Mumbai: To preserve the unique identity and heritage of the 200-year-old Khotachiwadi compound known for its quaint old-fashioned Portuguese-style architecture in Girgaon, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) stands ready to donate to the neighborhood a charming makeover.
With this project, the civic body hopes to revive a sense of community among the residents of the gaothan (hamlet) dwarfed by skyscrapers in the heart of South Mumbai.
The project is in its infancy and is still being conceptualized by the civic body, which has engaged the Khaki Heritage Foundation as a curatorial partner.
Over the past few weeks, the lab has completed a study of the Khotachiwadi station and will soon come up with a detailed plan for its revival and preservation. The completed plan is expected to be submitted to the civic body by the end of May for administrative approval.
Prashant Gaikwad, Deputy Ward D Commissioner with jurisdiction over the area, said: “The revitalization plan for this heritage neighborhood has been taken over by BMC and is currently in the preliminary stages. The conservation architect appointed by BMC will submit a draft plan shortly and work is in progress.
Tapan Mittal Deshpande, a city-based heritage curator from the Khaki Heritage Foundation, said: “This initiative must go beyond physical restoration. We want to restore a sense of community and identity to the people of Khotachiwadi. This community represents one of the earliest and oldest inhabitants of Bombay, now Mumbai. It should restore pride in their local culture, identify that their social fabric is distinct, yet integral to the city. Through the revival program, which will be led by the Khotachiwadi Trust, we want to tell a story, about the people of this place, about their life and their ancestors, the history of this locality and its place in the city.
The project is also challenging, as it will take place in the middle of private property, even though it is a heritage neighborhood. The restoration works will include the construction of an arch to create a sense of entrance. The boundaries will be decorated to give a distinct sense of identity and security to the area. In addition to this, the neighborhood will also benefit from heritage furniture, restored cement concrete paths to give them the appearance of cobblestones, and the installation of street furniture such as lampposts, benches, garbage cans, etc. Street furniture will be selected to blend in with the territory’s heritage identity. The draft plan is likely to include a wall of fame, to honor famous residents of this gaothan, such as painter Raja Ravi Varma. In addition to this, a museum will also be established here for visitors and history buffs.
At a later stage, the BMC planned to use Kesari Tours and other city-based tour guides to organize heritage tours of the places and regulate them to preserve the privacy of the residents of this gaothan.
Khotachiwadi, once affectionately called “Old Goa in Mumbai” or “Mini-Portugal” because of its colorful houses with beautiful verandas and gardens, has lost its luster over time, according to its residents. New generations of families, who have lived here for more than 100 years, have left the country. What was once a settlement of 65 houses now has less than 25 original bungalows and less than 20 original families. The historic site is now filled with unchecked two-wheelers, parked here by non-residents, and sometimes noisy commuters and tourists disturb the old-fashioned charm of the place.
A Khotachiwadi resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “Before the pandemic, a few local tour operators were running tours. However, now we have tourists walking in and out, clicking pictures and playing music. If there is a way to regulate that, that will be great for us.
“The lane is not wide enough for parking cars; however, we see bikers park in the lane and go about their business in the neighborhood, or sometimes rush into the high-speed lane, using it as a shortcut,” said fellow Khotachiwadi resident Wilfred Felizardo.
A few years ago, Felizardo’s cell phone was stolen from his home at 7:30 a.m. by an unidentified visitor. “He walked into the alley and sat down to read the paper. My family even agreed that it was out of the ordinary, and we didn’t know this man. After a while we noticed that two phones were missing from our house.
Felizardo, who is now in his 60s, has lived in Khotachiwadi all his life except when traveling for work. His house has belonged to his family for three generations and is steeped in history. “We’re still a community, but it’s not the same anymore. Somewhere the heat is missing. As Christmas approached, we kept our doors and windows open and heard Christmas carols playing in a neighbor’s house. My neighbor’s son played the piano, and we would be entitled to his music sitting in our homes.
Over the years, residents have also commercialized their properties, defying Gaothan’s development rules. A popular bed and breakfast chain has opened in the alley as a landlord remodels his home. There is a skin clinic that has sprung up, a restaurant and an ice cream parlour.
“If you pass the Khotachiwadi lane from the main road, it is impossible to identify the area. The lane is seedy and by no means unique,” said the resident quoted above, who did not wish to be named. One of the locals also said that there was an unsightly food stall set up at the entrance to Khotachiwadi lane, selling Chinese food.
An independent heritage curator based in the town, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘Gentrification is welcome, as long as it honors the soul and identity of the place and its people. Visually, there may be a lot we can do to enhance any space, but it has to go deep into the body and soul of the place, which are its inhabitants. It is also important to preserve the charm and character of the locality. Change is good, as long as it is well-intentioned and does good in the long run.