Ranwar, a 400-year-old East Indian village, was one of the 24 original pakhadis or hamlets that make up Bandra. And till now, the narrow lanes and bylanes leading to the Ranwar Village Square continue to be lined with cottages that force a comparison of similarities between East Indian architecture and that of the Koliwadas, says historian Rafique Baghdadi, reminiscing about the time when a walk down these lanes was sweetened with melodies wafting from these cottages that housed the Ranwar community.
At the brink of rapid urbanisation, this hamlet now sports a number of housing societies and gated communities, much to the angst of senior citizen Keith Smith. “I have been in Ranwar all my life and I can see how everything is slowly changing. The big complexes are taking over and there is no one to protect our culture,” he says.
While the power struggle between concrete superstructures and the heritage is apparent, locals say the lack of incentive for restoration of heritage structures is behind the steady changes in the area.
Many residents have urged for a government-backed incentive that would prove to be a motivation to maintain privately-owned heritage, which is as historically important as that owned by public entities.
Situated atop a slight slope, Ranwar originally comprised cultivators or curumbins (kunbis). The earliest record of its residents, dating back to 1716, has been preserved in the first register, that now lies in St Andrew’s Church.
Ranwar belongs to the long list of gaothans or village settlements in Mumbai that are organic to the culture of the city and come with a tale at every nook and corner.
The erection of the Ranwar Square Cross in 1866 and the Cross Feast that followed, the naming of Veronica Street after Veronica, who wiped Jesus’s bloodied face, the feast of John the Baptist on June 24th that marked a day of swimming at the wells and later served as a hiding place for jewellery during the Arab invasion are all legends that make residents of Ranwar beam with pride.
In fact, one of the reasons that Ranwar attracts a large number of artists, whose work in various media — ranging from the arty murals on the walls of homes to various design studios — continues to redefine Ranwar in the very real sense of community in the hamlet.
Slices of Mumbai’s film lore are found across the murals in the village, the most iconic one being that of Amitabh Bachchan in his famous Deewar pose. Ranjit Dahiya, founder of the Bollywood Art Project (BAP), that enriches the crumbling structures, says he could never imagine such a project bearing fruit in any other community. Asked if he fears that the fast-paced redevelopment of buildings could mean there may soon no longer be old cottage walls to paint his stars on, he says, “I don’t believe that. This place has a dynamics of its own that nothing can change. And we are all doing our bit to protect that.”
Dahiya, who moved to Ranwar in 2008, says he cannot envision spending his life elsewhere. Another window into Ranwar’s community spirit is the Busride, a design studio founded by brothers Ayaz and Zameer Basrai. Busride has backed an initiative named The Bandra Project, which has effectively integrated design and community involvement in the conservation of Ranwar’s traditional landscape.
Among the initiatives is the restoration of haphazard buildings while creating and protecting much-needed public spaces. In fact, proceeds of their Ranwar Oratory Dollhouse have been channeled towards conservation efforts undertaken by the Ranwar Advanced Locality Management group. They’re not the only ones. Across Ranwar, inspired young artists are working towards the preservation of the village, say locals. In a hamlet that can still bring time to a standstill, these initiatives spell hope for the preservation of a rich cultural heritage.
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