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Khotichawadi: A Heritage Village in Mumbai

 

Tucked away amongst the glossy buildings of Girgaon lies 40004, Khotachiwadi. Representing an extraordinary hybridity in the realms of culture and architecture, it is one of the very few heritage precincts of Mumbai that has managed to save itself from being engulfed by the tidal waves of rapid urbanisation.

 

‘Heritage Precinct’ means an area comprising heritage building/buildings and precincts thereof related to places. The heritage building is defined as 'a building possessing architectural, aesthetic, historic or cultural value which is declared as heritage building by the Planning Authority in whose jurisdiction such  building is situated (Lambah 2000).'

 

Location: Then and now

 

               

Fig. 1: Map of Khotachiwadi. Source:Campbell 1896

 

Formerly, Bombay comprised of seven islands, namely: Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Woman’s Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel and Matunga-Sion. Various reclamations by different rulers joined these together, after which the isles were taken over by sultans from Gujarat in mid-14h century. About a century and a half later, the Portuguese took control of Bombay.

 

The plantations of Girgaum (presently, Girgaon) fell between Malabar and Dongri Hill—with Mazagaon to its North and Old Woman’s Island to its South. “Various records which make allusions to the Girgaum area till the nineteenth century invariably describe it as the ‘isle of palms’, ‘the avenue of glorious palms’ and refer to ‘the dark coconut woods of Girgaum’ (Academy of Architecture 1996).

 

                                                             Girgaon back road, c. 1905

Fig. 2: Girgaon back road, c. 1905

 

In 1661, Bombay was passed on to the British in a dowry to Charles II on his marriage to the Portuguese Princess, Catherine de Braganza, and was later acquired by the British East India Company in 1668. Within two decades, it became the Company’s headquarters, and witnessed the hustle and bustle of a growing trade centre. But soon after, the great fire of 1803 destroyed the British fortification, and brought about a fresh planning of the isle. This resulted in new settlements through the division of land in order to realise the Company’s larger aim of developing its resources. Khotachiwadi was then assigned to a Pathare Prabhu land revenue officer, Dadoba Waman Khot, and was officially named in 1880 by the Bombay Municipal Corporation.

 

Fig. 3: Present-day location of Khotachiwadi, Mumbai. Source: urbz 2015

 

Khotachiwadi falls within the ‘D’ ward of present-day Mumbai, and is situated within a kilometre from Charni Road Railway Station. Raja Ram Mohan Roy road is located to its North, Jagannath Shankarseth road to the West, and Vithhalbhai Patel road to its East.

 

Streetscape

 

In the early 1900s, the main entrance to Khotachiwadi was a mud road. Various problems surfaced with subsequent constructions, and the residents had a tough row to hoe. Building material came in the way of the drain that ran through the lane. Then, in 1937-8, the lane was paved with concrete, thereby resolving the issues and making way for a profoundly captivating assemblage of residential structures.

Fig. 4: A map of Khotachiwadi highlighting its cessed properties. Source: Academy of Architecture (n.d.)

 

Today, the variety of built forms in Khotachiwadi makes it the quintessence of visual drama. The common entrance through Jagannath Shankarseth road leads to a chapel. Constructed at the turn of the twentieth century as a gesture of gratitude by the people who survived the plague, it was renovated a century later, and now serves as a tranquil spot for people within and beyond the precinct.

 

Portuguese-style houses with sloping rooftops, cast-iron and timber balustrades whip up the vibrancy that runs throughout the village. Most of these buildings are set back from the street, and have a front porch, along with an external staircase leading to the floors above.

 

Quaint bungalows stand next to each other with the incongruous Hotel Girgaon Palace (earlier, Girgaum Lodge) placed in between them.The elegant detailing of balustrades, carved fascia and eaves boards stretchup till Shri Sai Dutta Chowk, the junction that hosts the most interaction between residents and passers-by. Located at the heart of Khotachiwadi, the chowk, with a couple of benches, serves as an ideal location for people to sit and chat. The spot also hosts vendors throughout the day as well as the evening carrom sessions which take place right opposite the back wall of Hotel Girgaon Palace.

 

Narrow alleys lead to Ideal Wafers, the famous store that has been selling fresh wafers daily for years. It is located within the compound of the Ideal Wafer House which holds the fine Portuguese architectural buildings 32, 32A, 32D, 34 and 36. Facing this compound is The Shelter, and the paused construction site of DeeKay Realtors on the ruins of Dias House. The configuration of buildings transforms from hereon with compact chawls to one side, followed by two of the Grade III buildings of the village: 30C and 30D, and an alleyway leading to another Grade III building, 27.

 

Apartment-like newer constructions such as the Chaudhary House heighten the play of levels in Khotachiwadi; low-lying bungalows owned by the Church such as 27D and (now vacant) 27C build it up further. The lane along these buildings serves as a prime location for Holi, Ganpati and Navratri celebrations, as residents of peripheral sub-precincts come together with those of Khotachiwadi in festive fervour.

 

Communities

 

Khotachiwadi was initially leased to a few land tillers of the vadval (an ethnic  community of Maharashtra) community by Dadoba Waman Khot. Soon, the precinct saw an advent of the Salsette Christians (East Indians) as they began settling in the area through Khot’s help. The wadi was home to Marathis and Christians for a long time, until Gujratis, Marwaris and Sindhis began establishing their residence around the 1940s.

 

Inevitably, such a history of the wadi’s community factored into its habitat. The dense built fabric of present-day Khotachiwadi is a medley of Portuguese villas, Goan cottages, apartments and chawls, which hints at its unplanned development with the passage of time. However, the diverse communities present in the area live in accord; the three main sites of interaction— the front of the chapel, Shri Sai Dutta Chowk, the area between Ideal Wafers and The Shelter, hold testament to it.

 

These spaces keep transforming as time goes by, but the way in which the wadi’s residents invest in their habitat, guarantees its enduring vitality. They acknowledge their differences, but at the same time, take immense pride in their remarkable homogeneity. Moreover, the neighbourhood’s high level of agency in moulding and maintaining its heritage together is precisely why the community’s spirit continues to shine bright.

 

Festive celebrations during Holi, Ganpati, Navratri and Christmas exhibit the true spirit of the distinct cultural synthesis within Khotachiwadi. The lanes that give platform to the Hindu festivals over the course of a year, light up towards the end of it for Christmas and New Year.For over a decade now, Christmas has been the most anticipated festival, as people from all across Mumbai visit the village to join in the merrymaking.

 

Christmas in Khotachiwadi

 

The spirit of Christmas in the hamlet is felt with the first set of fairy lights being put up in the front porches of the bungalows, and the Girgaum Catholic Club (established, 1894) buzzing with people. As the 25th draws closer, stars are put out as one can hear the echo of carols in the by-lanes. Post the evening mass on the 23rd, the Catholics gather at the chapel to pray the rosary, after which the entire village rejoices by participating in the carol-singing of Wilfred Felizardo, aka ‘Willy Black’.

 

‘Silver bells, silver bells/It’s Christmas time in Khotachiwadi”– Willy starts singing while strumming his guitar, and is joined by people as he begins walking around the village. While the kids are mostly asleep by the time he begins, adults join the carol-singing session with full enthusiasm. But the session is never exclusive to the neighbourhood’s Catholics—Marathis and Gujratis come out of their buildings to sing and dance along, as Willy switches to Bollywood songs.

 

Christmas fairs used to be held in the past, but have been discontinued due to various issues that range from space to support. The celebrations most fondly remembered by the residents are the ones organised by the late Owen Ferreira. These used to be a ten-day affair of telegames, food, etc. These activities toned down with Christians moving out of the village. However, Willy makes it a point to pull a gig for the hundreds of kids that assemble in the narrow lanes of Khotachiwadi. Under the giant eight-point star made by the Catholic residents, non-Catholic kids sing along to Willy’s peculiar carols:

 

Jingle bells, jingle bells

Santa ala re (has come)

Dher saare (many) chocolates

Bacchon ko laaya re (got for the kids)...

 

The doors to Building 57, Willy’s residence, are kept open as kids from in and around the wadi come to Santa. Interestingly, because of the less number of young Catholics left in the neighborhood, Willy’s Santa Clauses are non-Catholic men who believe in the spirit of Christmas.

 

As an efficient trigger for social interaction, the end of year celebrations in Khotachiwadi unite the residents in an extraordinary way. An old man humming carols in front of the Ganesh statue embedded in the compound wall of Ideal Wafers is a common sight in December. At the same time and spot, an array of holiday sweets is exchanged between people, funds are collected for upcoming Hindu festivals, and so on—all in absolute harmony.

 

Cuisine

 

Food in Khotachiwadi is just as diverse as its community. However, with people preferring convenience of packaged ingredients and food items, authentic East Indian, Konkan and Goan recipes are saved for special occasions.

 

Rodney Bosco Fernandes of Building 56 cherishes his memories of the way food was prepared from scratch in the past—he remembers how turkey, chicken and duck were reared in the village. Tamarind and other spices were brought in from Alibaug, and the carts were parked opposite his front porch. Women from Thakurdwar were experts at making masalas that were dried in the sun, which was then pounded with wooden mortar and pestle, and finally used in cooking on traditional mud stoves.

 

Till 2010, Khotachiwadi boasted of the legendary culinary spot, Anantashram. Situated right next to 47G, opposite Building 57, the family-run eatery of the Khadpes was Famous for its delectable Malvani cuisine—tisryo, chicken vindaloo, mutton xacuti, crab masala, sol kadhi, fried mandeli, to name a few dishes.

 

James Ferreira of 47G spent his childhood playing cricket with the Khadpe brothers, and was a devoted customer of the humble eatery. Although his efforts in stopping Anantashram from shutting went in vain due to family disputes, he wants to push the plan of a restaurant in the community as a repository of the East Indian and Gomantak cuisine.

 

Present-day condition and future

 

While the picturesque structures of the quiet hamlet give one a breath of fresh air, numerous problems exist in Khotachiwadi. Physical mobility becomes a greater issue with each new construction, as does the deterioration of the wadi’s sewage system. Cars and bikes keep coming in, and the considerable lack of parking space makes navigating through the lanes tougher.

 

Individual concerns of the residents relating to maintenance indicate the pathetic condition of governmental support. Moreover, newer constructions anywhere near the bungalows directly impact the condition of the century-old structures as they start wearing down.

 

Khotachiwadi was declared as a protected heritage precinct in 1995 by the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Giving in to the commercialising needs of the city, this order was then reversed in 2006. The Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999 made things worse for the wadi as it made the landlords of buildings constructed before 1969 (cessed properties) unable to charge rent at market rates.

 

Such decisions taken by the government were harbingers of the decline of Khotachiwadi’s heritage value. Lack of incentives for owners of heritage buildings, negligible guidelines for protection and upkeep of such properties, legal allowance of meagre rent amounting to barely a few hundreds has almost prepared the locality to give in to the craze of urbanisation.

 

Earlier, there were a total of sixty-seven bungalows in the neighbourhood; less than half of them have managed to survive. The one hundred and fifty-year-old Building  35, Dias House, was the twenty-seventh bungalow to lose itself to the commercialising greed of builders. A false claim of a thirty-feet wide lane, which, in reality, is not wider than 10 ft., was made for the proposed eighteen-floor building. Walls of the buildings nearby were cracked up while the foundation of this bizarre construction was laid.

 

The Khotachiwadi Welfare and Heritage Trust was set up by James Ferreira in partnership with Rahul Srivastava in 2003 to mobilise people in the interest of the neighbourhood’s survival.‘Requiem for Khotachiwadi’, a peaceful protest that involved a heritage march along with candles and flower tributes to Building 35, was organised by the Trust after the decimation of Dias House had been initiated by DeeKay Realtors. Vehement objections by residents and conservationists stopped the construction, and now, roofing sheets and reinforced concrete face the age-old charm of the Ideal Wafer House compound.

 

Founded by Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove, urbz is a collective of architects, designers and anthropologists who work with urban planners, economists and policy makers in experimental policy and design making of cities and neighbourhoods. Their members have been working with the Trust for the precinct’s conservation, and in January 2016, they conducted the Khotachiwadi Imaginaries Workshop along with ARA, a Berlin-based collective of four architects and one filmmaker: ‘The workshop’s premise was that heritage conservation is important, especially in a place like Khotachiwadi that reflects the city’s history. However, in Khotachiwadi, preservation goes together with transformation. What needs to be preserved more than anything is the residents’ sense of engagement with their neighbourhood.’(urbz, Khotachiwadi Imaginaries Workshop 2016)

 

Most residents stand divided between preserving their heritage by keeping it untouched, and revitalising it through letting a few changes take place. In an attempt to carve a mid-way for them, the workshop resulted in project proposals such as a café at Shri Sai Dutta Chowk, instalment of more benches, physically connecting the chawls, etc.

 

Heritage walks,Christmas fairs, art exhibitions, workshops,and festivals curated solely for the purpose of spreading awareness are the apparently small, yet noteworthy steps undertaken by the wadi’s residents and those concerned about the locality. Support from collectives such as urbz, builds on to the proactive engagement led by the people.

 

Few residents have adapted a DIY approach in maintaining the essence of their culture and heritage. While they are renovating the interiors with a modern touch, the exteriors, along with the larger architectural design of the buildings are kept intact. It is through such ways that the quaint hamlet keeps up with the development surrounding it, but chooses to evolve in its own way.

 

Khotachiwadi is not simply a relic of the past that we must preserve in its current form -or Revive its past glory. In many ways, Khotachiwadi represents a successful model of adaptation of an old neighbourhood to a 21st century lifestyle. Its motto, "foreveryoung" reflects its ability to remain relevant throughout the ages that residents use.(urbz, Towards a proposal for Khotachiwadi: an Invitation for Public Engagement 2015)

 

It is indeed time for civic bodies to revaluate the representation of heritage areas such as Khotachiwadi as slums, and work towards preserving the unique quality of these neighbourhoods instead of fueling their insidious death through insensitive laws and guidelines.

 

References

 

Academy of Architecture. 1996.  Khotachiwadi: A Heritage Precinct. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Mumbai: Academy of Architecture.

Academy of Architecture.  n.d. Khotachiwadi: A Heritage Precinct. Vol. 2. 2 vols. Mumbai: Academy of Architecture.

Campbell, Sir James M., ed. 1896. Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency. Vol. 33. Bombay: Miscellaneous Official Publications. doi:000403057.

'Girgaum Back Road.', approximately 1905. University of Houston Libraries. India Illustrated, Special Collections. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll29/item/159. (accessed on January 3, 2018)

Lambah, Abha Narain. 2000. Conservation Guidelines for Khotachiwadi. Mumbai: MMR-Heritage Conservation Society.

urbz. 2016. Khotachiwadi Imaginaries Workshop. Mumbai: urbz.

urbz. 2015. Towards a proposal for Khotachiwadi: an Invitation for Public Engagement. Mumbai: urbz.