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Ramshackle called home on Sleater Road

KHALIDAlamai, Roda, Dolly, Nozer, the Oomrigars and the Fulwadiwallas don’t live here anymore. The 75-year-old-plus Saidunissa building on Sleater Road, has been evicted for more than four years now since it has been on the verge of collapse.

The precarious two-block, four-storeystructure which housed 16 homes occupied predominantly by Parsi families, as well as the row of kholis on the ground level wears a phantom look today.
Only a few younger, resilient members of the families linger on in the homes, since they have nowhere else to go. The elder and infirm nonagenarians have been dispatched either to sanatoriums or to relatives who have agreed to take care of them.

Meanwhile, the row of shops fronting the Saidunissa building, directly in front of the busy Grant Road railway station (on the Nana Chowk side) continue with their daily trade, unmindful of clear and present danger, especially with the onset of the monsoon which is poised to intensify in the coming days.

Shockingly, the civic authorities have been snail-paced, if paced at all ,to repair and reconstruct the building, which poses a threat to the teeming railway station and the scores of squatters and pavement-dwellers at the mouth of Sleater Road. The few tenants who are living in sub-human conditions in the building are wary of talking to me whenever I’ve asked them, over time about the steps, taken or the lack of them, by the Mhada, the assorted municipal authorities, and the landlord. After much persuasion, it is learnt that repeated pleas have been advanced to Mhada, and appeals have been made to the Parsi charity groops, evidently in vain. Representatives of the building rented out to the tenants decades ago in the pugree system, have asked each family to contribute towards its restoration.

“But the amount quoted in crores of rupees is beyond our means,” says a 40ish second generation Saidunissa building tenant. “Moreover, there’s been a division of opinion among us which seems to be insoluble. Additionally, some of the families who were here since years have chosen to migrate overseas.”

The homes, each consisting of a balcony, living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen and two toilets, are in a state of shambles. An understatement that. In some of the homes the walls of the kitchen and toilet areas, have collapsed.
In fact, it was impossible to venture towards the back rooms since a single heavy step could have caused more damage. Rough wooden logs prop up the living room and the bedrooms, as they do in hundreds of buildings dating back to the early decades of the 20th century.

At a modest estimate, there are over 20,000 similar decrepit structures spread across Mumbai at present. An official report dating back to 2014 categorically admits that there are “19,642 cessed buildings in the island city of Mumbai.” It was added that “14,190 buildings exist due to collapse/reconstruction/redevelopment of old buidlings (sic).”

On a personal note, it can be asserted that Saidunissa building has been in a state of utter neglect since the late 1960s I stayed there on the fourth floor, for five years. Every time a fast-local train sped past on the Grant Road railway tracks, the ceiling shuddered. Powdery cement trickled from the roof, a hazardwhich all the tenants were accustomed to.

When I left circa 1974, a month later the roof collapsed on the fourth floor which was renovated by its new tenants who owned a nearby restaurant. Obviously, that wasn’t warning enough. Anyone who visits the innards of Saidunissa building today can confirm that it’s endangered. Haplessly the few who have stayed on, wrap up by stating that, “But it’s still home.”

Published on Asian Age

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