Mar 14, 2011

A small village in a big city - Khotachiwadi

Bombay is a large city. Tourists coming here do explore many famous parts of the city, right from the Gateway to the Elephanta Caves to Esselworld and what not. But those of us who have settled here very rarely visit such touristy places. We also very rarely think that Bombay (yes, I shall call it that, for the nth time), has much to offer in terms of exploring, seeing, or visiting. Yes, you can go to Crawford and buy things. Or you can walk down Colaba. But none of these are something that the ordinary person living here would feel out of place, or different.

This Sunday, amidst the chaos, hustle-bustle and crowd of this ever-growing city, I found an oasis. A little hidden place that threw me off.

My three girlfriends and I visited Khotachiwadi. It is a little area, just off Charni Road, quite close to the station. You turn into a thin lane that is not wide enough for a car, with a conspicuous board at the entry. Walk a few steps, and you will wonder what happened. You are greeted by colourful single story wood houses, with balconies, plants, tiny bylanes interconnecting the houses, a grotto, graffitii painted walls, and more. It is entirely reminiscent of old Goa. And it is in Bombay.

The moment you turn into the Khotachiwadi lane, it is like all outside sound has been shut off. Nothing filters in, and you can actually hear sparrows. In fact, I actually saw a peahen, an arm's distance away, happily sitting on one of the houses.

Khotachiwadi is inhabited by East Indians, Maharashtrians and Goan Catholics. The plot of land was originally owned by Mr. Khot, who allowed migrants to settle and build houses here. The migrants slowly bought their pieces of land from him, turning this place into a small community.

No matter who you talk to, everyone here will tell you that this wadi is like a large family. Most people have migrated abroad, leaving maybe just a few members of the family back here. A lot of times, it is old parents who live here alone. And in times of need, of sickness and of trouble, anytime of the day or night, it is the neighbours who handle everything like family would.

The people come together during Christmas, and here, it FEELS like Christmas. They meet every evening, they pray together, they hold festivals and fun and fairs. And the best part, anyone and everyone is invited. These events are peaceful and quiet, with no blaring music, or alcohol.

The houses here too are Portuguese style. Some over 100 years old. A lot of them have been rebuilt. But they are colourful, open, filled with plants and each one has a character of its own. They are not boxes. They may be small, but they are not suffocating or claustrophobic. They have an old world charm and a new world spirit of liveliness, bundled together.

The place started with around 70 or more houses. But today, only 27 remain. And being located in such prime property area, it is no surprise that builders are doing their best to get the residents to sell their plots and houses. Some have done that, giving way to 18 floor skyscrapers, that look odd and out of place in this quaint neighbourhood, and attracting the wrath of the other residents of the area.

The place was declared a heritage site, but now with laws changing at the drop of a hat, the status is also under doubt. This leaves the area and the residents fighting to keep the place alive, to not let it be swallowed up by the concrete jungle that seems to be spreading like plague. Holding festivals, pot lucks, trying to get publicity and raise awareness, get more people involved in the cause, and just do anything, they are building their own wall to shield their Khotachiwadi.

Will they be successful? I don't know. Should they be successful? I want that yes. Because like Mrs. Bridget Misquita said, "Money is not everything." The joy of discovering that this place exists in a city like Bombay is even greater.

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