Conserving Khotachiwadi: In Conversation with James Ferreira

in Interview
Published on: 27 July 2018

Anuja Dasgupta

A literature major, Anuja is pursuing her Master's in Visual Art from Ambedkar University, Delhi. She has been into photography for five years, and is the recipient of the Indian Photography Festival - Portrait Prize 2017. Currently in-between artistic practices, Anuja allows explorations through her graduate study to work with and around her interests, which largely come under social anthropology.

James Ferreira, an iconic Indian fashion designer and one of Khotachiwadi's most prominent residents, talks about his efforts towards conserving this heritage village.


Anuja Dasgupta: How would you describe Khotachiwadi?


James Ferreira: To me, Khotachiwadi is my home. It’s where my father’s family comes from; the house opposite to mine belongs to my father’s mother. My family is very much a part of Khotachiwadi and I am surrounded by my relatives. So, it is like my village home to me.


AD: What has 47G been through over the years? How has it changed?


JF: My mother and father got married in 1947. They got engaged in 1945, and for two years my Mumma had this house hand-painted when she moved in. The whole hall, every room was painted by Church artists, and that was kept right till I was about eleven years old. Then the artists died and those walls were discontinued, and my mother changed the whole decor. But, for me, Khotachiwadi is been more than my home–it’s been my life, my inspiration, and the only reason I, out of a family of eight, have stayed back is because I love this place so much.


AD: What do you have to say about Khotachiwadi’s community spirit and cultural synthesis?


JF: Khotachiwadi has got an incredible spirit. In fact, people who live all over the world still come down every Christmas to Khotachiwadi. It’s got this incredible air–for instance, my mum died two years ago, and I have been supported by my neighbours with food till now. So, every time, you know, anybody has a bit of extra food, it’s always sent over. The ladies just did a rosary in the house for world peace which happens every day.  The most incredible thing is the peace and tranquility you found in my home which comes out of my family being incredible human beings


AD: Could you walk me through the formation and activities of the Khotachiwadi Welfare and Heritage Trust?


JF: I started the Khotachiwadi Welfare and Heritage Trust along with Rahul Srivastava from Pukar. We did it so that we could save the twenty-seven bungalows which were left by. But, there are too many problems with this place. Firstly, it’s that most of the bungalows are individually owned and a few of them are owned by the Church. But there are very few people who would sell it for it to be kept as it is because money is a very important part of our lives today, and most of them would much rather sell off the house or break it down and make it into six flats because they are a large family. See, everything boils down to money, and if you’re a family of eight...I’m lucky because the rest of my family is abroad. Now, there are six children: how do you divide a small house like this into six? So, that’s the beginning of the problem because everybody wants a share. So, it is very difficult, and the cooperatives have just really not come forward.


AD: This brings me to my next question: How do you think the civic bodies should play a role in the wadi’s conservation?


JF: See, firstly, we are not given any protection. Secondly, I can do what I want with my house and nobody says a thing. There are no sort of guidelines as to this is what you should do to the house, and this is the way it should be looked after like anywhere abroad. So that is the main thing. And I don’t think the government is very focused on its tourism department because there are the most incredible tourist places in India which are just going to waste. When they do a tourist place up, they just kill it with their plastic and their terrible aesthetics, and it’s sad to see what has happened to our country and our aesthetics–it’s the ugliest country in the world. We’ve just killed everything. Whether it’s Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Calcutta, Poona, anywhere, Hyderabad, Mysore–I mean, if you’ve been to these places when you were young, and you go there now, it’s a nightmare. And I take that as the worst thing about India that we just don’t care. And why does that happen, this chalta hai attitude?


Another thing which has really killed our country is the Rent Act because people are paying seventy-five rupees for a bungalow and as you know Indians don’t look after their places. They live in the place, they won’t even put a curtain in their home, they wouldn’t try to do any decoration. They are not involved in redefining their spaces. I mean, that you can see in any city: we shit everywhere, we piss everywhere, we throw things everywhere. I mean, you go to a train ride from here to Gujarat, and it’s like going to some scary city from Blade Runner. There’s dung, piles of dust, there’s piles of debris, there’s unfinished roads. I mean, Gujarat is full of places falling apart…what sort of development is this when we're using substandard material to do anything? Where everything is adulterated, when there is no integrity–what is the matter? It’s ugly, I’m sorry.