Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scenario 1 : THE PRESERVATIONIST (2020)

Today Ranwar has been declared a heritage village and heritage tourism here is at a high. The built scape and the architecture has remained as it is, and is taken for granted. The residents may not be important and they will move on as a natural process of evolution. Also as a natural economic reformation, Ranwar has been gentrified and the average income of the current dwellers has gone up. The original dwellers cannot afford to live there anymore, and hence they move out. ‘Is the preservation of the built form / architecture the only way to deal with conservation of such sites?’, ‘What about the people who give functions to these spaces?’

Fr. Larry sits by the verandah of his 200 year old cottage Trellis on Veronica Street in
Ranwar. He is 75 years old and has been a priest all his life, but his home has always been
here. Fr. Larry is a keen observer and has an immense interest in history mainly related
to his community, The East Indian Catholics. Today his house, ‘The Trellis’ is one of the
oldest houses in Ranwar, a very famous heritage village in Bandra (west), Mumbai. He has
now retired from the services of priesthood and is spending the last few years of his life in
the vicinity he grew up. However, the neighbourhood does not look the same anymore.
Visually it definitely looks as it was in the past, but the innate culture of the place is dead.
Fr. Larry sits in his verandah every evening as a routine, while looking around he is trying
to adapt to the changes that have happened in the environment around him. Ranwar is a
heritage village and the heritage committee have become very strict with the implementation
of the guidelines for heritage precincts. For the same reason no cottage in the neighbourhood
has been razed down to give way to the newer built form. Instead the residents have been
encouraged with various financial schemes to come ahead and restore and preserve their

Today Ranwar looks beautiful, an impression almost similar to as it used to be when it was
alive in a village environment. Fr. Larry is one of the last few of the residents from old times
who live in Ranwar today. He knows that a change has occurred, as he has been a part of
the changing environment at all times. Some of the old time residents have moved out, as
they could not afford the maintenance of their houses in spite of the financial support from
the government. Some were looking at a more prosperous future in another parts of the city,
so they sold their properties and moved on. All these were bought or leased by corporates,
trusts of various sorts, developers and the rich who could afford living there. Gentrification
did affect the community culture of the village, because of which the village looks different
culturally in spite of it looking the same visually. The emotional attachment with the hamlet
that the original community and the residents had is lost today. Due to a strong change in
demographics and the changing functions of the space, people do not know each other; one
can blame it to the change in the socio-economic conditions that are inevitable in any part
of the world. The interpersonal interactions in between the community are dead as well.
There are new stores, hi-end fashion outlets, cafes, restaurants, and chic boutiques in and
around the vicinity. Fr. Larry is looking at this new environment where community activities
do not take place today. The new residents define these new age functions of the place.
The rosaries do not take place anymore, not even in the month of May and October. The
main reason for such a change is due to the high return value on properties, as Ranwar
has become a very famous heritage village. It has risen to become one of the few surviving
villages with least interventions by the development sprawl, after the heritage committee
implemented the guidelines more strictly.

The women with innate culinary skills have given way to the new chefs in the up market
restaurants. Heritage tourism is on a high and Ranwar has visitors exploring its spaces
everyday. Little do they realise that the beauty of the hamlet has been defined by the adaptive
reuse of the houses. The Ranwar square looks posh. For e.g., the rustic environment has
been replaced by swanky window displays across porches of the old houses. The cross still
exists but there is no one to pray there, once in a while old timers like Fr. Larry stops by and

People like him remember the days when it would be common to see other residents reading
newspapers in the morning or staring at nothingness while sitting there. He understands
the need of time and is also happy that at least the change is in sync with the natural
environment of the place. But, the question he asks to himself is “Is this the only way this
place could have been preserved, devoid of its people?” He never thought that he would see
such changes in his lifetime, but has accepted the with stoic resignation. It is almost dark
while he looks at the street lit by modern street lights, to appreciate the physical beauty of
the place, unlike earlier when there’d be someone sitting in the verandah across the street
and playing the saxophone.

While he ponders about this situation, gazing at the ESCADA store across his house, the
phone rings…

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