In exchange for this 400 sq ft place, even if you offer me a 2,000 sq ft flat in one of those luxurious towers, I wouldn’t accept it,” declared the 60-plus Palla Sidhwa, showing around her corner flat on the second floor of the Cama Building located in the Murzban Parsi Colony of the GZRF Trust (Garib Zarathostiona Rehthan Fund) on Gilder Lane of Kamathipura in the central suburb of Mumbai.
She isn’t alone in her declaration. Every member of the 19 flats in the ground-plus-two floors of the Cama Building will make the same statement. They proudly say that their building has history, emotions, character, beauty, and of course, now the crown of the UNESCO Heritage Award — the Asia Pacific Award of Merit of the year 2016 for repair and conservation. Last year, the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation had announced 13 winning projects from six countries, and Cama Building was one them.
“We at the GZRF want to retain and conserve what our founder-member Khan Bhadur Munercherji Cowasji Murzban had visualised about this housing colony for our tenants. And that is the reason, as and when funds are available, we plan to take up the conservation of 24 buildings in this Murzban Colony. Cama is the first one in this lot,” explained Dr Nawaz Mody, one of the advisors to the GZRF.
There’s green too
Hemmed in by tall multi-storied buildings, some as tall as 40 floors, the gated Murzban Colony makes a picture of elegance, spaciousness, unhurried, non-hassled life that everyone dreams of having in the highly space-crunched city of Mumbai, where every inch of land is up for grabs by greedy real estate barons.
One gets an idea of the sylvan surroundings of the place when Vikas Dilawari, the man behind the restoration and conservation project, and the architect known for his passion for conservation of several heritage buildings in and around Mumbai, gives you the directions to locate the lane. “There is a large, very green Banyan tree at the entrance of this lane!”
A green, uncut, live Banyan tree in the madly chaotic, highly congested Mumbai Central locality? That itself prepares us to gawk at the restored Cama Building with its teakwood staircase, decorated fascias, teakwood screens, stringcourses (a line of demarcation between the stories), the heritage tiles in the long common balcony with the doors and windows of each of the 19 flats made of real, thick, teakwood, plus of course, the dreamy old-world charm. The Banyan tree at the entrance isn’t the only one.
The entire Gilder Lane is dotted with trees, and inside the compound of the Cama Building too, there is abundant greenery maintained by the residents and the GZRF.
It’s a 119- year-old building (built in 1898) looking as though it was built recently. But of course, the heritage architecture gives away its era. Till the beginning of this decade, though fully occupied, it was a highly neglected building and was in dire need of repairs. This is when Dilawari was approached and he started working on restoring it.
“Making the Cama Building structurally sound, especially the wet areas when it is a building over 100 years in age, was the primary aim, and encouraging the craftsmanship that gave this typology its unique identity was the secondary objective, by using similar materials like wood for wood, etc. The project was a simple and effective example of adhering to basic principles of conservation of minimum intervention,” explained the winner of 12 UNESCO Asia Pacific Awards for Cultural Preservation in Sout East Asia.
The architect elaborated, “The other major works comprised architectural interventions like reintroducing details that were removed in earlier insensitive repairs. Major skilled repairs were carried out on the teakwood screens, fascia and railings of the verandahs with the painstaking replacement of decayed and missing teakwood members with new teakwood members, and details repaired and re-fixed by skilled labourers and restored to its former glory. Entirety of the external plumbing, and old cement plaster done during the earlier repairs a few decades ago, were replaced and new plinth protection was redone with local stone finish.”
Currently, Dilawari, who is busy restoring the iconic Flora Fountain of Mumbai, hopes that more and more builders and the officials concerned look at the Cama Building and Murzban Colony as live examples for the city to emulate.