A century ago, colonial Bombay’s wealthiest pooled their money and land to set it up. Now the 1888 Bai Sakerbai Petit Hospital for Animals in Parel is seeking saviours again.
The hospital’s trustees have commissioned a restoration plan for the patho-bacteriological lab, which is swiftly going to ruin. But the money — several lakh rupees — needed to implement the plan, is not there.
The 115-year-old lab is the most remarkable feature of the hospital’s shaded 11-acre campus that has an ensemble of heritage buildings, including an elaborately carved fountain and gateway, and structures to house sick animals donated by late 19th Century Bombay’s who’s-who from the Jeejebhoys to the Jethas.
Constructed with hard basalt and smooth Porbandar stone, the two-storey lab has a rich relief of animal motifs running around it.
Given to the Government Veterinary College under an agreement, the lab’s ruin began when it fell into disuse two decades ago. It was returned to the trust in 1995; the structure hollowed out, its wooden flooring falling in, in several places, and rusting spiral stairways.
Christopher London, historian and author of Bombay Gothic said, "The building is unusual in the sense that is takes wise and practical advantage of its open campus setting, through the employment of large and elegantly styled projecting balconies on the two upper floors.
"If restored, it would make for excellent accommodation, while serving to ornament the hospital grounds it stands in and the garden setting it adorns."
Fram Petit, a trustee said, We have a money crunch, get no help from the government and are struggling to keep the hospital running. Donations flow in but they are usually for the animals, not the buildings. But this is a unique structure and we would like to save it from falling apart.”
Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah who is drawing up the plan says that a major intervention is needed: “Where does one begin? The internal slabs have collapsed, the roof is gone.”
Petit added that once conserved the building could be adapted for reuse: "We could put in place an operation theatre or a state-of-the-art X-ray centre… we lack a place to house pachyderms…there is no dearth of uses."
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