It took me 4 trips over 27 years to come close to understanding what people say about you.
It is said that you are not just a destination or a place, but a state of mind. Rarely a day goes by without coming across a write-up about you in a newspaper or a magazine or a blog. Many of these write-ups are so gushy that it is almost embarrassing to read them. But it does reveal one thing: it was love at first visit and an almost instant attainment of that “Goa” state of mind for those who wrote the articles.
Not for me though. I visited you 4 times between 1986 and 2013, and you have always been a destination for me, and memorable for all the wrong reasons (for the first 3 trips, at least). I wasn’t impressed with you after the first trip or the second or the third trip… As for the fourth trip, we’ll come to that a little later. Let me tell you a little bit about the first three trips.
The first trip was organised by my school in December 1986. It was a road trip and I was one of the 90-odd students who travelled in 2 MSRTC buses from Pune to Goa. My recollections of that trip are largely of motion sick co-travellers and vomit all over the bus; smell of fish, wherever we went in Goa (yeah, I’m a vegetarian); a blur of church and beach visits, each one indistinguishable from the other; diarrhoea and the hunt for public toilets with water… It was a poorly organised trip and I know that you were not entirely to blame, but… I didn’t take to you at all.
The second trip happened four years later in December 1990, a mandatory field trip in my third year of college as part fulfillment for a BSc in Geology. This time I travelled by train with 20-odd classmates and 3 teachers.
Neighbourhoods of Mumbai is a series that will explore the different areas of Mumbai, their history, their sub-cultures, their architecture, the changes sweeping through them, and what makes them tick.
No discussion or debate on urban heritage and conservation in Mumbai is complete without a mention, and then some more, of Khotachiwadi, a neighborhood / village / hamlet (depending on your perspective) in the Girgaum area of South Mumbai.
I first came across Khotachiwadi in a newspaper article on the rising builder–politician nexus in Mumbai and how old neighbourhoods and enclaves of the city were in danger of being demolished to make way for highrises. The grainy black and white photographs that accompanied the article were all of Khotachiwadi’s cottages. This was sometime in the early 1990s and while I don’t remember who wrote the article or even the newspaper it was published in, I still remember the sense of wonder I felt at seeing the cottages. I actually double checked to be sure that Khotachiwadi was indeed located in Mumbai !
The article was also responsible for sparking an interest in urban heritage and conservation issues. It is an interest that has sustained till date and I still keenly follow the (always heated) debates on this topic. Even after two decades, Khotachiwadi still remains at the heart of such debates.
And yet, in all these years of living in Mumbai I had never visited Khotachiwadi. Something that was remedied when I visited it for the first time two months ago as part of a guided walk of the area organised by Breakfree Journeys. Our group met at Charni Road station and walked the short distance to Khotachiwadi. When we turned off from the main road and into the lane leading to Khotachiwadi, we left the crowds and the cacophony of Girgaum and stepped into a world of peace and quiet. The contrast was so great that I felt I had stepped through a portal and entered another world, another time.