A few kilometres away in plush Malabar Hill sits the previously imposing residence of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first governor-general.
The stately home hosted critical talks between Jinnah and India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on partition of the subcontinent, but today its downtrodden appearance belies its historical significance.
– Red tape –
Heritage campaigners lament the demise of such buildings, blaming red tape and claiming politicians and developers are more concerned with constructing sparkly new luxury towers than preserving Mumbai’s architectural history.
– Jinnah dispute –
In arty Kala Ghoda district, a 147-year-old mansion, formerly the resplendent Watson’s Hotel, frequented and written about by Mark Twain, is a ramshackle shadow of its former glory.
Now called Esplanade Mansion, it shows no signs of being restored despite ten years having passed since it was placed on a global list of endangered monuments by the New York-based World Monuments Fund.
Watson’s, completed in 1869, is believed to be India’s oldest caste-iron building and was the hotel of choice for colonialists and visiting dignatories during the British Raj.
Accoring to legend, the hotel went into decline after Indian industrialist Jamsetji Tata built Mumbai’s iconic Taj Mahal Palace because he was denied entry to Watson’s, which had a “Europeans-only” policy.
Today the crumbling structure houses a medley of dark cubbyhole offices. A lack of funds and arguments between tenants and city authorities have been cited as contributing to its descent into ruin.
“The idea of heritage has just evaporated,” says Naresh Fernandes, author of “City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay”.
AFP contacted a number of officials at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, regarding the Watson’s Hotel and the Harris building, but none were available for comment.
Jinnah’s house has been embroiled in a long-running legal dispute over ownership between his daughter, India and Pakistan. It lies empty in thick forest behind a padlocked gate.
Lambah doesn’t believe the buildings owe their dilapidation to any sort of colonial antipathy, citing well-maintained British-era relics like the Bombay High Court and the former Victoria Terminus train station.
“It’s just sheer neglect and bureaucracy,” she says.