18 January, 2017

The Harbor Line - Khotachiwadi

Khotachiwadi (pronounced: kho-taa-chi-waa-di). I’d come across this place while searching for things to do in the monstrosity of Mumbai. I didn’t know much, apart from that it was an urban village somewhere near the famous Girgaon Chowpatty. It was amazing that despite being inside such a famous area and being unique enough to be listed as one of the places to see in Mumbai, not too many locals knew about this place. I even asked some of my colleagues if they’d heard of such a place.

“Hey have you heard of this old Portuguese style colony in Girgaon called Kotachiwadi?”

“Ummm… no. But there’s a pretty famous Portuguese restaurant I know of in Santa Cruz. Why go all the way to Girgaon for it?”

I’ll never understand Mumbaikars.

Anyway, I read that Khotachiwadi was made in Portuguese architecture, being a remnant from the colonial era. I don’t even mind the colonial era anymore. Yes some people’s great grandparents were horrible to my great grandparents. But in all earnest, Europe has had its due with the world wars, Greece, trying to work together, and Nigel Farage. Even they deserve a break.

But let’s not digress. Wikipedia said that there used to be 65 houses in Khotachiwadi. Now there were only 28 as the homes were being stripped down to make way for high rise buildings. 28 houses didn’t even qualify as a village. I had to go there before some of the real estate companies in Mumbai took over the place. So I put Google Maps to use and drove straight to this place last weekend.

Now this was an interesting place. From the map I could see a lane so narrow that the car could not go in. I parked the car a block away and started walking with the guidance of Google. It showed a very narrow lane, barely a few hundred meters long as the place. Could this be the place I was looking for or was Google having one of its bad days.

Eventually I reached Khotachiwadi. It’s not really a village. It’s just 2 lanes of old Portuguese style houses. If I hadn’t specifically been looking for it I’d most likely have missed it. It reminded me a lot about the entrance to Diagon Alley.

They first thing I saw on entering was a small structure with an idol of Jesus in it. Not crucified but standing and blessing his followers. It was not very different from a lot of small Shiva temples you are likely to find on roads in India. This was something new for me. I’d only seen Jesus idols in large churches. This was the first time I’d seen it in such a small enclosure. But Khotachiwadi had Indianized the western world in more ways than I knew. And I was about to find out more.

The houses were small but well decorated – at least from the exteriors. A couple of houses posed a threatening message to trespassers. That was enough to put me off prying. People seemed to have cared enough to put a backyard or a garden at their homes and had made an effort to decorate it. Also, the homes weren’t exactly locked nor did I see a good provision for security. I myself have 3 layers of doors at my apartment which is on the 15th floor in a guarded society in Ghatkopar. But these people didn’t seem to care much. Maybe because they didn’t think anyone from outside was ever likely to find Khotachiwadi. And the ones who did know about it were too close to be separated by walls. I think if you live in Khotachiwadi for long enough, it would be tough to not become a part of that small family. Another reason for the lack of security might have been poverty.

When an average Indian hears the words “Portuguese styled colony” he thinks of clean nice bungalows with street cafes and women walking in sundresses. Khotachiwadi is not like that. The architecture is Portuguese, the lanes are narrow, and the people are Indian. You notice the Indianness in the dusty roads, the Marathi language, and the dhobi delivering clothes to a house. Yet, Khotachiwadi is different from Mumbai. As if the city suddenly grows quiet in that lane. There’s no hustle and bustle of the traffic, no crowds, and no advertisements. You suddenly start noticing that no one is trying to sell you anything here. And then you notice someone is always trying to sell you something everywhere else. Even when you’re scrolling through Facebook. There would be that nerd who has posted a blog on an obscure village to get a few likes. Anyway…

I guess everyone in Khotachiwadi knew everyone else. They were giving weird looks to the stranger with a backpack. Though I think they knew what it was about. It would not be uncommon for them to spot a curious guy with a bag on his back and a phone in his hand just walking around on their streets. At one point, I saw a church/club like place where a guy was distributing beer cans. So that’s what Khotachiwadi did on Sunday noons. Got together and drank beer. He also noticed the stranger looking through the door with curiosity. He seemed confused about whether he should invite the stranger in. Or maybe he was thinking of how to politely ask the stranger to walk away. People in Khotachiwadi seemed more polite than the average Mumbaikar. I decided to end the man’s confusion and walked on.

The people at Khotachiwadi are not your regular Mumbaikars. They are not foreigners either. They’re Indians, albeit having a different culture. India is a land of diversity you know. Specially Mumbai, housing Iranis and Parsis who don’t allow others to enter their Agiaries, Jews who ask for ID verification before you can enter their Synagogues, Christians with their grand churches, Muslims with Dargahs across the city Haji Ali, Hindus with some of the biggest temples in the country, the wealthy with Wall Street, and of course, for poor atheists like me it gives the sea.

I walked out of Khotachiwadi towards my car. This little alley had given me a lot to think about. I needed to visit the sea.