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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Matoshree Meenatai Thakre Shilpagram: A park for preserving folk art and craft

Opened to the public in October 2018, three years after the BMC began developing it into Mumbai's own Dilli Haat-style space, the idea behind this ambitiously themed park is still to be fully realised.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Mumbai |
Updated: September 26, 2021 4:57:27 pm
MumbaiAt the moment, what the park has are life-size sculpted representations of artisans, folk dancers and musicians scattered across the expertly landscaped space. (Express photo)

Off the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road, opposite a residential area with crowded rows of apartment blocks in Jogeshwari East, is a park that is waiting to live up to its name of Shilpagram, or Crafts Village.

Opened to the public in October 2018, three years after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation began developing it into Mumbai’s own Dilli Haat-style space, the idea behind this ambitiously themed park, officially called Matoshree Meenatai Thakre Shilpagram, is still to be fully realised, as the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak put the brakes on it.

A BMC official said that the park, developed at a cost of Rs 32 crore, is meant to be a tourist attraction like the Hanging Gardens, which is in another part of the city, “so that tourists are not restricted to south Mumbai alone”. Work on it began in January 2015, and finished exactly three years later.

The plan is still to people the park with weavers, potters, ironsmiths, goldsmiths and other artisans, and have them selling their wares right there.

At the moment, what the park has are life-size sculpted representations of artisans, folk dancers and musicians scattered across the expertly landscaped space.

There are about a 100 of these — brightly dressed lavani dancers to the right, kolis to the left; up ahead, a farmer in a white kurta and dhoti, ploughing his land with two massive oxen, and a dog leading the way; in a village-style home, a traditional jeweller taking instructions from a woman seated before him on his verandah; a cobbler working on a piece of leather, his wife with finished footwear spread out before her speaking to a customer, a barber giving a man a shave, and many other life-like figures, representing scenes from a rural idyll, though it’s a valid question if that really exists.

But with all these “people”, even with no one in the park on a recent afternoon — it is open only from 6 am to 10 am, and 4 pm to 8 pm — it appears quite crowded.

According to BMC Gardens & Trees Department Assistant Superintendent (K East ward) Sunil Pawar, the park proved so popular from the time it was thrown open to the public in October 2018  that by March 2019, the BMC decided to charge an entry fee to regulate the crowding — Rs 5 for kids below 12, and Rs 25 for an adult.

Mumbai Greens The plan is still to people the park with weavers, potters, ironsmiths, goldsmiths and other artisans, and have them selling their wares right there. (Express photo)

“Even after that, there was no significant change in the response,” he said, adding that the park earned a revenue of about Rs 25 lakh, before closing down during the Covid-induced lockdown in March 2020.

The plot was earlier meant to be developed along the same theme by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, but when that failed to take off, the BMC decided to forge ahead with the plan, handing it over to a contractor to develop. Though the full size of the area is 56,000 square metres, it was soon realised that 12,500 square metres of the plot run over a water reservoir, and could not be touched.

On the other side, a portion of the land had been handed over to an NGO for “parenting”, and had been developed by the organisation into a neighbourhood park for the residents of the area, who did not want to give up a valuable open space for the community.

“The amount of land we had anticipated was not available,” the official said. That put paid to plans of having artisans with living quarters on the premises.

But the 13-acre space, on which the park finally came up has managed to fit in a musical fountain that is turned on in the evenings, has covered verandah like areas for the artisans to display and sell their wares, a food court, a few gazebos for people to sit, and a children’s play area.

After the lockdown and the gradual lifting of restrictions, including the reopening of parks, a few dozen people in the neighbourhood have been using it for their morning and evening walks. Residents of the area have, however, been demanding a pass system that will allow them entry without having to buy a daily ticket. A BMC official said the proposal was under consideration.

A park such as this comes with its own set of questions and challenges that civic authorities and town planners must grapple with: Should entry into public spaces be regulated at all? Does the beautification of a public space work against free access?

In this case, maintaining the installations means preventing people from getting too close, restricting them to the walkways, and ensuring no one walks on the pretty lawns which are filled up with the life-like figures. Seating is limited, to discourage people from lingering. How much restriction in a public space is too much?

When the theme of the park is fully realised, it is certain to bring in busloads of people, and with them more questions about parking, public facilities, and the traffic on the main road outside.

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