From afar, it appeared no more than a sea of umbrellas floating mid-air. But beneath them stood some of the city’s most prominent personalities, gathered at the Church of Our Lady of Salvation (Portuguese Church), Dadar. Braving the rain on Thursday morning, they were bidding their final goodbyes to a friend and perhaps the country’s finest contemporary architect, Charles Correa.
The venue for the funeral mass was in a way a tribute to Correa. Designed by him, it is one of the most unusual and modern churches. Correa’s family members, associates, contemporaries and many admirers stood inside the white shell-shaped congregational space on Thursday, the crowd spilling into the churchyard.
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In the front pew sat Correa’s wife Monika, daughter Nandita, son-in-law and architect Rahul Mehrotra and other members of the family. In attendance were some of the couple’s friends, including writers Anil Dharker and Jerry Pinto, adman Rahul da Cunha, thespian Dolly Thakore, gallerist Geeta Mehra, filmmaker Shyam Benegal, architects BV Doshi, Cyrus Guzder, Kamu Iyer, Pankaj Joshi, Hafeez Contractor and Mustansir Dalvi among others. Former adman and thespian Gerson da Cunha and former Mumbai police commissioner Julio Ribeiro spoke of Correa as a kind and loving human being with strong values.
After the final hymn had been sung in honour of the departed, people gathered in the churchyard, exchanging memories of Correa. Benegal recounted that he was introduced to the architect by his wife who had worked for Correa in the 1960s. Over time, their friendship flourished and they would often engage on the subject of art and cinema. The filmmaker said his late friend was passionate about the visual medium and had himself experimented with it when he made a few black-and-white films on Bombay. “He had a restless mind, full of ideas. His understanding of a variety of subjects allowed him to look at something from various points of view. Like a diamond that glitters because it has many facets, he too shone because there were multiple facets to his thinking.”
Among the crowd were many who had engaged with Correa for a brief but enriching time — a lecture by Correa they perhaps attended, interacted with him for academic reasons or worked with him. Kanika Jamdar and Dhaval Malesha were employed with Charles Correa Associates for a few years. In that time, they remember his famous temper as well as his nurturing spirit. “He once scolded me for writing an address on an envelope in a haphazard manner,” she said, “But in the smallest conversation with him, I would end up learning so many things. He never gave us orders – instead he threw up ideas and encouraged us to develop them. He could connect poetry with art with history and finally, architecture, slowly piecing together what would seem like a jigsaw puzzle.” Malesha remembers him as a genius who didn’t believe in hierarchy: “Every day we all sat, worked and ate our meals together.”
Amid many such stories, being narrated under the grey sky, the hearse left the church premises for St Peter Haines Road Catholic Cemetery in Worli. The gathering there was smaller — of a few close friends and family members. As the priest performed the final sacrament, Correa was laid to rest. The loss was great but few tears were shed. “After all, he lived a full life,” Mehrotra explained.