The great Mumbai facelift
Purely out of habit, and buoyed, of course, by an undying love for all things that spell heritage, this journalist has almost always looked out for interesting faces and figurines that grace our monumental structures, gates and buildings while on taxi and bus rides across the city. And, on most occasions, the faces on these walls have left one with more of a frown on the face. Take the faces of many great minds that can be spotted on the outer façade of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus offices — most noteworthy of all being the driving force and architect par excellence of the Central Railway headquarters —Frederick William Stevens.
It makes for a sorry picture, putting it mildly. Hours of fine sculpture and artistry that went into creating picture-perfect replicas of these visionaries have gone to naught. Walk down Dr DN Road, towards Flora Fountain, and the sordid story gets grimmer. Rapidly losing its charm and any sense of recognition, due to poor upkeep, and the city’s harsh tropical weather, most of the detailing on these walls and buildings cease to exist — it has either been chipped off, crumbled away or been defaced, completely.
It’s not an easy trail to digest for the heritage buff, as most of the buildings in this precinct are in desperate need of more than just a facelift — until one reaches the Horniman Circle Gardens. Like an oasis, the uniformly designed circular buildings showcase a rich façade, enhanced by masculine faces on the ground floors and feminine faces, on the first floors.
The attention to detail and research that went into the restoration of this space by all parties deserves to be applauded. More importantly, this must act as a precedent for others to follow suit. The face of David Sassoon on the outer façade of the David Sassoon Library and Reading Hall at Kala Ghoda is another reassuring, positive ray of light in an otherwise dusty, urban milieu that we are forced to look at, day after day. Unrecognisable faces on the clock tower at Rani Baug or maimed figurines at Flora Fountain are a few insipid examples of how we disregard our history.
The uneven umbrella of support for heritage structures across the city is also an area of concern. While one look at the freshly restored grandeur of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta’s statue in the Mumbai sun will make any citizen’s chest swell with pride, a fifteen-minute drive down the JJ Flyover, to Byculla, and one’s heart is forced to sink at the sight of the Khada Parsi statue. Amid this, the planned Flora Fountain makeover (in the pipeline for years now), and the brilliantly restored BMC and Times of India buildings offer some solace.
This scenario remains an open question sadly, and fails to find answer among Mumbai and India’s farsighted minds who hold the power and who should be willing to listen and act upon it. After all, what will any great world city be left to boast of, if it cannot protect its facades, landmarks and sturdy walls that shaped its identity, in the first place?
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY