The CRASTO family house, built in the mid-1800s, is one of the few surviving in the urban village of Khotachiwadi, Girgaum. In recent years, its ground floor has been used as a gym and then as a printing house for greeting cards and wedding invitations. In its latest avatar, it opens on Saturday as a design gallery, named after house number 47-A.
A joint venture between online store Baro Market and Chatterjee & Lal Gallery, 47-A is dedicated to global design practices and design stories. Srila Chatterjee, who runs Baro Market, said: “Design is taken for granted in India. We want to highlight the fact that design is not about the beauty of something, but about the problems it solves and the statement it makes. The two parties have devised a model in which they will alternate to present shows. 47-A’s debut show is a tribute to the immediate neighborhood of Khotachiwadi and the greater Girgaum area. Two films are on display, one about the music halls of Girgaum and the other featuring oral histories with the people of Khotachiwadi. An architectural model of Khotachiwadi and archival photographs of one of the families are also part of this opening.
Tara, co-owner of Chatterjee & Lal in Colaba with her partner Mortimer Chatterjee, said: “The particular quality of Khotachiwadi’s urban plan, as well as its architectural history, lends itself beautifully to a gallery committed to design. The same can be said for the cultural history of Girgaum, with its strong links to fine arts and Hindustani classical music.
Khotachiwadi dates back to the late 18th century and belongs to the East Indian community. Although parts of it have heritage status, only a handful of the original houses remain.
Designer James Ferreira, Khotachiwadi’s most famous resident and co-founder of the Khotachiwadi Welfare and Heritage Trust, hopes the gallery will mark the beginning of the neighborhood’s revitalization, providing residents with the opportunity to earn an income. “If we allow places like godowns to multiply here, they will drive down the value of Khotachiwadi,” he said.
Coinciding with the opening of 47-A, Ferreira is spearheading a weekend-long pop-up event called Khotachiwadi Alive at his ancestral home. The pop-up features art exhibits, stalls of local brands and dishes prepared by residents. Ahead of this event, urban designers painted vignettes of Khotachiwadi, which will be available for purchase.
Ferreira said Khotachiwadi could be a much better arts district than Kala Ghoda. “Kala Ghoda has office buildings, people rushing and no heritage bungalows. It’s not a nice place to walk around,” he added. Baro Market and Chatterjee & Lal invested in structural repairs and conservation work to 47-A. Srila said, “In neighborhoods like these, even in Kolkata, houses are collapsing because the young people have left, only the old are left and no one can afford to pay. [repair]… We want to involve people here as much as possible.
In cities, the repurposing of urban villages has led to gentrification, as in the case of Hauz Khas in Delhi. Ferreira is confident this is not a concern for Khotachiwadi. He said, “We’re going to organize whatever comes up and make sure they include the community.”