Vikram Doc­tor

The Economic Times - - Salaam Bombay! -

Ar­chi­tect Abha Narain Lam­bah talks about the chal­lenges of restor­ing a sec­tion of Mum­bai’s Craw­ford Mar­ket in one of the most chaotic parts of the city, in a fully func­tion­ing mar­ket. re­ports

Abha Narain Lam­bah smiles as she re­calls an en­counter at a re­cent pub­lic event. The ar­chi­tect who spe­cialises in con­ser­va­tion of her­itage build­ings had not even been speak­ing par­tic­u­larly about her on­go­ing project with Mum­bai’s Ma­hatma Jy­otiba Phule Mar­ket, the city’s erst­while cen­tral mar­ket. But the 82-year-old man who came up to her had the mar­ket, bet­ter known by its old name of Craw­ford Mar­ket, in mind. “He told me he had lived in one of those old build­ings op­po­site the mar­ket all his life and he had never seen it look­ing bet­ter!” says Lam­bah. Bro­ken win­dows have been re­paired, wooden bal­conies re­stored and the clock tower is now lit up at night giv­ing out an im­age of re­newed health.

And this was only the first phase of the project deal­ing with the struc­ture’s cen­tral por­tion where the two main wings meet. Lam­bah es­ti­mates that it will be at least two years more be­fore her project, which cov­ers the two wings as well, will be done.

Yet even what lit­tle has been achieved is sur­pris­ing and de­light­ing Mum­baikars who had given up hopes for sav­ing the mar­ket, which had first opened in 1869. An­other com­pli­ment came from the city’s Po­lice Com­mis­sioner whose of­fice is in an­other her­itage build­ing op­po­site. Lam­bah says Javed Ahmed, the then Com­mis­sioner, joked that they would have to ren­o­vate their own build­ing now to keep up with the Mar­ket. close by. In that case an as­so­ci­a­tion of busi­nesses that worked there ap­pointed Lam­bah to im­prove the ap­pear­ance of the road’s mostly her­itage build­ings. This in­volved much time spent with the traders along the road, talk­ing and lis­ten­ing and get­ting them to sup­port the project, but in the end Lam­bah pulled it off.

Here too lis­ten­ing has helped. “We had thought it would make sense to group all stores of a kind, like dried fruits to­gether, but the traders were clear they didn’t want to move from where they were, and we ac­cepted that,” says Lam­bah. Some traders have in­stalled air-con­di­tion­ers for their tiny shops and while this wasn’t ex­actly in keep­ing with the Mar­ket’s at­mos­phere, the team agreed to al­low this. But each trader has now been given their own elec­tri­cal lines and me­ters.

The bane of cov­ered mar­kets has al­ways been fire. Stalls are crammed with com­bustible ma­te­ri­als and floors tend to be cov­ered with the dry straw used to pack fruits just wait­ing for the spark from a faulty elec­tri­cal con­nec­tion. And this is not to take into ac­count pos­si­bly de­lib­er­ate at­tempts like the in­ferno that con­ve­niently car­ried off Chen­nai’s Moore Mar­ket at just the time when Tamil Nadu’s govern­ment was cast­ing its eyes at the land it oc­cu­pied.

Craw­ford Mar­ket it­self saw a ma­jor fire not long af­ter it opened in 1869. “It seems to have hap­pened in the decade just af­ter, per­haps started by some­one smok­ing a beedi,” says Lam­bah. The restora­tion af­ter the fire started a process of tin­ker­ing with the mar­ket that never seems to have stopped. “We never seem able to plan ahead, but just keep mak­ing in­cre­men­tal changes – a loft here, some ex­posed wiring there – all the time,” laments Lam­bah.

In the process the Mar­ket’s orig­i­nal de­sign, which had an open cen­tral gar­den built around a foun­tain dec­o­rated with stat­ues of river god­desses, was en­tirely over­run. The foun­tain still ex­ists – as does an­other in­side the Mar­ket – but sur­rounded by sheds sell­ing fruit and with its top re­moved to ac­com­mo­date roof­ing sheets. “The god­desses have had green blouses painted on them to make them ‘mod­est’ – and there is even a note from the painter proudly claim­ing credit for this!” says Lam­bah.

Across the world old whole­sale mar­kets like Covent Gar­den in Lon­don or Grand Cen­tral Mar­ket in Los An­ge­les have been re­stored in ways that open up their use with­out en­tirely gen­tri­fy­ing them out of ex­is­tence. Clean­ing up Craw­ford Mar­ket is bound to raise hopes that some­thing sim­i­lar could hap­pen there. Even in its cur­rent clut­tered state, with too many stalls packed with cheap prod­ucts from China and foods with la­bels in un­read­able lan­guages, it still gets both cus­tomers do­ing their weekly shop­ping and tourists look­ing for that busy mar­ket buzz.

Ju­di­cious re­or­gan­i­sa­tion that re­places the more point­less shops with those more likely to be­come des­ti­na­tion stores, re­lo­ca­tion of the sheds and, above all, the clos­ing of the deeply de­press­ing and bor­der­line il­le­gal live an­i­mals and pets sec­tion, could bring the Mar­ket closer to the higher vis­i­tor lev­els and spend­ing ofthosere­newed­w­hole­sale­mar­ket­saroundthe­world.

Lam­bah’s restora­tion will pro­vide the set­ting, but it will be up to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the Mar­kets traders to fill it with the re­tail space that this 154 year old struc­ture – and Mum­bai – de­serves.

First floor of­fices in the clock tower housed the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s Mar­kets of­fices. Like all govern­ment of­fices they had been painted over, filled with files and ad hoc wiring and struc­tures. The ren­o­va­tion cleaned up the of­fices, re­stored the orig­i­nal wood, opened them up for more nat­u­ral light along with ap­pro­pri­ately de­signed light fit­tings

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