Category Archives: Interiors

Esplanade Emergency

11 September, 2016
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Interiors: Lady Willingdon Building for the Parsi Ambulance Division (1932)

1 Esplanade Road, Fort (presently M. G. Road).

Though located at 1 Esplanade Road, the Lady Willingdon Building for the Parsi Ambulance Division was in fact the last of the great medical institutions to be built on the Esplanade.

Once the grassy expanse that surrounded the Fort, the Esplanade was developed as part of the new city centre after the Fort walls had been destroyed in the 1860s.

By the 1890s, the Esplanade was dotted with medical institutions catering to women- the Bomanjee Edaljee Allbless Obstetric Hospital (1890), the Parsee Lying-in Hospital (1895) and the Pestanjee Hormusjee Cama Hospital for Women and Children (1896).

Three decades later, in naming the facility of the Parsi Ambulance Division, Lady Willingdon Building, the prominence of women on the promenade continued.

Hashim Badani shoots effortlessly on an emergency visit.

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Welcome to R. K. Narayan’s House in Mysore

6 August, 2016
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IMG_8071-1 ‘I had designed a small study—a bay-room with eight windows affording me a view in every direction: the Chamundi Hill temple on the south, a variety of spires, turrets, and domes on the east, sheep and cows grazing in the meadows on all sides, railways trains cutting across the east-west slope.’
IMG_8081-1‘The other members of the family could not yet move in, for the younger generation’s school and colleges and my brothers’ offices were all around Laxmipuram.’IMG_8073-1‘So I kept my Yadavagiri house as a retreat for writing.’IMG_8075-1‘Nowadays, young people, hippies and non-hippies alike, have accustomed us to indifferent clothes and styles, but those were times when any doorman would turn you back if you were not properly dressed.’IMG_8080-1‘Graham Greene liked the story when I narrated it to him…While I was hesitating whether to leave my hero alive or dead at the end of the story, Graham was definite that he should die.’
IMG_8072-1 ‘Subsequently I found it helpful to curtain off a large window beside my desk so that my eyes might fall on nothing more attractive than a grey drape, and thus I managed to write a thousand words a day and complete two novels and a number of short stories during my years of isolation at Yadavagiri.’

Interiors: R. K. Narayan’s House (1952)

A post from the guest city of Mysore (and Malgudi). D 14, Vikekananda Road, Yadavagiri, Mysore.

R. K. Narayan’s autobiography My Days and recent articles in the press suggest that this house was as cumbersome to build as it was to restore.

After a spectacular foundation ceremony in 1946, Narayan’s house building activities plummeted due to a lack of funds, materials and a troublesome building contractor. Narayan had to borrow, litigate and exert over five years to see the project to fruition.

In 2011, ten years after Narayan’s death, his grandchildren sold the house to a developer who had begun to strip the structure down. The Mysore Urban Development Authority declared the property a heritage site and halted the demolition. Local writers protested, asking why the Karnataka state government was spending large sums on an author who did not write in the Kannada language. Finally, after a well executed restoration project, the house has been turned into a museum.

As the writing retreat that allowed India’s beloved author to write a thousand words a day, all the trouble over the house’s building and restoration was well worth it.

Photos courtesy Mysore’s most dashing author Mahesh Rao .

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Becoming good friends

15 June, 2016
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Interiors: The Friends Union Joshi Club

381-A, Narottam Wadi, Kalbadevi Road.

Back in the 1970s, chances were that customers could end up becoming good friends with the proprietor of the Club.

If a customer lost weight after a month of eating at the Club and climbed onto the weighing scales stationed at the premises to prove it, the proprietor marked the month’s meals free!

This anecdote, narrated by Yogesh Purohit, son of the late Mr. Khimjibhai Purohit (pictured above), offers an interesting angle to understand the presence of weighing scales in eating houses in Bombay.

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A tour of the State of Architecture exhibition

25 February, 2016
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IMG_0391 1. The exhibition highlights the key role architectural journals, books and magazines have played in sustaining the profession’s knowledge infrastructure.
IMG_0311 2. The exhibition asks and addresses the questions ‘Does architecture matter? Are architects still relevant in India, and can they contribute in any significant way to a nation-state and a society in extraordinary flux?’
IMG_0319 3. An impressive infographic guide maps with mustard, maroon and red dots, the changes in a number of spheres in the architectural profession between 1947 and 2016.
IMG_0318 4. We are pleased to report that Bombay is the most prominently featured Indian city in the exhibition’s ‘Book as Archive’ section, with publications Buildings that shaped Bombay (2000) and Bombay Planning and Dreaming (1965).
IMG_0339 5. The delicate Maulana Azad Memorial (1960) located between the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort in Delhi and designed by architect Habib Rahman. Many of the structures built in the early independence era have come under increasing threat, a recent article reports.
IMG_0350 6. The ingenious Hall of Nations (1971) at Pragati Maidan designed by Raj Rewal Architects, is another example of national architecture that is at the risk of being razed.
IMG_0383 7. On the top floor of the exhibition we get a sense of the challenges young architects face in India and their structural solutions to these challenges.
IMG_0369 8. These expanding and contracting vectors convey the foreseen and unforeseen challenges and rewards of the architectural profession today.
IMG_0373 9. ….and a reward in sight!
FullSizeRender 10. A photograph of the exhibition’s curators (L-R) Ranjit Hoskote, Rahul Mehrotra and Kaiwan Mehta, featured in the catalogue.

Interiors: Sir Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall (1920)

National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Esplanade Road.

‘The State of Architecture: Practices and Processes in India’ is an outstanding exhibition that surveys the state of the architectural profession in India from 1947 to the present day. It uses three historical milestones — Independence, the Emergency and Liberalisation — to chart the changing role of architecture in India over the decades.

On Level 1 of the Gallery we are made aware of how heavily the early nation state invested in architecture to articulate its aspirations and modernist visions. On Level 2, which moves into the 1970s, we find the state in a flux and the architectural profession operating separately with architects negotiating both tradition and modernity in their works.

On Level 3 we find India engaging in an increasingly globalised world of the 1990s and 2000s and architects exposed to a multiplicity of influences, trends and choices. Here the modern, post modern, folksy and subaltern all find room.

‘The State of Architecture’ is at the NGMA till 20 March 2016 and should not be missed. Follow the exhibition’s Facebook page for an equally impressive list of lectures and events to attend.

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The Mogul Masjid on 30th Street

5 February, 2016
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Facades: Mogul Shiah Jaamay Masjid (1917)

30th Street, Rangoon, Burma.

In our second guest post on a guest city, Mitra Sharafi explores the Masjid of the Mogul community of Rangoon.

Rangoon’s 30th Street is home to the stunning cream-and-black Shia mosque of the Mogul community. The Moguls are descendants of Persian Shia men and their Burmese wives. A plaque in front of the Mogul Shiah Jaamay Masjid lists the founding trustees, who managed the mosque’s affairs after the current structure was built during World War I. Their names reflect their ancestral homes in what is today Iran and Afghanistan. There are Kabulis (from Kabul) and Khorasanees (from the region of Khorasan), Ispahanys (from Isfahan) and most of all, Sherazees (from Shiraz).

When I visited in 2007, the managing trustee of the masjid was Dr. Mohammed Shafi Ata Sherazee, whose Burmese name was Maung Maung Ta. He shared with me his knowledge of the mosque. Dr. Sherazee described it as the grandest mosque in Burma and pointed out the impressive Italian marble staircase at the front entrance.

The mosque is distinctive for its two towering minarets, which are 110 feet tall and which regularly attract engineer visitors, curious to know about the depth and strength of the minarets’ foundations. Inside, three antique chandeliers hang in the congregation hall. They date to the mosque’s founding, and were donated by a Mogul barrister, Mirza Mohammed Jawad, who was a trustee of the mosque from 1917 until 1929. He donated the mosque’s clock, too—also ticking since 1917. The oldest structure in the complex may be a well from 1852. It was built by order of a British colonial official, Sir Arthur Phayre, Commissioner of Pegu Division, at the end of the second Anglo-Burmese war.
The masjid has a rich and colorful history. Its trustees fought a memorable court battle against the trustees of a local Sunni mosque: who was legally entitled to build taller minarets? The mosque and its trustees have hosted religious leaders from the Islamic Republic of Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. A framed portrait of the Ayatollah Khomeini hung in the managing trustee’s office when I visited. Against this somber backdrop, Dr. Sherazee regaled me with stories from his own family history and life. His father and grandfather had both been Persian consuls to Burma. He fought for the Burmese National Army during World War II, then became a successful movie actor, starring in over 40 Burmese films. He had multiple wives and many children. And he wrote a doctoral dissertation at Dublin Metropolitan University: “Myanmar and the Shiah Muslims in Myanmar: The Development of the Shiah Muslims in Myanmar” (2004). It includes his own life story. Dr. Sherazee passed away at the age of 90 in 2015.
The history of the mosque lives as much through its caretakers’ stories as through the masjid’s physical structures.
Mitra Sharafi is a legal historian at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She is the author of Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947. Follow her on twitter @mjsharafi for the latest in the world of legal studies.

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