The moment you walk into the blink-and-miss lane leading to Khotachiwadi, the bustle of the city seems far away. “You can hear the sparrows chirp anytime of the day,” says a resident. The presence of this winged resident, vanishing from almost all other parts of the city, is not the only marker of Khotachiwadi’s distinctiveness.
The heritage precinct of the ‘village’ in Girgaum has many 19th-century Portuguese bungalows with long verandahs, arched roofs and staircases on the side.
The wadi was owned by a Hindu landlord, Dadoba Waman Khot, which is where the name is derived from.
The plots were then sold to East Indian Christians, who built the existing bungalows in the area over a century ago.
Marianel Baptista, a 60-year-old resident of the wadi, says there were around 60 such bungalows owned or rented out to East Indians. “Now, around 30 remain,” she says, completing a count on her fingers.
Baptista and some other residents of Khotachiwadi led a struggle in the Bombay High Court a few years ago to halt construction of high-rises in the area.
“Khotachiwadi is a village within the heart of a city like Mumbai. If it is not preserved, it would be replaced with high-rises and the city would lose a part of its history,” Baptista says.
The history that she speaks of includes the memory of the plague that the city witnessed in the late 19th century. A church was built as a gesture of gratitude for saving the residents of the wadi from the epidemic.
“The church was rebuilt in 1964 and to this day, we make it a point to sing a rosary at the church every evening,” Baptista says. The wadi also has a club established in 1894, the Girgaum Catholic Club, where youngsters still meet to play cards and plan activities. A 70-year-old wafer store, The Ideal Wafer House, is another hallmark of Khotachiwadi’s rich past.
The struggle to save the village from real estate developers also made many in the city aware of its existence. Now, it is part of many heritage walks, and visitors and tourists drop in every day.
Apart from the brightly coloured bungalows, the wadi currently has three chawls, one of which was constructed to house the labourers who built the homes in the wadi. Residents of these chawls, many of which are in a dilapidated state, say a makeover may be the need of the hour.
“We have lived in this area for generations now. The harmony with which all the festivals are celebrated, the fervour during special occasions is unmatched. Many of the chawls are considering redevelopment as the solution to space constraints and infrastructure issues. But people who live here would not want to settle in any other part of the city,” says Sameer Gurav, a resident.