walking in a mumbai village

isaacmathew @ 🌏🔬.🌐
12 min readFeb 16, 2015


Preservation or conservation of historic areas is an opportunity for the city to showcase a past for its inhabitants. Strategic since regulating the development of the area is based on the participation of its stakeholders who are in possession of objects and spaces that the city thinks is worth holding onto. The suburb of Chembur in eastern Mumbai is one such neighbourhood. Previously known for its large open spaces and its slow pace of life the locality is undergoing a radical change in respect to its development and positioning it as one of the prominent places in the city. A result of available infrastructure and influx of several east-west connecting transportation projects, the urgency to capitalize on the timely potential of the place is at its pinnacle. In this context is the argument where the older patina of the region brought under a definition of a heritage precinct is presented. Heritage structures in the city as per the first list of 1996 consisted of monumental colonial buildings with the exception of a few (Adarkar, 2012). This list was modified almost a decade later to incorporate urban villages found in the city limits. Heritage precinct thus in case of these conditions weren’t all structures of magnificent architectural value but was representational of the values and aspirations of the community that to certain respects cherished and aspired to maintain. With the directive to look into avenues in stargazing development potential, MMRHCS commissioned a group of consultants to document, analyse the place, engage with the community and thus propose collectively what is a heritage fabric that needs preservation. Interventions, therefore, began with posing a following set of questions to consider — How much of the history is relevant? How much of it is obsolete? Most importantly, what is our vision of the future city? Without elaborating much on the details of the study the outcome of the exercise or the proposed intervention of negotiation was a culture walk navigating through several significant sites traversing across the precinct. Heritage as a tag was deliberately avoided in the proposition as not all aspects considered significant were or could be positioned as built form. Ranging between gardens to wells and open grounds these were meant to stage a performance with the fabric of the place. Split into two tracks the points, 15 points each, the circuits showcased key points of interest within the place. Showcased below are the routes submitted, with provisions for continuous or stop-gap navigation.

01] Monorail Station Gallery _ The monorail project starts from Chembur and goes upto Wadala for its first phase. A future landmark the station is the beginning of the cultural route. It is flanked by Fine Arts society one side and the Bhulingeshwar Temple on the other.

02] Fine Arts Society _ Founded in 1962 to promote classical performing arts, the premises contain an auditorium of 1300 seats, community hall, music school and an art plaza.

03] Bhulingeshwar Temple _ 150 year old temple of the coastal vernacular architectural genre belongs to the SKP community. Interesting public spaces are created because of its well scaled temples with open verandas and otlas around the trees that facilitates casual interactions.

04] Vinayak Bhavan _ 1935 chawl structure which used to celebrate one of the popular Sarvajanic Ganesh Utsav for many years.

05] Pawan Putra Vyayam Mandir _ Shri Pawan Putra Vyayam Mandir, established in 1963, promotes traditional physical exercises and gymnastics. Being one of the oldest institutions of Gaothan it is run by the Pathare family with an active community participation.

06] Main Festival Chowk _ An opening in the route, all major community festivals like Ganpathi, Navrathi, and Sai Baba Palki are celebrated at this spot.

07] Route with houses (Mhatre/ Kulkarni/ Purao) _ There are typical old structures having vernacular vocabulary of architecture and features like external staircases, balconies and grills where the scale proportion and the relationship with the space around creates an engaging fabric.

08] Central Bawadi _ This is the main well where 5 narrow lanes culminate. The well has the potential to become interactive node for the community as well as for the participant on the route.

09] Kharwa Chawl _ This area has a typical old ground floor Chawl structure with a central open space, which is used for various activities throughout the day by the residents of the 12 houses.

10] Patkarcha Vihir + Suyog Mitra Mandal _ Right now dilapidated abandoned, this well could transform into a charming urban space for use for outdoor activities and public art display area. One of the pathways from the main road leading towards the Gaothan broadens to encompass the well. It has blank walls on both the sides which can be used art space for the community.

11] Jain Mandir [Shri Rushab Dev Jain Sadarran Khata Trust] _ A prominent religious node for the Jain and Marwari communities.

12] Raote House _ Supposedly the oldest house of the Gaothan has a carved entrance door and a deep set veranda. The entire roof is made up of timber under structure with tiled roof.

13] Raikar Niwas _ One of the several old structures with external staircase, it has many old tenants who have made several imprints on the façade like the green ceramic tile cladding on ground floor.

14] VadaPav Wala _ A popular vada pav vendor whose wares are famous all over in the locality and surrounding areas.

15] Chembur Post Office _ Art Deco G+1 structure and popular neighbourhood landmark.

Sandu garden forms the interjection at this juncture. A nodal space, it enables a transition of development in the fabric between a village typology to a planned layout. This is in addition to the open space being a local landmark and gathering or the occasional recreational space for locals and those visiting the neighbourhood. The walk as noted could start at either of the three points of a) Monorail Station, b) Sandu Garden or c) Diamond Garden. All three points would have an information centre with the route earmarked to either a guided (on appointment) or self-navigated track access. Each of the demarcated nodes could be eligible on an application for the development of their properties as prescribed in the proposal towards contributing to the larger significance of place and locality.

16] Ling Mahal _ Art Deco architecture with rumored tales of its varied owners and occupants.

17] Diwan Bawadi _ Located at the junction of Gaothan and old Chembur precinct, the well becomes one of the several interactive interjections of the route facilitating a transition between urban styles.

18] Balvikas & Gandhi Maidan _ Bal Vikas is one of the oldest institutions of the neighbourhood, which runs a school and also gives out its premises for various social and cultural events. The trust undertook the task of converting one of the dumping yards located at the corner close to its office into a well landscaped garden.

19] Pioneer House _ The oldest bungalow which came up in the St Anthony’s home’s precinct. The Nunes Family still lives there and are very proud of their residential space.

20] 13rd Nazerene Villa _ One of the several bungalows of the precinct, built with vernacular materials, having deep set verandahs, along with large open spaces around it which adds to its charm.

21] Idol maker + Cutta Chaiwala at 13th road _ As compared to the Gaothan St. Anthony’s and old Chembur have very few informal nodes. This particular node has a Saibaba temple along with an idol makers workshop and a chaiwala who occupies the spillover space on a nearby wall.

22] Sai Baba Temple + Toilet Nallah Node _ The natural water stream flows from the BARC hill and comes towards the St. Anthony’s precinct. The open space near the temple opens to the nallah and has the potential of becoming a good public place. Its environmental condition needs to be improved. The Mitra Mandals consisting of the local residents can own this project.

23] St Anthonys Girls High School _ In the 1950s OLPS School and St. Anthony’s School were established. There are 22 community groups which are part of the OLPS parish out of which 7 groups comprise residents of the St. Anthony’s Housing Society. These social communities engage in various social, cultural and charitable activities like running free food programmes, funding needy students in the payment of fees, vocational activities for the disabled etc. Each group is overviewed by a member from the Parish.

24] Nina Bungalow _ Owned by the de’Souza family it is an old G+1 bungalow built in modern architectural style, in the 1960s.

25] St.Anthonys Pavillion _ The St. Anthony’s Pavilion was built in the early 1940s, which housed a primary school; in 1950s the St. Anthony’s School and convent were built, followed by the OLPS Church and School later. There is a large green open space in the compound which provides a breather in the precinct. Presently the St. Anthony’s pavilion has the office of the St. Anthony’s homes co-operative housing society.

26] Sevadaan _ It houses a school for children with special needs. The premises is used for a number of social and cultural activities related to the Church. They also give out their halls and open stilt area for conducting various classes for yoga, dance etc.

27] Olps Church & School _ The Our Lady of Perpetual Succor (OLPS) church established by the Redemptorist Congregation of Bangalore in 1956 is the only important religious and cultural centre. It has an added significance because it conducts the Novena prayer service otherwise conducted only in the Mahim church.

28] Belvedere _ It is the only Bungalow which is listed in the heritage list as Grade II, heritage structure. Built in the 1940s, it is a ground floor structure with timber understructure and tiled roof. The flooring is of mosaic tiles, walls are of composite masonry in brick and rubble masonry it also has large timber windows.

29] Grotto _ Facing the central avenue it is a fine example of typical Portuguese Goan structure in rubble masonry with a shrine of Mother Mary carved in the elevation, it is a G+1 structure.

30] Diamond Garden _ It is a large garden facing the Sion Trombay highway leading to Pune expressway, surrounded by commercial and residential activity around it. It also forms a major traffic junction. The garden displays Kiran FIGHTER JET used during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It has walking tracks inside and outside by its edge. It has children’s play area along with benches and number of large trees. In the evenings many hawkers/vendors sell panipuris, kulfi, corn on cob, balloons, etc. While in the mornings there are fruits and vegetable vendors along with juicewalas and health food carts for the people who come there for morning walks. It gets cleared of this activity by 8 a.m. making way for the heavy traffic around it during the day.

Heritage as a tag for properties isn’t appealing to the present development landscape in the city since the policies enforced are considered restrictive and seen as detrimental to the development of places. What it ascribes to is that heritage isn’t adequately incentivised and thus a case for several grievances to those in possession of heritage properties. With the shifting of tags from heritage to cultural the intervention was to open up avenues to further places in the city and preservation would be based on tactical programming with government agencies and community stakeholders. But even though, the route became cultural the precinct still remained heritage. To stage thus a cultural precinct instead of heritage to an extent becomes the shortfall of the intervention. Formal instruments that could be ideated towards enabling this transition too wasn’t adequately explored. Heritage built form has reached a stage where there is a requirement to rethink its presence on the city’s development plan. Just by mapping and ascribing properties and areas to a list and committee. Socio-economic factors are to be considered when listing a condition as under either heritage or cultural. The fact of the matter remains is for the city to claim something as significant for itself what is it willing to do? and how much it's willing to pay for it? In the present clime of state lethargy in monetary or intellectual interventions, even the courts are partial to the property owner and overrule the corporation's ideas. To say that a cultural precinct may work better than a heritage one too is limiting. Culture could be a model that brings in an alternate avenue for funding, but a more extensive proposition has to be engaged. Listings without necessary policy changes should do only harm instead of add value to places. Failing to act soon will result no longer having any villages in the city to walk in.

AFTERMATH _ This is to bring to your notice that our Chembur Precinct (area which is bounded by R.C.Marg on west, Sion Trombay road on south, Subhash Nagar on East & M.G. Acharaya Road on North) has been declared as HERITAGE by the Maharashtra Heritage Conservation Committee i.e. you cannot demolish or redevelop your property in this precinct. Hence, according to MHCC the said precinct soon will be declared & included in the heritage list with the Govt. GR. The details have been published on the MCGM Website. If you have any suggestions or objections regarding same you can meet, Chief Engineer (Development Plan) in the Dy. Municipal Architect (Development Plan) Section at 6th floor MCGM Head office Annex Bldg, CST Mumbai 400 001 in between 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm on any working day. Kindly note that, Last day of meeting & giving your objections in writing is 30th September 2012. Appealing you’ll to join me & my Shiv Sena Party against Declaring our Chembur Precinct as HERITAGE as Chembur was developed as a Garden suburb in the Fifties & Sixties as all structures are of R.C.C & many are newly redeveloped also & they hold no HERITAGE VALUE or HISTORICAL VALUE. Today I am going to speak against MHCC & GOVT. in my B.M.C house (Sabhagrah) & going to fight to Stop Chembur Precinct into getting it in the HERITAGE list _ Suprada Phaterpekar

Proposed as part of Stage 5 Action Plan for Conservation of Heritage Precincts in Chembur [project for Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Conservation Society/ MMRHCS] Project Participants/ Isaac Mathew, Shreya Nagrath, Neera Adarkar, Anil Nagnath, Arun Kale, Shivani Singh.