It’s usually in the news for the wrong reasons, sometimes for not paying its water bill, sometimes for its numerous cell towers that neighbours fear will increase radiation, or even that previous chief ministers have used it as their office. But once the dust settles and one is able to look at this “showpiece of Maharashtra”, the Sahyadri Guest House never fails to impress with its grandeur. Even as guests cool their heels after the recent political theatrics, it’s easily forgotten that this once historic bungalow in Malabar Hill, Mumbai, hosted former chief minister of unified Maharashtra Morarji Desai and Maharashtra state’s first chief minister YB Chavan.
Before World War II, on the plot sat two identical bungalows that belonged to two Parsi brothers. Without any claimants, it turned into the state guest house, but there was need for much renovation. After all, what good was it to have the kitchen overlooking the Marine Drive bay? Then Maharashtra CM Sharad Pawar had approached architect IM Kadri in 1991 to redesign the building, though he had to keep the structure at the same height and retain its colonial quality.
Known for his design of the iconic Nehru Centre, Kadri was given the task of fitting in 20 residential rooms, a Cabinet meeting room, conference rooms, lecture and banquet halls. Blending functionality with aesthetics, he retained elements of the colonial bungalow, giving it a grandeur befitting the state.
Though the inauguration was done in 1994 by Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi, Sahyadri had won its way into the hearts of every politician across party lines. In spite of rounds of criticism about it costing the state coffers nearly Rs 20 crore, once completed, nobody seemed to mind.
What swept them off their feet was not only the generous staircase and porch, or the marble-tiled, wooden-ceiling lobby, but its nod to traditional elements of the Wada House as well. With sloping terracotta tiled roofs, decorative arches and windows, the guest house was a statement of honour.
In The Architecture of IM Kadri (Niyogi Books; 2016), author Kaiwan Mehta writes: “Ornamentation, in Kadri’s designs, is structural to the imagination of the building. It defines the way the eye moves along the building.” At the Sahyadri Guest House, these motifs play out in the shades and shadows of the built form.
The “visually-charged building” has a lot of intricate details, be it the decorative flourishes in the plastering, or the elevator buttons on pedestals. To drown the noise of its numerous visitors in the lobby, a marble-lined fountain sits prominently in the centre. Thoughtful seating along the east sea-facing alcoves makes rooms for groups of two or more depending on business needs. Some of the guest rooms, on the first and second floors, open into balconies facing the sea.
“Maharashtra by itself doesn’t have much of handicrafts. So I had to hire an artist who would bring other elements of the state into the guest house. In each of the three conference rooms, on silk, the artist has painted the caves, forts and shores of Maharashtra,” says the octogenarian Kadri.