Nestled in a bylane off the busy streets of Byculla stands a stately bungalow, with many a tale and smelling of history. Its pale blue façade is offset by a brick rooftop and rustic shutters on windows. Cut off from the noise of the city, the bungalow’s spacious courtyard with its manicured lawns, vibrant flowers and foliage give the compound a serene and holy atmosphere.
Currently an orphanage, as part of the Regina Pacis Convent, the building was originally owned by controversial stockbroker, businessman and philanthropist, Premchand Roychand, a prominent figure in Mumbai’s history. The Roychand family have been generous benefactors of several of Mumbai’s great landmarks, including the Rajabai clocktower and a new state-of-the-art gallery in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Back in his working days, Premchand Roychand and his family stayed in this bungalow off Love Lane in Byculla, giving it the name Premodayan. It is not known when the building was constructed but records show that it existed as far back as the 1800s. It now takes the name of the convent.
“The city has many beautiful buildings, but people don’t take the time to really see them,” says film critic and history buff, Rafique Baghdadi who frequently takes groups of people to visit historical sites in the city, and believes that Byculla’s blue bungalow is especially significant due to the lively history that surrounds it and the area.
With a majority of the property in the area being owned by migrant businessman David Sassoon, the neighbourhood was a posh residential hub in the 19th and 20th centuries, having several bungalows belonging to wealthy citizens of Bombay. The area was very cosmopolitan, where people of different nationalities and religions put down roots. The Parsis had Jerbai Baug and Rustom Baug, the Jains built the Motisha Temple, David Sassoon opened the Magen David Synagogue, one of the oldest in the city, and the Gloria church was transferred to the area from Mazgaon in 1911.
All these structures are still in place and are visited by the locals till date. Many of the old bungalows remain as residences of police and railway officers, although they are now deteriorating.
The Regina Pacis Convent, however, remains as majestic as it was 200 years ago. “The building was bought over from Premchand Roychand by the nuns and has been maintained by them ever since,” said a nun.
The bungalow is of literary significance as well, having been mentioned in great American writer Mark Twain’s travelogue, ‘Following the Equator’. Twain writes about visiting Roychand’s bungalow for a celebration and makes a mention of the bungalow’s ‘large halls’.
Having been bought over by the International Organisation of the Congregation of the Religious of Mary Immaculate in 1951, the building was first run as the St Vincenta Maria Home for Destitute Girls. It evolved into the Regina Pacis Convent when the nuns started a primary school to educate the girls, which later led to a secondary school, a night school, an open school and a hostel for working women. Several newer buildings have been built in the compound to accommodate the expanding scope of the Regina Pacis convent, but the original bungalow still remains as an orphanage for girls aged 8 to 18 years.
BY SHREYA RAMANN