Vikas Dilawari’s Restoration Preserves The Past For The Future

hira baug


Vikas Dilawari is a conservation architect whose work has won 15 UNESCO awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Mrigank Warrier toured parts of Charni Road, Thakurdwar, and CP Tank with Mr. Dilawari and explored two of his conservation projects.

The Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Parsee Charitable Institution, 33, Maharishi Karve Marg, Opp. Charni Road Railway Station, Mumbai 400 004.
Hira Baug, CP Tank, Mumbai 400 004.


Moments after we meet outside Charni Road station, Vikas Dilawari asks me to inspect its signature railings: “They’re a replica of those at the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway building (Western Railway headquarters) outside Churchgate station.” And just like that, a short tour of two of his conservation sites becomes an evening of introductions to Bombay’s omnipresent heritage.

Obscured as it is by the remnants of a demolished pedestrian overbridge, the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Parsi Charitable Institution is a Gothic Revival building I must have walked past countless times, dismissing it as yet another colonial edifice commandeered by an obscure government department that one must avoid on principle as a museum of paperwork. But this 1908 structure – the first project of Mr Dilawari’s 27-year career – is a school for children of all communities.

We admire the imposing façade of this gorgeous building, and I can almost picture it filled with students: scores of exuberant children scampering through the portico into the lobby and pausing for a beat; tipping back their tiny heads, they gaze up the wide, sunlit stairwell with open-mouthed wonder at the pitched roof, four high-ceilinged storeys above their restless feet. Some of the more daring kids might risk a slide down the burnished bannister before scampering off to class through corridors shielded by ornate wooden screens and balustrades. The recently trained bladders of the tinier toddlers may drive them to the toilet, where an intricately chiselled screen of Porbandar stone brings elegance to that most utilitarian of spaces.

The more pensive ones will savour the soft tread of their canvas-shoed feet on the teakwood stairs and pause on the Minton-tiled landings to contemplate the serene marble tombstones of Bada Kabrastan in the adjacent plot. But the performers amongst them will surely make a beeline for the many-columned hall with its stage and stone balconies and hug a stone pillar for how wonderful it feels against their cheeks.

Only the most dauntless will climb onwards to the fourth floor library – painted a most welcoming tint of green – for its vista of the sea right in front and Malabar Hill and Walkeshwar in the distance. I doubt their teachers permit them to step onto the terrace on either side as Mr. Dilawari and I did, where he immediately pointed out that the blue and white roof of Charni Road station clashes with the brick red roof of the Government Press behind it. And I’m certain no student is allowed to clamber up the Mangalore-tiled roof of the school and look upon the quiet sanctuary of the Cowasjee Jehangir Atash Behram next door and the domes of Victoria Terminus on the horizon.

Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Parsi Charitable Institution

But they and you and everyone else can admire the windswept statue of Athena, holding a spear and shield, visible at the very top of the school from the very bottom. “It could once be seen all the way from Malabar Hill,” says Mr. Dilawari. “But it had fallen down or been removed and was replaced by a hoarding of 505 soap for a very long time. It was quite a feat to place that statue at the top, at a height of about 80 feet, facing the sea.”

As we descend the stairs, Mr. Dilawari – a most affable man – issues stern orders to workers giving finishing touches to another round of restoration. His eye for detail does not waver even when we stroll on Thakurdwar Road: he points out the Art Deco turret and stairwell jaali of the Vinay Health Home building as well as two staircases in the same chawl: one original, wooden, and still beautiful, the other recent, metal, and ghastly. Walking with him, one develops a type of vision that strips every sight of its tasteless modern additions to visualise each structure as it was in its heyday.

Turning onto Nath Madhav Road, I immediately spot a corner of my favourite Mumbai building, the interiors of which – in a happy coincidence – Mr. Dilawari restored. If real estate is a status symbol, Hira Baug is the most glorious of them all. Built in 1905 by a wealthy Seth, its frontage – which abuts two streets – overlooks a traffic island and public toilet but once commanded a view of the historic CP Tank.

hira baug

Mr. Dilawari crosses the intersection with carefree aplomb, unmindful of the blaring traffic (“This is Bhuleshwar, nothing will happen”). With sweeping arms, he explains how just a ground-plus-one structure can have such a large footprint, how buildings across the street complement its curves, and how the balustrade of its recessed, triangular terrace is perfectly parallel to the front of an adjacent building.

Mr. Dilawari describes its design as “Gothic outside, Indian inside” (If I come across as an architectural expert in the following sentences, it is only because I am quoting him). The façade of Hira Baug has Western ornamentation such as trefoils (a raised outline of a three-lobed leaf) and finials (slender, carved projections crowning the apices of its roofs). But it also sports carved motifs of Indian animals, and its eaves are lined by finely-crafted, desi wooden lengths called fascia boards. The longer one examines its façade, the more detail it reveals.

hira baug

We pass through its gates to an oasis of calm. Mr. Dilawari explains how Hira Baug was planned keeping human senses in mind: the stone-paved courtyard hardly admits the din of traffic outside; a young woman sits on a verandah, studying. The structure is oriented to welcome the south-west wind, which sweeps through the building through louvered ventilators. The last rays of the setting sun shine upon its walls, tingeing its yellow ochre hue to something indescribable.

In photographs dating from before Mr. Dilawari’s restoration, Hira Baug appears discoloured, decrepit, and altered, with little consideration for its original design. We clamber up one of its many staircases to the gallery of a space now used as a wedding hall; once painted an odious grey all over, its original, colourful stencilled pattern with ‘HB’ at the centre is resplendent once again. The terrace next to it offers a splendid view of a hidden Art Deco clock tower right in the middle of Bhuleshwar. We walk along a balcony-corridor onto which a row of residential rooms opens; its cast-iron railings display the ‘HB’ motif as well. The windows of the rooms open into the quiet courtyard. The lower panes of their shutters are solid, for privacy, while the upper ones are transparent and admit sunlight. Hira Baug is a building designed for its people.

hira baug

As we leave, I see a man go up the stairs with a giant tiffin. Hira Baug was once a dharamshala whose rooms were subsidised by its shops;  the watchman Dubeyji informs me that, a century later, the rooms are still given free of charge to the families of cancer patients from out of town who need to stay in the city for months on end.

Mr. Dilawari says, “Any modern building is like a human being; until you’re 30, 45, 50, you’re fit. At 60, you start going for check-ups. The very fact that Hira Baug has completed 100 years without asking for external repairs is remarkable.” This resonates with the email signature of this man who spends his days protecting and preserving that which he loves most about his city: “It’s good not because it’s old, it is old because it is good.”



Your Guide To Food And Drink For A Mumbai Summer



Across the city, the rising mercury has people turning to their kitchens to fire up dishes that help combat the high heat and humidity. The focus is on food that is healthy, tasty, and helps cool you down. Mangoes find mention in many recipes, enjoyed both raw and ripe and added to curries or drinks. Some drinks cool down the system and provide comfort on a hot day.

We speak to people from different communities for their favourite seasonal summer treats.


Kokum Sherbet

In author Tara Deshpande Tennebaum’s childhood home in Belgaum, kokum sherbet was an important summer tradition. “In Saraswat cooking,” she says, “kokum is used in a lot of dishes – fish curries, amti, solachi kadhi – and it is a staple in the Konkani kitchen.” The kokum sherbet is made by boiling dried kokum with water and adding sugar till the liquid gains a syrupy texture. Powdered cumin and black rock salt can be added for variety.

“My grandmother made bottles of this,” says Tara, “and my sister and I, accompanied by our dog, would hop from house to house in Belgaum gifting them to her friends. In return, they gave us their homemade summer specialities like Coorgi bitter orange (kaipuli) squash, sour mango pickle, or Goan dried seafood pickle.”

Try kokum sherbet: Aaswad, 61, Sadanand, Opp. Amar Hind Mandal, Gokhale Road, Opposite Chandrika Automobiles, Dadar (w), Mumbai 400 028, or Prakash Shakahari Uphar Kendra, 9/10, Horizon Building, Gokhale Road North, Dadar (w), Mumbai 400 028
Where to buy kokum: Parlekar Masalas Supermarket, Shop 15/16, Vanmalidas Compound, 53-a, Tejpal Road, Vile Parle (e), Mumbai 400 057 or from Delight Foods.

Tok Dal

“This typical Bengali dish is a sweet and tangy thin masoor dal made with green mango,” says home chef Madhumita Pyne. This dal is eaten with rice and fried vegetables like alu bhaja during the summer because it cools down the body.

The dal can be made with yellow split peas too. The key to making it is choosing the right mango – raw, not super sweet, and green in colour. “You want the tanginess of the mango to shine,” says Madhumita, “and it needs to hold its shape after cooking. I’ve always liked the taste of green mango. If there was no tok dal on the table, I would mix green mango chutney with plan dal to get that tangy flavour.”

Where to eat/buy: Bijoli Grill, Hakone Bumpers & Rides, Opp Nirvana Park, Hirandandani Powai, Mumbai 400 076 and Just Bengal, Divyam Heights, Gilbert Hill Road, Gaondevi Dongri, Andheri (w), Mumbai 400 047 

Tok Dal

Bilimbi juice

The Pathare Prabhu community uses bilimbi (or bilimba) in many dishes including sheer, chutney, jam, or juice. Bilimbi, also called cucumber tree or tree sorrel, is a pickle-shaped fruit known for its astringency and short shelf-life.

“The Pathare Prabhus were early settlers and used to live in bungalows across Bombay,” says Sunetra Sil Vijaykar, a culinary expert who runs a pop-up kitchen called Dine With Vijaykars in Jogeshwari. “They would grow fruit like amla, nimbu, bilimba, mango and make sherbets out of them. In time, these juices became part of the tradition.”

Bilimbi juice is tangy and refreshing. To make the juice, Vijaykar suggests boiling the bilimbi in water with jaggery and a little salt. Transfer this to a mixer and blend until it becomes a pulp; sieve and the concentrate is ready. “It is rare to find a bilimbi tree in Mumbai,” she says, “but for bulk orders, we go to a veggie market on Mira Road.”

Where to buy: Mira Road vegetable market
Where to find bilimbi juice: Dine With Vijaykars pop-up meals at their Jogeshwari home sometimes offer bilimbi sherbet or chutney.

Kuhireen Khichdi

The lunch table at a Sindhi home in summer is usually laden with bhugha chaanwran (rice cooked with caramelised onions), taryal patata (shallow fried potatoes spiced with chilli powder, coriander and turmeric), and mango. In food blogger Alka Keswani’s home, another much-loved summer dish is patri khichdeen (diluted/loose khichdi).

“Sindhi khichdi is simple,” says Alka. “You add green cardamom and black peppercorns to ghee, then soaked rice, salt, turmeric, and water and cook this till soft. It is then mashed with a wooden whisker and consistency is adjusted to semi-solid.”

Khichdi is chosen because it is easy to digest and not heavy on spices. This is eaten with a simple turi (smooth gourd) subzi, karela basar (bitter gourds with onions), singhi tamate mein (drumsticks in tomato gravy), and kaat (salted sundried karela peels that are flash fried).

Kuhireen khichdi is easy to make. Keswani’s blog has more details.

Ambe Poli

“[Ambe poli] is very popular in my family,” says Nandita Godbole, a cookbook and fiction author from Mumbai now living in Atlanta. “I can trace it back to a mention made by my great-grandfather in his book, about travelling with it from Konkan to Alibaug at the turn of the century. We [the Konkanasth Brahmin community] make a version of it each year.”

Ambe Poli is a sweet and tart sun-dried mango leather made with mango pulp and spices. It is made in the summer to take advantage of the summer heat, since it is dried outdoors or in the sun. Nandita’s family makes it a few different ways – some with a pinch of soonth, others with red chilli powder, one with cardamom, another with kesar and another, more recent version with dried fruits. The ones with added flavours, especially with dried fruits, are more decadent. The kesar one is Nandita’s favourite.

“These are eaten during summer and often just as the monsoons start,” she says, “made using the ripe mangoes. This is the time when body defences are weak. Dried ginger and saffron are warming; a pinch of dried ginger is good for digestion and makes the fruit leather spicy. It is good for an after-meal snack.”

Where to eat/buy: Ladoo Samrat, Shop No.: 1-2, Habib Terrace, Lalbaug, Dr Ambedkar Road, Parel, Mumbai 400 012 or Ramanlal Vithaldas & Co outlets

Panna Pakodi

“My chachi’s summer treat was panna pakodi,” says columnist and curator Anoothi Vishal. “We would eat this with arhar ki dal cooked with raw mango, parwal alu, and aamchur. It was a comforting summer dish.” Panna pakodi is essentially a side dish consisting of moong dal pakodas served in an aam panna (yes, the drink).

“You make the panna the same way as you would otherwise,” she says, “except it isn’t diluted as much, and then add in crispy pakodi. You get a thin soup-like dish, which can be mixed with rice and eaten.”

In Kayasth homes, the aam panna is made by using very raw and tender mangoes and flavoured with cumin, black salt, and mint.

Where to eat: You can dive into aam panna at Revival Restaurant, 39-B, Chowpatty Seaface, Chowpatty, Girgaum, Mumbai 400 007; Punjab Grill outlets, or 29 – Twenty Nine Address: 11, Padma Nagar, Main Link Road, Near Vijaya Bank, Link Road, Malad (w), Mumbai 400 064. It isn’t panna pakodi but a close cousin – and one you won’t regret eating.


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Tracing The Legacy of Jagannath Sunkersett

jagannath sunkersett


Jagannath Sunkersett was a city father who left his mark – and name – on Bombay through his immense contribution to its arts, culture, and education. Mrigank Warrier goes on a tour of South Bombay, tracing glimpses of the past that live on in the present.


The evil that men do may live after them, but the good isn’t always interred with their bones. A few good men built this city, and their names survive, appended to their legacies: Elphinstone, Jeejeebhoy, Kennedy, Sassoon…and Sunkersett.

Jagannath Sunkersett (1803-1865) was a city father who wore many hats: businessman, landowner, educationist, reformist, founder of institutions, and benefactor of the poor; a polymath who spoke up for his native brethren to their British masters and did much to improve their lot. From Legislative Councillor to Member of the Committee Appointed for the Administration of the Hill-Station of Matheran, he accepted diverse roles and performed each with singular excellence.

By digging into digitised books and journals from the 19th and 20th centuries – and rambling around Mumbai in the 21st – I have attempted to carve out a pilgrim trail linking some of the many, many sites associated with the perseverance and largesse of Jagannath ‘Nana’ Sunkersett. Walk with me.

British South Bombay

We set off from Elphinstone College, which evolved from the Native School of Bombay – established by the eponymous governor who was favourable towards educating Indians – to the Board of Education to the Elphinstone Institution. Nana was Chairman of the Elphinstone Funds and member of the Board.

Elephinstone Coll

Let us not tarry overlong at Mumbai University, itself a descendant of the Elphinstone Institution, where six Sanskrit scholarships endowed by Nana’s son Vinayakrao Jugonnathjee Sunkersett in his memory in 1866 continue to sponsor students. Let us pay but a moment’s obeisance at the iconic Asiatic Society, which holds within its hallowed halls a statute of Nana, the first Indian member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in London and one of the Bombay Society’s founders. We must not omit to swing by Borabazaar’s Gunbow Street, which derives its name from a corruption of Ganbasett – Nana’s grandfather, who migrated from Murbad to set up a mercantile business within the fort walls.

horniman circle asiatic library

We take a moment’s respite by the western face of much-photographed Victoria Terminus; the sculpted visage at the extreme right of the row of faces is Nana’s. He and Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy formed the Indian Railway Association to lobby the British to bring railways to India; this grew into the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (now the Central Railway), of which Jeejeebhoy and Nana were the only two Indian directors. Its first ticket office was set up at Nana’s premises in Girgaum, and he was on board the first train from Boree Bunder to Tannah on April 16, 1853.

Marine Lines-Girgaum

We now veer west and pad lightly between the two peaceful plots of Bada Kabrastaan. A bust of Nana catches your eye, nestled in a private crematorium named for the man who strove to prevent the Sonapur (Chandanwadi) burning grounds from being shifted elsewhere. One-and-a-half centuries later, the secretary of the Bombay Hindu Burial and Burning Grounds Committee remains a Sunkersett.

Inside the Crematorium

Traipse into a parallel lane, and you will find yourself at SL and SS Girls’ High School. Ages ago, ‘a crop of Indian graduates from Elphinstone College in Fort, under the umbrella of the Students’ Literary and Scientific Society, decided to set up a network of schools for girls. Young and relatively poor, they turned to leading shetias (merchant elites) of Bombay.’ Nana ‘donated a beautiful little cottage in his own compound to be used as a school-house…rent-free’, and against stiff opposition, enrolled girls from his own household in the school.

We come now to Girgaum Road – renamed Jagannath Sunkersett Road – a long chain of wadis from Dhobi Talao to Opera House. A nine-storey apartment building christened Sunkersett Smruti was once the site of the ‘country mansion at Girgaum’ of the ‘rich Hindoo banker’. In a report of a party thrown here to welcome Lord Keane, Commander-in-Chief of the Bombay Army, an 1840 issue of the Asiatic Journal reports that ‘The mansion of Sunkersett is one of the handsomest on the island, and is particularly distinguished for the beauty of its garden…the courteous attentions, hospitality, gentlemanly, and indeed highly polished manners of the host could not fail to impress all his guests with sentiments of esteem and respect.’

Sunketsett Smruti

Behind the bygone mansion is Nana Sunkersett Wadi, now a morose mix of chawls, godowns, and a BEST substation.


We take a flying leap to the Victoria and Albert Museum and Victoria Gardens, now known as Bhau Daji Lad Museum and Jijamata Udyan. Nana was President of the Museum Committee, and his portrait hangs on its staircase landing. He was also President of the Agri-Horticultural Society of Western India, which laid down exquisitely landscaped gardens at Mount Estate. Try to picture Nana at its opening, escorting Lady Frere through the arbour.


As we make our way back west, we pass through Play House, which got its epithet from the Grant Road Theatre, constructed in 1846 on land donated by Nana. With this, the onus of funding entertainment moved from elite patronage to tickets sold to the hoi polloi. In 1853, it hosted its first non-English play, Vishnudas Bhave’s Ramayana, in Marathi. Raja Gopichand and Jalandhar in Hindustani and Parsi theatre’s Rustom Zabooli and Sohrab soon followed. The theatre building itself is long gone, but it cradled the aforementioned vernacular theatre movements – ancestors of the Hindi film industry as we know it today.


Soothe your weary feet with the assurance that your journey is almost at an end. As you descend Frere Bridge, you may ignore Sunkersett Municipal School on your left, now unrecognisable as the brick-red Door Step School. Gaze upwards at the cable-stayed hydra of the aakaashi paadchaari pul (skywalk) that crouches over Nana Chowk, home to a bust of Nana unacknowledged by motorists whizzing past. Turn right and stop for a photo-op at Bhavani Shankar Mandir. Constructed in 1806 by Nana’s father, its low, Konkan-roofed structure silently resists the oppression of the tasteless towers that hem it in. Next door is Sunkersett Mansion, an angular building that replaced another of Nana’s residences. Its grounds included a dharamshala and the Sunkersett Babulsett Charitable Dispensary founded by Nana in his father’s memory.

Bhavani Shankar Mandir 1

When we turn into Jagannath Lane opposite, you will not be surprised by the signboard claiming that East and West Villa – old, squat buildings – are property of the Shankarsett family. Nana is long gone, but his descendants and his gifts to the city live on. As you move to take your train home from Grant Road station by walking through Shankarsheth Lane – better known as Bhaji Gully – you may join millions of others before you who have sent a silent prayer of thanks to Jagannath Sunkersett and thought to themselves: ‘What a man! What a legacy! What a life!’

Photographs by Suruchi Maira

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Making Memories Across Generations At New Kulfi Centre

new kulfi centre girgaum chowpatty


New Kulfi Centre is a small kulfi store opposite Girgaon Chowpatty. You can get kulfi here in individual servings or by the kilo, with two sugar-free varieties for the health conscious. While they also serve three varieties of falooda, the kulfi – as their name suggests – draws the biggest crowds.

New Kulfi Centre, 556, Marina Mansion, Sukh Sagar, SVP Road, Girgaum, Mumbai 400 007. Phone: 022 2368 4291


My memories of New Kulfi Centre opposite Chowpatty Beach are irrevocably tangled up with my father. Rain or shine, day or night, every time my father is in Mumbai, he will insist on taking me to this little hole-in-the-wall at the corner of the Chowpatty signal and Sardar Vallbhbhai Patel Road to eat the “best kulfi in Bombay!” He’s not wrong. With its list of flavoured kulfi ranging from Butter Scotch, Royal Banana and Chikoo to Kaju Anjeer, Kesar Badam Pista and Sitafal, there isn’t another place that can compare in range and certainly not in taste. They’ll even add some falooda to your plate for an extra 10 rupees.

I’m going to level with you – I had never been a fan of kulfi. Every time I tried it, it was too icy or too sweet or just plain odd tasting. Which is why, the first time my father insisted on taking me there, I was more than a little unconvinced that I would like it, however good he may claim it to be. I was wrong. In the heat and humidity that is always Mumbai, this frozen milky dessert is a piece of heaven. I still remember my first bite – it was like one of those ludicrous scenes in the movies – I heard angels singing, violins playing, and I’m pretty sure I saw the light. Yes, it was that good – sweet without overpowering the flavour, cold and frozen without being so icy that I couldn’t even break it with a spoon, and completely and utterly delicious.

The anticipation is nearly tangible as each person is quickly handed a plate by the cheerful staff that work there. I wait as my friends take their first bite.

Just before I started college, my father once again took me down to this corner shop. There’s no seating, and my father and I placed our orders whilst standing on the street, looking up at the man seated on the raised platform that is the store, surrounded by his numerous containers of kulfi and weighing scales. We watched as he unerringly pulled out the right containers from the dozens around him and extracted our disk-shaped portions and measured them before neatly slicing them all up. A spoon was stuck in each plate before they were handed to us and we were ready to dig in.

Between bites, my father told me of how, during his own college days, decades ago, he and his friends used to come to this exact spot to eat this exact same kulfi all the time. It is a rare moment; my father looks at me but at the same time doesn’t. His eyes are far away, and I know that he is living in two temporal realities simultaneously, at once college student and professor, teenager and father, bound together by the quickly disappearing sweet and frozen dessert on his plate.

A year later, I drag my own college friends to the same place with the promise that they’ll never find better kulfi. I watch their skepticism morph into excitement as they pore over the menu with exclamations of “Pista! Yeeees!” and “What is chocolate kulfi!? I must know!” I grin as I order my favourite malai. As we wait, I tell them the story of my father, of his history and mine centered around this single spot. They listen seriously, knowing the importance of this moment to me – the joining of two worlds.

In the heat and humidity that is always Mumbai, this frozen milky dessert is a piece of heaven.

We stand together, slowly melting in the heat of the summer evening, talking of everything from lectures to movies as we wait. The anticipation is nearly tangible as each person is quickly handed a plate by the cheerful staff that work there. I wait as my friends take their first bite. There is a moment of silence (which I’d like to think is tinged with awe) before one of them turns to me with wide eyes and exclaims, “Oh my god, what is this magic!?”

I laugh so hard I nearly drop my kulfi.

As I watch my friends devour their desserts, I look around and smile, knowing that in another time – but bound by this same little hole-in-the-wall – my father once stood here with his friends, eating and laughing, making memories he would one day pass on. I wonder if I am doing the same. It’s lovely how food has the power to bring people closer together.

And so, in the dying sun, in true poetic form, I raise my last piece of malai deliciousness in a silent toast to my father and the best kulfi in the city.

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codepeople-post-map require JavaScript


Celebrating Ganpati In Old Bombay


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Khetwadi during Ganpati is a combination of chaos, colours, and a community in celebration.

Utsav means festival, or celebration thereof. We append it to the name of the elephant god, and the portmanteau rolls so smoothly off our tongues: Ganeshotsav. But it doesn’t even begin to describe the scale and ostentation and fervour and joy and madness and mayhem and hysteria of the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in the old Bombay settlement of Khetwadi.

Any attempt to describe the architecture of the buildings would be foolish; my eye is blinded by climbers and creepers of psychedelic lights floating above the stream of devotees entranced by the splendour of the main road. My senses are overwhelmed by a cornucopia of stimuli: the smell of street food and camphor, the acrid taste of exploded gunpowder, the sound of every genre of music playing simultaneously, and the sight of a massive pandal occupying each of Khetwadi’s fourteen narrowly spaced lanes. This is a party on the streets.

Cut to 1893: British rule, simpler times and an intelligent man named Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Circumventing a law that prevented natives from assembling for political purposes, he brought the festival out of the household and into a community: Keshavji Naik Chawl in nearby Girgaum. People met, shared news, spread views and came together as nationalists. Hindustani classical greats of all faiths felt honoured to sing before the idol. The idea of a communal celebration caught on, perhaps nowhere as avidly as at Khetwadi.

Each pavilion is sponsored by donors as diverse as a soap production house and a hair oil manufacturer; Shreyas Talpade and Juhi Chawla beam down upon me.

I see no vestige of that simplicity now, but each lane still feels like an extension of its homes. Locals man the pandals and radiate a sense of pride and ownership. The pandals themselves are over-the-top, conceived in the spirit of one-upmanship. Some are majestically enormous, some decorated in craven desperation. Carved temple pillars are offset by the simpering smiles of rival politicians printed on ubiquitous flexes. Each pavilion is sponsored by donors as diverse as a soap production house and a hair oil manufacturer; Shreyas Talpade and Juhi Chawla beam down upon me. One is mystifyingly plastered by screenshots of Rinku Rajguru, the new star on the Marathi film horizon. A notice announces that all donations will be used in the aid of “hit villages”. A man advises his friend about whom to bribe – and how much – to be bumped up to the front of the line. The ticket mafia at the entrance of most pandals puts me off, but I’m sure there are people who will patiently line up to worship at all of them in a single evening.

Not me, though. A pandal appears deserted, and I duck under the curtain hanging at its door to see why. I’m surprised to find the murti swathed in darkness, and a screen covering most of it. When a sloppily made film about the history of that particular pandal is played, I can’t help but smile at the earnest naivety of it all.

Most idols are several feet tall, surrounded by arbitrarily chosen cut-outs of gods and goddesses. One is half an inch high, perched on a Pikachu. A signboard informs me that past avatars of the Tulshi Building Ganpati have been crafted out of buttons, garam masala and tutti frutti. I wonder why.

Every car in Khetwadi is parked inside its compound and cannot venture out for ten days. Every lane is blocked by a pandal; there is room for walking only, and barely that. A flower-bedecked wheelbarrow inches forward, transporting idols of Gauri (Ganesh’s mother) for immersion at Chowpatty. The Bombay Native Band (Chiragbhai ne phone kar) lustily performs a song that is muted by EDM blasting from the idol-ferrying truck ahead, complete with hand-flapping DJ. Tiny children with volunteer ID cards scamper behind. Two women attempt a half-hearted phugdi in the middle of the road. A motorcyclist ducks and narrowly misses smashing his head on an iron bar being carried out of a metal workshop. People take videos of a drone camera taking videos of them. Through an open doorway, I see a lone lady performing the aarti of her own personal god.

This is Ganesh Chaturthi. This is Khetwadi. This is Mumbai.

Until next year. Every year.

Khetwadi, Girgaum, Mumbai 400 004.

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codepeople-post-map require JavaScript