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Khotachiwadi: Mumbai's Brigadoon
Photographer Shahid Datawala's portraiture of a fading Christian heritage village
Khotachiwadi isn't used to getting noticed. In fact, you could walk right by this 18th-century heritage village off a main road in Girgaum unwitting that, just one lane over, an entire slice of the city's colonial past continues as if the 20th century never happened.
Comprising Khotachiwadi is a handful of old Portuguese-style bungalows and one tiny church. While there were 65 houses originally, the last official count totaled 28, and today there remain only about 12.
Wadis, or hamlets, are organized on the basis of religion or caste and distinguished by this unique sort of cultural integrity. They still retain much of their traditional architecture and daily life patterns, which are fascinatingly out of sync with the rest of the city.
But not all of the city. Fashion designer James Ferreira celebrated his birthday in Khotachiwadi a few weeks ago with a bash spread over two floors in his high-ceilinged old bungalow. His guest list featured some of the most creative and enterprising people in Mumbai -- art curator Matthieu Foss and his wife Marie Lou Phillips (Chanel's spokesperson in India), fashion stylist Akanksha Nanda, film producer Srila Chatterjee, makeup artists Clint Fernandes and Cory Walia and graphic designer Divya Thakur.
The tiny community of practicing Christians living here in Khotachiwadi has served to inspire a not just a few urban intellectuals, including among its adherents graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee and furniture designer and photographer Shahid Datawala. His black and white photography appearing in this feature does well to narrate the fading history of this small, silent community of religious folk.
"Its phantom separation from the rest of Mumbai, its multi-generation, distinct culinary tastes, architecture, Latin style -- all these arouse a sense of interest," Banerjee told the Times of India about Khotachiwadi.
"You must eat at Anant Ashram (46 Khotachiwadi, opposite Majestic Cinema building, Girgaum) for Malwani food. It's going to shut soon," suggests Shahid, also a friend of James. Tasty fried fish and clam masala, Kokani cuisine from the coastal regions of Maharashtra, are served on small individual marble tables by an owner who believes everyone was born equal in the eyes of the lord.
So if you aren't shown much ceremony, don't take it personally: that's Khotachiwadi for you.