IT stands white and regal, against the stark blue of the sky. The Town Hall building, which houses the Asiatic Library, has been undergoing steady changes over the last few years, having set a deadline, to eventually see revival of an old historic tradition.
The work has to be completed before August 15, 2016, so that the ceremonial function of holding the chief minister’s tea on Independence Day in the central hall of the building can once again be revived.
This is one of the oldest public libraries. Founded by Sir James Mackintosh, a distinguished lawyer who became the Recorder of the King’s Judge for Bombay, the Asiatic Society, which manages the library, began admitting Indians only in 1841. The restoration work has been taken up in phases since 2009, with roof repairs being priority as the building was still fully functional.
The false ceiling of the neo-classical structure was giving away with leakages and the wood having rotten over the years. “We started with the structural repairs and roof works for two flanking sides of the building (north and south), then took up the interior restoration of Asiatic Library Wing (north wing), restoration of Durbar Hall (south wing) and the skylights (south wing),” said conservation architect Abha Narian Lambah.
With this work having been completed in 2011, other works such as electric wiring and restoring the original colour of the walls were also taken up. Lambah said the original Corinthian columns, which were gilded with gold leaf, had been coated with ordinary gold paint.
Phase-II of this project now includes restoring the central hall, where the reading room exists, to its lost glory by May 2016. The work will also include restoring the wooden flooring of the reading room and creating more space by fitting wooden cupboards between the pillar space instead of having book shelves lined up all across the hall.
“The aim is to put the central hall in use again as the venue where the CM used to host his tea on August 15. This tradition stopped over 10 years ago, but now we are hoping to revive it by next year,” said Lambah.
“The central hall of the central library will be taken up for restoration and structural repair of the main central library hall will be done so that it can be restored by August 15, 2016. This is being done to be able to revive the historic tradition of the ceremonial function on Independence Day,” said Lambah.
The CM’s office confirmed this. “Devendra Fadnavis had visited the Town Hall building on October 2, as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. He appreciated the historic documents and manuscripts preserved there. The aim is to use the Town Hall to host the CM’s tea on Independence Day. Public works and culture departments have been asked to work towards this,” said the CM’s office.
The city’s most precious manuscripts and valuable books are housed in this building. The annual stock-taking report of 2014 says many of the 10,519 books that were physically checked were severely damaged due to dust and rainwater.