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Mumbai’s character must be preserved

Times change, people change too. But this should not mitigate the need to make efforts to preserve those things that have embellished the city’s character, given it profile and identity, and pass it on

mumbai Updated: Oct 26, 2018 00:45 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,marine drive,ayaz memon
Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai.(HT FILE)

Every once in a while, I am consumed by nostalgia about how some of the defining landmarks of this city have vanished, leaving behind little tangible reminder of their past existence. The other day, while coming down Malabar Hill towards Kemps Corner, the urge to stop the car and look at the sweep of Mumbai’s coastline, which defines Marine Drive, was irresistible.

I stopped at my favourite spot from where one could see the magnificent Queen’s Necklace. Nothing has changed over the decades, except that Café Naaz, with an unhindered, unparalleled view of the bay, has vanished.

I’ve spent hours at Café Naaz, munching on samosas and sipping on tea, watching the sun set. I doubt there is anybody of my vintage in Mumbai who hasn’t been captivated by the sweep and grandeur of the coastline from there.

Since we are on restaurants, there are quite a few in Sobo that have become history. Paradise on Colaba Causeway, of the legendary Scotch Broth and Chicken Temptation apart from sundry Parsi specialities, has been a recent casualty. In August this year, owners Jimmy and Mehroo Kadhkhodai announced its closure citing advancing age.

I haven’t checked if Paradise has shut down yet or not, but it would be a loss: of the food that it served, as well as the familial feeling one got dining there. And it must be the only eatery in the world that would shut for a month or so every year because the owners were on holiday!

The cavernous Pyrkes at Hutatma Chowk, which could accommodate over 100 people easily, and the slim Samovar in the Jehangir Art Gallery with seating place for barely 30, in very contrasting ways, were two other restaurants renowned for their distinctive food and ambience.

Almost bang opposite Samovar was the iconic Wayside Inn.

Apart from the splendid food it served, the Inn has other significance too: it is believed Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, currently the most influential entity in Indian electoral politics, drew up notes on the Constitution of India here.

What gave these eateries cult status was not just excellent value-for-money food, but the ethos they provided.

Young and old, pragmatists and dreamers, rich and not-so-well-heeled, all found these places filling up their sense of being as part of this great city.

This is not restricted to restaurants obviously. The demise of Rang Bhavan next to St Xavier’s, home to many memorable live concerts and more particularly, the annual Jazz Yatra, took the soul out of music in the city. And when Strand Book Stall shut down, it was a tragedy, no less, for book lovers.

Doubtless, people who’ve spent a few decades in this city will come up with their own examples scattered through the length and breadth of Mumbai.

However, the point about this nostalgia trip is not remorse or fault-finding.

Times change, people change too. Some lose interest in their business, some businesses become casualties of modernisation and development.

But this should not mitigate the need to make efforts to preserve those things that have embellished the city’s character, given it profile and identity, and pass it on as legacy to future generations.

In this context, the suggestion last week from Rajiv Mishra, heads of BMC’s heritage panel and principal of JJ College of Architecture, that the Maharashtra government should buy out the building in which Rhythm House is located and gift it to Mumbai as a public space for performing arts is most heartening.

The closing of Rhythm House at Kala Ghoda in February 2016, which defined the city’s music habits for 68 years, was the end of an era for generations of music aficionados.

An idea from industrialist Anand Mahindra that crowd-funding could keep the iconic shop going in some way sparked hope, which has now been given a fillip by Mishra.

I don’t know how the two proposals can be married, but if there is so much goodwill for preserving Rhythm House, even if in another avatar, surely a way can be found.

Incidentally, the property now belongs to jeweller on-the-run Nirav Modi and has been attached by the Enforcement Directorate. In that sense, it’s up for grabs.

Would it not be mot juste if this property passes on from a fugitive to the people of Mumbai?

First Published: Oct 26, 2018 00:45 IST