‘Not a club, not a retreat, not a homestay’
Mumbai: “Where do you meet like-minded people in a city like Mumbai?” asked Maitreyi Damani, a 34-year-old interior stylist
Mumbai: “Where do you meet like-minded people in a city like Mumbai?” asked Maitreyi Damani, a 34-year-old interior stylist. “There are so many married women like me who want to do much more with their lives. But where can we network with people other than our friends? In India, putting yourself ‘out there’ is possible in the context of romance — there’s Tinder and Bumble — but I’m not looking for a date.”
A mother of a four-year-old, Damani also discovered that working out of home meant a stream of interruptions. “My husband would be sitting right next to me, but the cook would ask me what he would like to eat. That’s just the patriarchal set-up we live in.” At the Kathiwada City House (KCH), Damani said, she found the quietude and the community she sought.
KCH, a members’ only space, opened its doors in its present form in March 2021. Started by entrepreneur Sangita Kathiwada (62) and son, Digvijay (34) — of the royal Kathiwada family — it aims to be a cultural space. Kathiwada, an entrepreneur known for the landmark SoBo fashion store, Mélange, said that membership is open to “a creative community”; in an interview to Platform magazine last May Digvijay had said that they were keen to bring in a “carefully chosen and very discerning group of individuals who are willing to learn, inspire and collaborate to make change happen.”
The brief is expansive, even if its membership is restricted; even the number of guests a member may invite to an event — which could range from a tasting of food prepared from a Michelin starred chef to a piece of performance art to a book launch — is limited.
“It’s not a club, it’s not a retreat, it’s not a homestay,” said Kathiwada, when we met her one rainy afternoon. “I hate the word exclusive. I’m just being particular.” It’s not hard to understand why she feels the need to be so: the Kathiwadas live on the top floors of this bungalow. Built in the 1940s in the Art Deco style, the house once belonged to art collector and former Mumbai sheriff, Jehangir Nicholson. Kathiwada redid the place when she bought it in the early 2000s. She revisited the décor when they opened KCH last year.
“To live in an urban space, you need to have an urban sensibility. Look outside – there is no signboard, nothing flashy that advertises that we’re here,” she said.
The bungalow itself, located in a leafy bylane in Worli, is unobtrusive. Hidden behind a stone-laden wall and foliage, its ground floor comprises an outside sitting area with tables and one, particularly comfortable-looking wooden lounge chair, a work space with three separate desks, and a dining room. A spacious central hall that overlooks the garden lends itself to exhibitions and gatherings. It’s currently showing works by Saviya Lopes, in her exhibition titled No More Ephemeral Bodies A studio in the second-floor hosts wellness practitioners, who conduct sessions for members.
We met Kathiwada in a room designated as a private meeting room: it comprised comfortable sofas, a washroom, as well a set of floor-to-ceiling windows, recycled wood on one side, glass panes on the other, shaped like vertical louvres.
“When we opened this space a year and a half ago, I was responding to an urban need; how do you deal with an urban space in a maximum city like Mumbai?” Kathiwada said.
For Damani, a Worli resident, the space fulfils her need for quietude and networking. For Rahul Mehta, managing director of investment firm MentorCap Management, it offers the confidentiality and privacy he needs to meet potential clients. KCH’s location is fortuitous too — located closer to the end of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, it offers his clients ease of accessibility over his Parel-based office, Mehta said.
“In the business I am in, there’s a lot of trust building. If you’re looking to becoming an investor in a company, you’ll be working with the owner or entrepreneur for many years. To build trust, you need eye contact; you need to read the body language. Virtual meetings only set the foundation for this,” said Mehta, adding that he preferred to hold such meetings in KCH rather than the Mumbai clubs or even his own office, as it provided the right ambience.
“It is not unusual for people to open their homes, palaces, castles, estates – it happens everywhere, especially in Europe. Even art collectors open their homes,” Kathiwada said. “But what I’ve done is repurpose it to bring in people who want to create something. After all, the pandemic has taught us that we’re social people and we need community of like-minded people.”