Mumbai Lens: The Asiatic Library

This blog post was featured in the “Around the Blog” section of the DNA newspaper published on December 7, 2011 (pg.7). 🙂

The iconic building of the Asiatic Library of Mumbai, also called Town Hall, was recently in the news for a rather sad reason. Renovation work, which had begun in 2008–2009, had been stalled due to unpaid bills amounting to nearly 2 crores ! (You can read more about this here). When I had last walked by this beautiful building one August morning earlier this year, there was scaffolding on the sides, scraped and chipped paint on the ground, and blue protective sheets covering the exposed parts. Sounds of repair work could be heard even over the traffic.

The entrance to the Asiatic Society Library

A closer look at the stunning entrance

In spite of the dilapidated look, the building still looked grand and commanding. The 8 doric columns still made people passing by take a pause, look up and maybe take a photograph or two. Or maybe sit on the steps and watch life go by. Or maybe imagine the many film scenes and music videos shot here.

I did all this, and then sat on the steps for some time and imagined the place restored to its former glory; the façade painted a brilliant, pure white; the wooden windows gleaming from a shining coat of polish; the stone steps no longer chipped or cracked. And I walking up the steps to attend some programme there.

But now it looks like this is not going to happen anytime soon. 😦

Mumbai Lens is a photographic series which, as the name suggests, is Mumbai-centric and is an attempt to capture the various moods of the city through my camera lens. You can read more posts from this series here.

31 thoughts on “Mumbai Lens: The Asiatic Library

    1. Thanks, Richa. I think we don’t care about anything and as for buildings? I am sure there will be a builder eyeing that peiece of land who will be ready to give funds for renovating the Asiatic Library building, if they are allowed to build a multistoried building there. I won’t be surprised at all if such a news item appears soon.


    1. Yes. Nearly every B/W Hindi movie would have a scene with this building in the background. And for some movies this formed part of an important scene. For instance, in the film “Bombay”, this building is the Marriage Regisrar’s office and Manisha Koirala and Arvind Swamy walk down the steps of this building after their marriage 🙂


    1. It think it is time to do more than just planning and only talk heritage. It is time to act and force the powers that be into taking decisions. I have only focussed on the building. Many of the manuscripts and books in the library are also rotting due to lack of funds and care, and with the Library building now exposed to the elements this is only going to get worse.


  1. I love this building. When I worked in Bombay, I’d often have to traverse his part of the city and like you said, I stopped every time, if only for a second to admire this building. It’s timelessness made most surrounding things feel inconsequential. I hope the people responsible get their act together and fix this soon.


    1. I love this building too, Meera, and infact the whole area. When I worked in this part of the town nearly 15-16 years back, I would see this nearly every day. But now it is only when I go to South Bombay. I have not seen it for 3 months now, and perhaps its time before whatever is left of it also withers away. 😦


  2. It’s a bit depressing that people are burning the candle at both ends to develop the city, construct new roads, flyovers, skyscrapers but quite seldom anyone would give a thought about the old monuments and buildings that have stood strong since ages. Beautiful post !!


    1. Welcome here, Aakash and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. We don’t care for the old at all—be it people, animals, buildings or our history. What we care for is something that gives us a sense of immediate pride and rouse passion be it a cricketer, a son of the soil “hero”, or anything local. What hope does an old colonial building have? I spoke about this to a well-known urban planner, and I was dubbed as elitist !


  3. I have actually used this library once upon a time and used to love sitting on the steps too. And now look at that building. It is like looking at a loved one in a state of neglect. 😦 Agree with Magiceye about our skewed priorities.


    1. I used the library only once when I went in search of an a book to verify some potentially litigious piece of writing. I never found the book, but I found happiness, peace, quiet and a place to lose myself in.


  4. I have been there so many times, and sat on those steps too, but never been inside! wanted to, but somehow it never happened… and recently, i saw the renovation work and hoped it would be completed soon and then i would go in and take a look, but looks like theres no use hoping.. i had better go in before the whole edifice crumbles!


    1. It is beautiful inside with marble staircases and statues and some fine woodwork and an atmosphere to simply lose oneself in. Do go there one afternoon—as that is the best time to go.


    1. It still is an oasis of calm inspite of looking the way it is now. It has a dignity that is unmatched. I hope restoration work is resumed and finished before the monsoon sets in next year.


  5. Hi,

    I’d like to feature this post in DNA’s Around the Blog page. Do let me know if you’re okay with it by sending an email to dna (dot) blessy (at) gmail (dot) com.


    1. This is really wonderful news. Our newspapers, I tell you, will never report the good things. Thank you so much for letting me know. I’ll hop over to say hello to this beautiful building this weekend. 🙂


      1. You’re very welcome! It was freshly painted by end of January, but still under scaffolding, and I think it was finished completely in around late April. I hope you get to go there and see it 🙂


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