A fight to save a piece of history | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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A fight to save a piece of history

In the early part of the 20th century, Sardar Griha, a building opposite Crawford Market in south Mumbai hosted Lokmanya Tilak and several other freedom fighters while they spurred the fight to evict the British from India.

mumbai Updated: Nov 04, 2010 00:47 IST
Apeksha Vora

In the early part of the 20th century, Sardar Griha, a building opposite Crawford Market in south Mumbai hosted Lokmanya Tilak and several other freedom fighters while they spurred the fight to evict the British from India.

Now, the four-storey decrepit building is witnessing another battle -- for temporary eviction. The refusal by a handful of the 108 tenants in the building to vacate the premises has slowed down the building’s restoration work.

Broken corridors and heaps of rusted iron beams lined with cobwebs welcome visitors to building. At the entrance, a small bust of Tilak, who breathed his last on August 1, 1920, in a room at the Sardar Griha guest house, from which the building derives its name, greets visitors. Tilak’s room today houses the office of Kesari, the newspaper started by the Maratha stalwart in 1881.

The rest of the rooms bear no sign of the building’s history. Most of the rooms have been renovated to include ceramic tiles and glass doors but common areas such as the stairways and passageways need immediate repair.

In January, the Bombay High Court while hearing a dispute regarding the ownership of the building directed Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA), the state housing board, to carry out repairs by December. Ten months have passed since, and little has been repaired.

“I could finish the restoration work much sooner but the tenants have not cooperated and vacated premises on time,” said Shivratan Sharma, head of Pawan Construction, which has been given the contract for the restoration. The tenants were served a notice for vacating the premises in September.

“Dignitaries such as Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel were all known to live in this guest house on their visits to the city. Tilak, who frequented the guest house, was given a permanent room in the building where he spent his last days,” said Ramchandra Gandhali, manager of the Lokmanya Tilak Smarak Trust, which now maintains this room.
Turbans used by Tilak and letters in his handwriting line the room’s walls. Tilak’s writing table, cabinet and chair also add to the nostalgia.

Among the paintings in the room that depict Tilak’s life, one shows him on his deathbed. Through a window in the painting is visible the Crawford Market clock tower.

Today, as you step into the room’s balcony, you see the clock tower, but the heritage clock was stolen in July.