Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mumbai was on her mind

By: Fiona Fernandez

It's been nearly a week since Sharada Dwivedi's demise on February 6. Friends, colleagues and experts reminisce about the late chronicler's love affair with Mumbai and gauge the immense loss that the city will have to bear in her absence. Fiona Fernandez listens in

It's the end of an era. Period. A rare honour for a historian, this. Tributes, obits and eulogies are still pouring in among sections of Mumbai's press for Sharada Dwivedi. Only to reiterate the vacuum that her passing away will have on the collective consciousness of a city starved for heritage conservationists and upholders of a unique, rich legacy.

Pic/ Atul Kamble

The daughter of DS Joshi, ICS officer (1932 batch) and former Cabinet Secretary, Government of India, she wasn't just another academician of Maharashtrian stock. "In the 1960s, when Sharada and I would meet at the CCI (Cricket Club of India) or at the Bombay Gymkhana, she would regale us with her sharp understanding of all things Mumbai. Even then, her interest for each aspect of the city's history and landscape, be it dissecting the origins of a monument or sharing anecdotes about the area (Backbay Reclamation), was unparallel," recalls Deepak Rao, city historian and author of Mumbai Police, the most exhaustive chronicle on the city's police force.

City mattersVikas Dilawari, practising conservation architect and head of Conservation department at KRVIA (Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies) might have not known Dwivedi for as long as Rao but a common interest for the city ensured they interacted regularly. "She was always concerned and passionate about the heritage of the city."

Sharada Dwivedi (1942-2012) Sharada Dwivedi's home (Ram Mahal) in
Churchgate was a treasure trove of archival material

Dilawari's interactions with Dwivedi increased after he joined the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC). He remembers how she would get easily upset if the city's heritage was in danger of any sort; "I remember her being terribly disturbed when she noticed that Rajabai Tower was lit externally in different colours. She wanted to check whether the MHCC had given permissions for this exercise." On another occasion, she noticed a high fencing around the Indian Institute of Science. She actually went ahead and furnished an old archival map to prove her point about its origins and that it was planned with stone bollards and chains, he adds.

When Rajabai Tower was lit externally in different colours, Dwivedi
wanted to check if the MHCC had given permissions for the exercise.

Pic/Nimesh Dave

Naresh Fernandes, Consulting Editor, TimeOut, author, and city chronicler had similar experiences while interviewing her on several occasions. "Her passion was her business. What struck me about Sharada was that like Mumbai, she had created a model and always found a way to make it work."

Royal Alfred Sailors’ Home (1876)
Junction of Apollo Bunder Road and Apollo Street (presently Maharashtra Police Headquarters, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Marg, Colaba, entry prohibited).
The construction of the Sailors’ Home was a significant step towards containing and domesticating the population of seamen in the city, long considered drunk, disorderly and prone to recreate at taverns, boarding houses, grog shops and brothels.

Perhaps this intrinsic, deep-rooted love for the city stemmed from the fact that she lived in the heart of old Mumbai. Now called Ram Mahal, Bilkha House stands near the Rasna restaurant at the end of Dinshaw Vaccha Road in Churchgate, and was built in the 1940s by the ruling prince of Bilkha, on the plot that formed part of the Bombay Backbay Reclamation.

The bottomless treasure troveDwivedi's collection of archival footage and information on the city's heritage was amazing too. Little wonder then researchers, conservationists, journalists, educationists, artists, and historians from the city, country and beyond pursued her. "Her book, Bombay: The Cities Within, which she co-wrote with architect Rahul Mehrotra was a watershed. It remains the greatest reference book on the city's history," recalls Rao. Dwivedi's passion for sourcing information didn't end with penning books; her publishing house Eminence Designs ensured this interest found the ideal platform to flourish. 

"She was the moving spirit for my book and would guide me from behind the scenes with valuable nuggets. She lent me several photos, and didn't charge a penny. She didn't even want a credit!" says Rao of her large-heartedness. Her recommendations were sacrosanct, her views, the Gospel truth. Conservationists would exchange notes with her on the feasibility of a project, citizens found a ready reference point in her whenever she spoke at forums or was part of panel discussions on conserving the city's history and heritage. "Her passion to keep at a project and her time management skills were right up there," adds Fernandes, recalling her ability to transcend genres with remarkable ease. Her work wasn't confined to Mumbai -- she wrote about Indian aristocracy, fashion and lifestyle and even children's fiction. Her last completed work was on the Taj Mahal Hotel at Apollo Bunder, and took 30 years to put  together. "Such was her attention to detail," lauds Fernandes.

For the love of Mumbai
Dr Mariam Dossal, fellow city historian, academician and author of several Mumbai-centric books shared a close rapport with Dwivedi. "I first came in contact with Sharada in the early 1990s and had the privilege of knowing her professionally and socially since then," she says. Like Rao and Dilawari, Dossal remembers the spirit with which she engaged with this band of city lovers. "As she and Rahul Mehrotra worked very closely, we saw ourselves as part of a community of historians, engaged along with other scholars, writers, artists, activists, in the exciting discovery and sharing of Bombay/Mumbai/ Bambai's rich history and heritage."  With her passing away, the city has lost an archive. "It's too awful to contemplate. She was a living archive," sighs Fernandes.
Perhaps, Dossal's words best sum up this loss, something that city lovers are still grappling with and will find hard to replace: "Sharada Dwivedi gave us a sense of civic pride and enobled us." 
Fiona Fernandez, Features Editor, MidDay is the author of Ten Heritage Walks of Mumbai, Rupa &

Signage: Elphinstone Circle (1872)

Elphinstone Circle (1872)
Elphinstone Circle (1872)
Fort (presently Horniman Circle).
The Circle was named after Mountstuart Elphinstone, Governor of Bombay from 1819-1827. An initial proposal to name the Circle after Queen Victoria was turned down in favour of the Governor. The Baghdadi Jewish merchant prince David Sassoon, who had donated Rs 50,000 towards the initial proposal, withdrew his funding on the selection of Elphinstone’s name over Victoria’s; giving us a sense of how the politics of naming worked in colonial Bombay.

Façade: The Red Building

The Red Building
The Red Building
Parsi Bazaar Street, Elphinstone Circle, Fort, (presently S. A. Belvi Marg, Horniman Circle)
The Red Building houses the offices of The Bombay Samachar (1822), Asia’s oldest newspaper. Formerly the premises were also used by the Bombay Chronicle (1913-1949); after whose editors, Benjamin Guy Horniman and Syed Abdullah Brelvi, the Circle and Street, have been renamed.

Signage: The Arthur Crawford Municipal Market (1868)

The Arthur Crawford Municipal Market
The Arthur Crawford Municipal Market (1868)
Junction of Hornby Road and Carnac Road (presently Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai, M. Khana Road).
Arthur Traverse Crawford (1835-1911) had a sociable and controversial tenure as a civil servant in various parts of Western India, including as the first Municipal Commissioner of Bombay.
Notice the monogram ‘ATC’ on the clock tower.

Balcony: The Esplanade Hotel (1871)

The Esplanade Hotel (1871)
Esplanade Road, Fort, (presently Esplanade Mansion, Mahatma Gandhi Road).
In the early hotel trade in Bombay, leading proprietors’ names were synonymous with their hotels. The Esplanade Hotel was popularly called Watson’s Hotel, after John Watson, the English proprietor and merchant.
Notice the monogram ‘W’ on the balcony railing.

  "Meher Cold Drink House"

A Guide: Eating out in Mumbai-22012009798.jpg

Heres the pic of the sweet dahi (although the one served at Rustom's at Churchgate is better)
Thats not milk in the glass but set sweet curd.

A Guide: Eating out in Mumbai-22012009797.jpg