, and yet, so much needs to be done to conserve them. We know about the vandalism that continues at the Elephanta Caves; Victoria Terminus needs a sensitive restoration by Gothic architectural experts, and look at the ongoing debate where our civic authorities seem keen on demolishing Esplanade Mansion. I have just one question for them – if they believe it was in bad shape, how come it did not collapse when the entire city was drowning a few days back?"
Sir PM had no answer. Lady Flora was right. The city had a long way to go before it could put itself out there in entirety to be considered as a nomination. Coincidentally, they had reached the Kala Ghoda junction by now, and stared at the now-barricaded, once-glorious luxury hotel from a distance. Lady Flora hit rewind, "I can still remember the sounds from the live bands that would play at Watson's every Monday. It was such a sight to watch those stylish fair maidens and strapping servicemen in their uniforms step out of horse carriages." Just then a giant drilling machine meant for the Metro work came to life with a loud whirring sound, rudely interrupting their fantasy bubble.
"It's never going to happen here, Lady. Let's just hope that we can hold on to these three UNESCO tags. That will be an achievement in itself," Sir PM sighed, before dropping off his friend to her pedestal and heading to his own. 'God save Bombay's heritage', both uttered a silent prayer as they retired for the day.
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
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