A 1947-built lodging-and-boarding house near Crawford Market is adapting to the times by refashioning itself into an alternative cultural venue
On a Friday (June 24), 35 people battled the rains and turned up to attend a ‘story therapy’ session. Inspired by the erstwhile musical mehfils (intimate gatherings dedicated to poetry and music), this session featured stories narrated to live music. What made it unique was the venue — New Vasantashram — a boarding and lodging house near Crawford Market that had been converted into a performance space.
It was the first event to be held on the premises, and was organised by RaahGeer Citywalks, a group that conducts walking tours. Spurred by the response, Sujata Rao, owner of New Vasantashram, now plans to host fortnightly weekend events at the space. Expect classical music baithaks (suits the limited space), open mics, board game events, food or shopping pop-ups, film screenings, and workshops.
Their upcoming event, titled Music from the Streets of Blind, is also organised by RahGeer, and will feature singers and flautists who perform in the local trains of Mumbai.
Back in time
New Vasantashram dates back to 1947. It also boasts of a rags-to-riches story, the kind the city is famous for. Rao’s father, Pilinja Laxminarayan Rao, and his elder brother, Pilinja Subbha Rao, came to Bombay with just `10 in their pocket, and a dream to made it big. They founded New Vasantashram by loaning money from a Gujarati friend.
“In 1947, India was just basking in its newfound freedom. Travel, especially to Bombay, was only for the adventurous and those who dreamed big. My father and his brother waited at the Victoria Terminus railway station along with coolies to convince travellers to stay here. Over the years, they garnered a loyal client base that still comes here,” says Sujata Rao, the second-generation owner of the lodge. She took over 14 years ago, and runs it with her mother and sister.
The name New Vasantashram, says Rao, took after a trend of the time: “India had just become independent, and people were in a mood to celebrate. Most hotels and shops used the word ‘new’ in their title,” says Rao.
The next step
Two years ago, Rao revamped the lodge (spread across the third and fourth floor of Narasimha Mansion) and made it contemporary. She added distressed doors, turned hand-block printing wooden blocks into door handles, and restructured the rooms so that the dining space could double up as a recreational area. This is where the events take place.
Rao’s decision to change things around was to cater to a changing demographic. “We have been catering predominantly to traders. With textile, diamond and other markets moving out of south Mumbai, our clientele is now younger. We now get students who come to intern in law firms or to attend workshops at Bombay Stock Exchange. We get medical and leisure tourists, staycation-ers and foreign tourists,” says Rao.
Post the revamp, she was approached by RahGeer on Facebook to host their event. “I always wanted New Vasantashram to be an experimental playground. We want to reinvent the idea of a conventional lodging and boarding house. We want it to grow into an informal cultural space, while serving patrons a slice of heritage,” says Rao.
What: Music from the Streets of Blind at New Vasantashram on July 1, 8pm to 10pm
At: 232, Narismha Mansion, 3rd Floor, LT Marg
Call :2208 0226
Entry: Rs 500
Visit: facebook.com/HotelNew Vasantashram/