A village lost in concrete

 It’s a small little village nestled in the otherwise concretised town of Mumbai. Dotted with century-old mansions, patches of greens and winding alleys, this gaothan will take you back in time, to an era now erased in our memory. What is surprising is the effort and the indomitable spirit of its residents, who have time and again refused to relinquish their fiefdom and buckle under pressure of the authorities and corrupt builders. Khotachiwadi, as it is known, is one of the very few vestiges of our past glory. With over 200 years of rich tradition, Khotachiwadi, located in the Girgaum area of South Mumbai, holds more of Mumbai than any part of the city actually does. But, who cares! A visit to the gorgeous mansion of fashion designer James Ferreira in this small little gaothan is only a reaffirmation of the old-world charm, now lost, but open to translation in a million different ways. Ferreira is not only passionate about clothing, but also a great lover of arts (if his home is anything to go by)He loves his home and he loves Khotachiwadi, and dare you harm his nest… Ferreira speaks candidly about what Khotachiwadi meant, and what it still means to him. I sit back, relax and take comfort in the beauty of his home, as he takes over, with his soliloquy.

 It’s devastating to witness the slow death of a community; one that was so beautiful and vibrant, but now shrinking and losing out at the hands of corrupt money-making scoundrels. The village of Khotachiwadi, the only home I have ever known, is the victim of this urban delusion. Dotted with 19th century bungalows and narrow bylanes, this sleepy little village is almost struggling to retain its old-world charm and aesthetics. Today, from 65 bungalows, we are down to a shocking 27; my heart pains every time I think of what we are losing. Fortunately, ever since we were given the heritage status in 1996, the residents of this area have become more “house proud” and have started looking after their homes. But this too is a challenge. Despite the heritage status, three bungalows have been sold to builders, with a seven-storey already having made inroads into the area.

To be honest, we have lost out as a cultural community. Most of the original inhabitants (the East Indians and Pathare Prabhus), have migrated to other countries, what remains is a few of us, who are
witnesses to this vanishing culture. I still remember the Christmas festivities at Khotachiwadi back in the days of old. The entire affair was so exciting and beautiful. My father would organise week-long
celebrations, which would begin with putting up the Christmas tree on December 25 and end with a bonfire on December 31. During the week, we would visit each other’s households for dinner parties, and also invite other gaothans in the neighbourhood to join in the celebrations. 
Unfortunately, we don’t see anything of that sort anymore.  Take my home for instance, we were eight of us, but now it’s just me and my 90-year-old mother. Most of the residents are old and ailing. Now, we just have six children in the area, who come out in the evenings to play their chor-police and catching cook games. Unlike the past, the lanes are silent and almost abandoned. Two years ago, the iconic Malwani restaurant — Ananth Ashram — in Khotachi wadi shutdown; in November
last year another bungalow was sold to a builder.  The transition and loot continues undeterred.
But no battle can be considered lost without a struggle. I realised that the best way to preserve our village was by putting it in public memory. With the help of a few generous souls we started Khotachiwadi heritage tour. Every year over 100 to 200 people visit this place. Today, it has been voted as India’s most successful heritage tour. We are trying our best to preserve what we have.
I feel fortunate to have this beautiful house, this sprawling balcony and such large open spaces. I can still leave my windows and doors opened and feel safe. There are sparrows all over my house and the
ambience here is so perfect and so different from the Mumbai we actually live in. I don’t understand this fascination with glass and concrete.  The past was beautiful, but the present is disconcerting.


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