BMC launches a project to restore Khotachiwadi, Mumbai’s 200-year-old heritage enclave with colonial and Portuguese legacies

Published : April 12, 2021 16:30 IST

Quiet, winding lanes of Khotachiwadi, with close-set houses. Photo: Abodh Aras

In Khotachiwadi, neighbours can sit in their verandahs and converse with each other. Photo: Abodh Aras

A typical Khotachiwadi house with mixed colonial and Portuguese architectural influences. Photo: Abodh Aras

Khotachiwadi residents take pride in their houses and maintain them well, such as this one of fashion designer James Ferreira. Photo: Abodh Aras

In March 2018, there was serious talk about starting the restoration of Khotachiwadi, one of Mumbai’s unique heritage hamlets. Now, three years later, there is a good chance of it becoming a reality.

Khotachiwadi is a 200-year-old hamlet in Girgaum in the heart of old south Mumbai. At one time, its 65 houses—bungalows, cottages and one-storey structures—must have dominated the area. But now, only 25 are left and they are dwarfed by high-rises, some of which have come up within the enclave itself.

Despite the changes it has undergone, it is still a magical experience when one steps off the main road and into the by-lanes of Khotachiwadi. The lanes are narrow and winding and the houses close enough for neighbours to sit on their verandahs and have conversations with each other. Ornate wrought-iron balconies, latticed verandahs, mosaic flooring, gabled roofs, carved wooden staircases are just some of the architectural features to feast one’s eyes on.

Built in a mixed style typical of Mumbai, the houses reflect colonial as well as Portuguese architectural influences. Recognising this legacy, the D ward of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, under which Khotachiwadi falls, came up with a restoration plan with the Khotachiwadi Welfare and Heritage Trust.

A preliminary plan drafted three years ago focussed on restoring the entrance to this heritage precinct. The spotlight was on renovating the original streetscape. Marking historic landmarks with information plaques, designing special signage and street furniture such as street lights were part of the plan to give the enclave its unique look. Along with reviving these traditional elements, however, modern amenities are also to be upgraded, with lanes and pathways repaved and drainage and waste management improved.

The project, referred to as a heritage enhancement strategy, aims to preserve the essence of tradition but, at the same time, ensure that the gullies and lanes are well maintained. It is a participatory approach between the residents and the BMC. The homes are private property and have to be looked after by the owners, but the lanes are subject to civic laws and the BMC will do its bit to enhance the visual history. Funding for the project will come from the local corporator’s funds.

Restoration work has been stalled because of the pandemic, but it is expected that heritage-appropriate lighting, reminiscent of the 19th century, will be one of the first changes to be implemented in the lanes. The reconstruction of footpath and lane surfaces will be taken up next.

Khotachiwadi residents are East Indians, a misleading nomenclature because East Indians are to be found only in western India. They are an ethno-religious community of Christians whose ancestors converted to Christianity under the Portuguese. The term “East Indian” started gaining currency after the Portuguese gave Bombay to the British crown as part of the dowry in the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II of England, after which the East India Company started its operations in earnest here, employing local Christians. To differentiate themselves from other native Christians, these Portuguese-converted Christians called themselves East Indians. Apart from Khotachiwadi, East Indians primarily live in the areas contiguous to north Mumbai. The name Khotachiwadi has a simpler history. A Maharashtrian named Khot sold this parcel of land to East Indians sometime in the 18th century. The name translates as Khot’s wadi (orchard).

East Indians are a close-knit community, intensely proud of their distinctive culture. There used to be a Khotachiwadi Festival conducted once a year, with residents throwing open their homes to visitors. The lanes would be chock-a-block with everything from homemade products such as mulled wine, cakes, pickles and the famous East Indian bottle masala to racks of elegant clothes made by the well-known fashion designer James Ferreira, a long-time resident of Khotachiwadi.

Once the heritage restoration project is complete, Khotachiwadi will be part of the official heritage walks of the BMC.

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