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Who blocked my sea view?

Updated on: 17 June,2024 06:51 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Fiona Fernandez |

As another mega infrastructure project nears completion, it reignites the much-debated issue of how zero thought is given to aesthetics, in this case by permanently destroying iconic views within our ‘sea-facing’ metropolis

Who blocked my sea view?

Mahalaxmi temple’s calming view of the sea has been changed forever with the Coastal Road project. Pic/Rane Ashish

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Who blocked my sea view?

Fiona FernandezFive years ago, work had led me to a gem by the sea. Ma Hajiani Dargah near Worli Sea Face, was a sanctuary, going well beyond being a religious place of worship; it was a haven for members across faiths, particularly for women. The shrine displayed splendid architectural influences, and that’s how the trustee that runs the dargah wished that it remained. This seafaring family from the city paid homage to a female saint by supporting the restoration of the over centuries-old dargah that skirted the Arabian Sea. Located on a rocky promontory that faces its more popular counterpart, Haji Ali Dargah, on sunset evenings, you would be forgiven for imagining that both these glittering landmarks were engaged in a magical conversation. Spending many peaceful hours with the sound of lashing waves from below for company, remains a precious memory in a chaotic city. As you can see, I have gotten carried away as I reminisce about this oasis of calm.

A stunning night view where both Ma Hajiani Dargah (right) and Haji Aji Dargah are separated by the Arabian Sea. Pic/Fiona Fernandez
A stunning night view where both Ma Hajiani Dargah (right) and Haji Aji Dargah are separated by the Arabian Sea. Pic/Fiona Fernandez

Fast forward to the present. The view has changed forever, thanks to the Coastal Road project, not just for this dargah but also for Haji Ali Dargah. Despite tonnes of pleas and proposals from citizen and environment bodies, urban planners and city architects about this unfortunate development, all of it has fallen on deaf ears. Nearby, another place of worship by the sea, the Mahalaxmi Temple, has also lost its spectacular view. Devotees as well as those with aesthetic understanding, will cry foul about the loss of the visual spectacle for good because a stretch of the same project runs close to the temple's sea-kissed location.

Another sea-facing place of worship further north, in Bandra, Mount Mary’s Basilica, occupied a vantage view for centuries; its spire clearly visible as one approached Bandra, especially by road. Not any longer. In its case, we can squarely blame greedy real estate developers who have built towering residential apartments all around the Mount. The rapid, dramatic transformation of this urban-scape particularly in the past decade, will sadden many old-time Bandra residents and urban worriers like us.

The present view of Ma Hajiani Dargah (blue dome-shaped structure) and Haji Ali (not in pic) has considerably altered with the Coastal Road project. Pic/Ashish Raje
The present view of Ma Hajiani Dargah (blue dome-shaped structure) and Haji Ali (not in pic) has considerably altered with the Coastal Road project. Pic/Ashish Raje

The questions that arise and continue to disturb, are straightforward, simple ones: Why are plans drafted where the city’s biggest USP is altered in such an insensitive manner? Who is accountable for these decisions that change the visual map of the city forever? When will the public have a say in how their city is being shaped? Three places of worship by the sea that occupy a special, unique place in the hearts of Bombaywallahs have been altered for good as concerned citizens' and experts’ voices went unheard.

My big fear, and I am sure many will also echo this sentiment, is about what will stop the powers from building a mega sea bridge that could alter the view from the Gateway of India? Will we have a location-unfriendly or an eyesore design when the Sea Link is extended further down the western sea front? The possibilities are immense, and we will never know as these get signed off.

We have witnessed considerable damage along the western sea front. The powers that be continue to take the sea for granted—be it from an aesthetic or the more critical, socio-ecological standpoint. Ask the Kolis who reside in their fast-dwindling Koliwadas about the extent to which various projects have destroyed their livelihood, and by default, their identity as the city's OG inhabitants. The greens will share multiple dossiers to highlight the massive environmental impact.

I haven’t revisited the Ma Hajiani Dargah ever since I saw pillars emerge from near this site. I prefer to hold on to my memory from 2019. Some frames are best left like that. Maybe it’s a subconscious thing, so I don’t feel less love for my favourite city. By the sea.  

Iconic poet Nissim Ezekiel's words penned towards the end of his career, where he appears disillusioned with Bombay, best reflect the state of mind: I cannot save Bombay/You cannot save it/They don’t even want to save it.

(The Edinburgh Interlude)  

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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