Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heritage Under Siege!

This article: courtesy Herman Rodrigues
Xavier House, one of the older buildings in the heart of Ranwar, photographed here as it stood up until around 1999. The present structure was built in 1841. (The carved wooden plaque above, was embedded in the wall over the main entrance of the house. The IHS symbollises ‘Christ’ and below it, the three nails used to crucify Christ, pierce His heart symbolically).

This rambling, spacious bungalow was typical of the buildings in villages like Ranwar. It had a quaint veranda, with two plain teak benches and wrought iron railings, where passers by used to drop in to chat during the day or evening. The rooms were large and airy and the high wooden ceiling, held a loft that extended through the building. There was a wide garden to the east and a sprawling compound behind the bungalow with two large outhouses, a huge, gnarled tamarind tree, over a hundred years old, an equally tall jambool tree and several coconut palms.

The property was sold to a developer and the original building was demolished at the start of the new millennium.

A photograph shows the partly demolished building with the rooms exposed. The walls were constructed using bricks and white limestone ladhis that were typical of the area. The loft floor and the roof were constructed using solid teak beams that withstood the ravages of time and termites but finally gave way to development in the form of a multistoryed concrete and steel behemoth.

Despite its inappropriate location in a gaothan and heritage area the multi-unit apartment stands as stark evidence of the pressures which villages like Ranwar, Pali, Sherly and Rajan are subject to. The sewer lines, laid in the 1920s were never intended for the huge number of housing units that now have sprung up, with the result that the drains perennially clog and back up. The narrow lanes cannot handle the vastly increased through-traffic and the parking spaces required to accommodate resident vehicles, so that the quiet street, reflecting widespread changes in Bandra, is a chaotic, noisy thoroughfare with traffic jams occurring at bottlenecks, several times each day.

My Comments:
these are a few examples of what is going to happen in the future. these properties in spite of being in the
heritage listing are undergoing this fate! 
as an exercise to atleast document these buildings as they were, i am trying to collect old memories through photographs of these magnificent heritage. Looking at these from the exterior we gasp out of surprise and joy,  i cant even imagine how beautiful these might be from the interiors. 
please pass on any such information anyone has to put up on the blog and share it with all. 
This is also a process of Documentation, which only happens with participation.

Heritage committee is toothless tiger

Heritage committee is toothless tiger

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 1:31 IST
Is Mumbai losing out on its heritage?
We were the first city in India to enact the heritage legislation in 1995. The right people were in the right place at the time. There were concerned environmentalists pushing this legislation. Everything got rushed, including the listing. The main thing was not only individual buildings and precincts like the Fort area, but even Khotachiwadi, Banganga and Gamdevi were included in the listing. Simultaneously, a heritage committee was appointed, chaired by stalwarts like DM Sukhtankar, Jamshed Kalga and Sharad Upasini.
Now, unfortunately, the whole appointment of MHCC is being reviewed as it is only an advisory body without any powers. The municipal commissioner was given the power to veto any decisions of MHCC. A ticket collector on the train has more powers than MHCC. I call it a toothless tiger.
Was it also because Grade III heritage buildings and precincts were brought out of the ambit of heritage norms? 
The first thing that went out of the heritage purview was Grade III buildings. We have lost many wonderful buildings. One such building near Rhythm House, on what was called Forbes Street, was the Crompton Greaves building, dating back to the 18th Century. It was historically and physically an important building. The owners and architect called it dilapidated, so we lost it. Next, the precincts came under attack. Gamdevi got high-rise structures and the same thing happened at Khotachiwadi which was destroyed in the name of redevelopment. The slum rehab scheme impacted heritage, the environment, open spaces and infrastructure. SRA was giving sops to illegal migrants as they were vote banks. But what about mill workers and lower income groups who were shunted out of the city?
Is cluster development also proving detrimental to heritage?
Cluster development laws are so warped that places like Bhuleshwar and Kalbadevi, which house temples, dharamshalas, baughs and wadis, will all go. Even three buildings on Marine Lines and Oval Maidan could disappear under cluster development.
Has MHCC’s decision ever been overruled by the BMC?
During Jairaj Phatak’s tenure as the municipal commissioner, toilets took precedence over Grade I heritage structures at CST. The bottom line is developer, toilets, greed, vote bank get more weight than heritage here.
Has a lot of heritage been lost in name changing? 
Yes. Like changing Alexander Road and Laburnum Road that were not named after the Brits but after trees. Arthur Bunder Road was allowed to be named after Abu Azmi’s father who had never even visited the site. The junction between Jamshedji Tata Road and Dinshaw Vacha Road, who were such great contributors to this city, will now be called Shankar Jaikishen Chowk. The ward office says it is because Shankar and Jaikishen would meet for a cup of tea at Gaylord’s. Can it get any more absurd than this?
My Comment:
These really raises issues like What is Heritage? and if the Competent authorities ain't doing anything, then can we as citizens raise our voices!
We are just not talking about South Mumbai here, also in the suburbs like Bandra (W), which has a the highest no. of listed heritage buildings in the Western Suburbs, is facing a similar situation.
Every week we see one of the old cottages in the Bandra Village Precinct coming down owing to urban development, even though its a listed building!

a house being brought down to ground in Ranwar, today (14th April, 2010)
one does not even remember of what it looked like, leave aside of conserving it. This house is a
part of the Bandra Village Precinct, by the Heritage regulations of MMRDA

well maybe it would have looked like this, a 1930's house right next to it!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Old City, Ahmedabad

Ahmedabad's old city is pitching for a World Heritage City status has been in the news for a while, so while in Ahmedabad (my home town too!), i thought of going to one of these Heritage Night Walks that are organised by Mangaldas ni haveli, situated at the Lakha Patel ni Pol (Pol: a residential community in the old city of Ahmedabad) (for more details).

route map of the heritage night walk

The walk as an after dinner affair which starts from the haveli, a heritage complex that belongs to the Mangaldas Family. Ahmedabad has an approximate three organised/guided tours/walks of the old (then Walled) city. It is a great tour specially the one in the early morning which starts at the First Swaminarayan Temple of the country, a beautiful example of Indian Vernacular Architecture.

These walks i feel are/should be more for the citizens of Ahmedabad (specially the ones who have not known the glory of the old city), than for the visitors. It reflects a culture, a living one that too. The lanes, bylanes, understanding the Architecture, the reason for sewage/drainage as it were planned, become important nodes of understanding ones city. More than a need for the citizens of Ahmedabad to know about their past culture, its the kids/young who show more interest in conserving this living heritage (600 years, since Ahmedabad's foundation). 

For me personally these walks just give a glimpse of a treasure that is still hidden in these immense narrow lane of a city that is always awake! Also what is very strange is that none of these cultures in any format travelled across the bridge when the new city got developed. The new city came to be a complete new settlement where cultures traversed through, without the built form, to make a new culture without its old distinct character . This serves as a case study for me to understand how living cultures are conserved across cities. Starting with Ahmedabad as it did justice to the idea that i belong here!

Comparing the same with Mumbai, we see same nodes of urban development while expanding the city limits. One can say that this holds true to any city developing further, but there is a difference. In Ahmedabad, old city is not known as the down town, its FSI is high just owing to the heritage aspect. But as a living a migrant does not prefer to shift there. It has just become this model old town where the young/old/kids just like to visit to get a flavor of how things were, but after that they would want to get back to the comforts of their houses in the new town. While for Mumbai everything is the old town/down town. Thats the starting node of the city! Well, one can surely argue at this point though and it can formulate in an other post altogether.

Coming to Heritage walks and a culture that is starting and grabbing Ahmedabad, specially today when it is pitching for a World Heritage Status. The sad point is that the AMC has given the walled city (which  is huge) a heritage precinct status, but there has been no identification (atleast to my knowledge) of individual heritage complexes around this vicinity. Hence it gets difficult to perceive the entire old city as heritage because there are no reference points to compare to. Also owing to the urban development out there, it is difficult to mark these territories.

the start point of the walk at the Mangaldas ni Haveli

while walking!

the guided tour in progress

The guided tour starts post dinner from this beautifully carved haveli, and moves on to the various pols,
community squares, temples (no entrance allowed in the night), small lanes and secret passageways used by the army in the past to escape an invasion, intricately carved havelis, the first flyover of the city, old stock exchange, ending at the Badshah no hajiro (tomb of King Ahmedshah, after which the city has been named). It indeed is exciting, but what is missed is the details. 
The Walk has been designed post dinner, and that needs to be considered. Also the aim should have been to take people around with the concept of a after dinner stroll, coming across the native streets. 
Details like the Architecture, town planning etc, went completely missing. It just felt as it was one of the commercial/tourist oriented walk, which i felt seldom spoke of a living heritage except for a comment here and there. The only relevant aspect considering its a night walk was manek chowk (a square which lives in the night and a major street food zone) and the naubat vadak/nagarsi (drum beaters) right across the tomb who have been playing drums since 600 years at the time when the 12 gates of the old city used to close. Only one family plays that now, they are right across the tomb of the King, and they play at sharp 11 PM, as a salute to the King.
These interesting stories make this place a living heritage

the naubat vadak playing the ngadas

the view of the Kings tomb from their house

It has been a very interesting case to study and iterate on, while even i think of planning a walk through Ranwar. More of such iterations and case studies shall come up soon!

some other images from the walk:

Cya soon again!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

On this Easter Sunday, i would like to wish all the readers a very Happy Easter.
I am missing being there right now!
shall be there soon!

warm regards,

Thursday, April 1, 2010

the Zig and Zag roads

Mr. Arup Sarabadhikary shared some interesting insights on the reason of Zig Zag pattern for roads/pathways in Bandra Village.
anyone can easily miss it, thinking it just gives character to the urban texture and the aesthetic of Ranwar, but it does more than that.
This was intentionally done while the buiding layout was being done at site. The neighbors used to get together and decide how to place the houses, retaining privacy, at the same time keeping visibility from the verandahs/ balconies for a friendly chat. One can notice that scooters and small cars can still be parked in these niches, without hampering traffic.

The development plan 1981-2001 made by the MCGM, received from David Cardoz, highlighting the Bandra Village Precinct. 

In this one i have highlighted the roads/pathways/streets in the Bandra Village Precinct, we indeed see the point!

Its really interesting how these small but details while town planning makes such an impact. I have seen this is Ranwar (refer to the photographs above), but would really want to see it in the other villages too!

Thanks Mr. Arup for sharing this information. 
Arup Sarbadhikary is a structural engineer by profession and a former member of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee.  He is one of the founder members and Trustee of the Bandra Bandstand Residents Trust.