In the middle of the chaos that is Crawford Market — rising above hawkers vending China-made toys, and traffic wading through traffic, is Sardar Griha, a fading memorial to a freedom fighter.
Sardar Griha was originally a hotel where Lokmanya Tilak was a frequent visitor — the room in which he eventually died is still the official address of Kesari, the revolutionary newspaper — founded by Tilak — that regularly took on the might of the Raj.
Tied up in ownership litigation, the dilapidated building needs critical structural repairs that have been delayed for years. Last month, the Bombay High Court directed the authorities to begin efforts to restore the four-storied structure opposite the Commissioner of Police headquarters.
Today, it houses a few ad agencies, a retail cloth merchant, some residences and a trust office that has some of Tilak’s photos and letters. You’d never know the drab brown building was once the hub of revolutionary activity, with visitors such as Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
“In other countries, the houses of statesmen, writers and personalities important to their history are proudly preserved — here, barring Mani Bhavan, which is managed by a private trust, the government has not done much,” says historian Sharada Dwivedi.
Sardar Griha’s condition is typical of scores of historically important buildings across the city, including Rudyard Kipling’s birthplace in the JJ School of Arts compound, and B.R. Ambedkar’s home, Raj Griha in Dadar. Many of these buildings may not have strong architectural value, but are still of immense historical interest.
“The state of these buildings shows the lack of a sense of history,” says Anant Prakash, a Pune-based historian. Structures like Congress House at Grant Road, and Raj Griha are not even on the heritage list of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC), a consultant body to the municipal commissioner.
Wayside Inn, the Kala Ghoda restaurant where Ambedkar wrote India’s Constitution, has been demolished to make way for an entirely unrelated restaurant.
“The heritage list is a process; the buildings we missed in the first heritage list have been recommended for inclusion in the new list,” says Dinesh Afzulpurkar, chairman, MHCC.