Changed yet Consistent: From a day spent at the Heritage Village of Mumbai Khotachi Wadi

Known to have maintained the authenticity and the culture of the East Indian Community in Mumbai's Girgaum by a restrictive approach for the tourists and outsiders Khotachi Wadi still stands pure by defying the winds of change.

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Rishi Kannaujiya, in his early twenties, was ironing a bundle of school uniforms in his small yet pucca ground-storeyed laundry shop in Khotachi Wadi when we met him. This is an unusual sight in Khotachi Wadi for a lot of reasons. This residential area of the East Indian Community in South Mumbai has always been restricted from being cosmopolitan and to date, it has maintained its uniqueness, unlike other residential areas of the community like Chapel Road in Bandra. However, as this private colony gradually became an unofficial tourist spot and a lot of people started flocking, the locals became apprehensive about even talking to outsiders and put up warning boards for not filming them or their vibrant houses. However, in the area where no commercial activities have taken place to date, there was always an exception for this three-generation-old Kannaujiya family who hailed from U.P. And, one day spent here got us the current picture of Khotachi Wadi - especially about what it has still maintained and how much of the change has it allowed with time.

Narrow lanes and bright houses with Portuguese architectural influence define Khotachi Wadi.

Nestled in the corner of Girgaum and the foot of Malabar Hill, Khotachi Wadi, also called the 'heritage village', is a Portugese-Catholic hamlet whose history goes back to as early as the 1700s when it was merely a fishing village. Majorly only Kolis and the Pathare Prabhu community - the original natives of Bombay would live in the area. After the Portuguese invasion, the community was converted to Christianity, while post East India Company's arrival, this community kept their names showing allegiance to the East Indian Company of the British. However, what the community did never let go of was the Portuguese elements that continue to reflect through their homes, food, and culture in general.

A few houses have turned commercial like this, which is now a clothing boutique.

While Mumbai has various areas and streets housing the East Indian community, Khotachi Wadi is one of the oldest and most popular. Reportedly, the area was owned by one Waman Hari ‘Khot’ who is believed to have then sold the different parts of the land to the East Indian Christian community. The name, 'Khotachi Wadi' is also believed to have originated from his name. But since then, one thing remained common - the outlook of the area, especially concerning the architecture that still reflects the Portuguese influences.

It is this historic significance of the area that brings in various local and foreign tourists alike excited to learn and capture the culture here. But just like the locals here, who have made sure to protect their private property from being captured without their consent by putting up warning boards for the same - let alone allowing outsiders to live here - even Rishi Kannaujiya refrains from getting clicked by the foreigners; unless people also want to listen to his relationship with Khotachi Wadi!

Three Generations of a Migrant's Family in Khotachi Wadi

Rishi Kannaujiya, the third-generation migrant from the family ironing clothes at his shop-cum house in Khotachi Wadi.

Kannaujiya's grandfather came here from Alamgarh 70 years ago in search of work and settled in Khotachi Wadi. "Our owner gave this small space to my grandfather on lease," Kannaujiya says referring to his shop and adding that they pay Rs 1,000 as rent now. Currently, Kannaujiya's father manages the laundry business within the store with his son, however, it was Kannaujiya's cousin who accompanied him to work when we met him. They have also been living in the same shop and cooking for themselves for many years. At the time of our visit, all that made Kannaujiya happy was the newly-constructed cemented lane right in front of his shop, which is a new phenomenon and enough to keep him content ahead of the monsoons.

Amidst the houses of Christians and East Indians, this is one of the houses - of the shop's owner, a Hindu, that stands apart. Dipped in orange and yellow hues with multiple unique adornments and a small yet expansive green cover the verandah comprises the best elements of this house where we happened to stop to take a gaze. An amalgamation of cultures is visible from the facade of the house with the bust of Gautam Buddha and, a statue of Mother Mary together kept on the boundary of the houses while the wall hanging of Shivaji Maharaj hung in the verandah of the house which also seemed filled with vintage lamps wrapped in cobs. 

The house of the shop's owner is adorned with different statues, art pieces and a small garden maintained by Kannaujiya.

Right beside this house lies the small red-coloured shop of Kannaujiya that starts at 6 a.m. and goes on till 11 at night. The entire gardening in front of his owner's house is managed by Kannaujiya along with his own little garden in front of his shop. After paying the rent to the owner, Kannaujiya is saving for his sister's money while the roots of entrepreneurship have already been sown in him. "Since we have never worked for anyone in my family, I will also open some business independently beyond the laundry and build my own house in my town," he says while showing his paternal house in Alamgarh. Eyeing the sister's marriage, Kannaujiya is doing his best to earn and save as much as possible.

As much as monsoon troubles the entire Khotachi Wadi with waterlogging owing to the narrow lanes and streets, so does it to Kannaujiya as his shop is lashed by the heavy rainfall. But now, along with the upcoming washroom that his boss is going to construct for him right behind the house, he is also expecting a thatch to be built above his shop. He shows the materials kept for it in the lane and says that he is hoping for that soon. Above that, he takes pride in saying that even his boss is loyal to his family. "Recently, someone had come with an offer of Rs 50,000 rent and more than a lakh for the deposit amount to rent this place but our owner warned him to not come again," he says.

The display of rich and poor together

A few century-old houses here have gone through multiple renovations while maintaining authenticity with the Portugese elements.

It is, perhaps, this discipline within the locals that has maintained the old-age charm of the area still alive. However, as we roamed the area recently, one thing turned out to be extremely noticeable - the evident mix of history and modernity. The Khotachi Wadi street, all brick-floored opens to a big bookseller shop followed by vibrant, colourful houses with open verandas, holy crosses, fascia boards, and old lamps remaining common in all.

Khotachi Wadi houses churches and temples within the small area.

One of the houses also consists of The Girgaon Catholic Club which falls a few steps after the bookshop while the lanes remain filled with flowers on them. The area houses churches and temples together showing the best of mixing between communities here that have existed for a long time. We crossed a small house that maintained its best to close itself from the gaze of the tourists but only a peek can get the glance of multiple art pieces kept inside while a cage kept beautiful and colourful birds chirping. An old man from the house kept working on the art pieces while the broken, vintage rustic clock kept ticking overhead the cage, such is the legitimate charm maintained in Khoatchi Wadi.

A corner in Khotachi Wadi with branches and vases.

The corners of the area are also filled with various artistic items, rather, leftovers from the houses where one such corner, we found, was beautifully adorned with artistic vases and unique branches of wood with human faces made on it! The street was quiet yet bustling with the women from the Koli community and vegetable hawkers during the time of our visit. But what captured our eye was the khaake-wearing postman delivering mail to these houses. However, the authenticity of this old-age charm here in the street is sharply contrasted by the grey tones of the tall, new building behind the area.

The art gallery in 47 A displayed South Rajasthan's culture in June. 

The changing times have also got some houses put up warning boards, some of which also include, "No Parking, Drinking or Drugs" while other warnings are crystal-clear about not filming them. A few of the houses here have been converted to spaces dedicated to boutiques for vintage fashion, like 47 C, and an art gallery, like 47 A  that displayed the best of South Rajasthan's artwork for the month of June. As we entered the gallery, it transported us to the aura of silence and amazing artwork that we see in other prominent art centers of the city. However, this remains vacant - call it the lack of awareness among the city folks or the declining interest in art, in general.

The area also hosts many activities, perhaps, whose posters are visible on the walls of these houses. These include music classes, Zumba classes along beauty and health spas. It becomes clear to observe that many houses have undergone multiple renovations while a few settlers, mainly Hindu community have remained in a state of poverty within their dilapidated houses. It is the squeal of the kids of these houses that fill the lanes towards the late afternoon when they get back from their schools!

Kannaujiya observes it throughout the day and also knows the residents in the Khotachi Wadi. However, unlike many locals here, he does not have to go out to work. He, who is still afraid of taking local trains - the lifeline of Mumbai which is popular for crowds and offers scares to the migrants - is content and secure amidst the warmth of this heritage area. Even though, he never understands why tourists frequent it so much all through the year.

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