Mumbai, often known as the city of dreams, the place where every corner embraces a crowd or a community with a story to narrate, is quite known for its diverse urban fabric within a large population. This diverse population of Mumbai belongs to different cultures, lifestyles and standard of living too. From historical forts to commercial buildings, from expensive apartments to slums, everything is seen in Mumbai. It houses one of the largest slums in Dharavi to one of the most expensive properties (Antilia), an unstereotypical contrast seen quite rarely. Even in architecture, a gradual variation in character prevails as one travels from Colaba to Vasai-Virar; from the Victorian Architecture to Art Deco thus formulating a versatile urban edge.
The diversity in the communities goes a long way back in history. In the 17 century, there was an immigration of people from various communities into Mumbai as a strategy to empower trade and mercantile; some of which were the Salsette Brahmins, Bhandari’s, Armenians, and Parsis. By the 19th century, the Parsis grew to become one of the prominent communities of Mumbai. The development of Parsi communities has always been considered as a high point in Mumbai’s history and culture. The community has been a center of development in Mumbai for over four centuries now from Jamshedji Tata to Freddie Mercury. Looking further into the Parsi community, they have an architecture style and lifestyle of their own that exists even in today’s scenario. The community has always been an integral part of shaping the Mumbai that exists today.
The Dadar Parsi Colony, built in the 1920s, is situated in South Mumbai near the Dadar-Matunga-Wadala region. It is one of the largest Parsi neighborhoods that came as a solution by the Britishers as a city expansion strategy during the Black Death plague era. Not only is it one of the first planned settlements, it is also the only ungated Parsi community in Mumbai. The city, planned by Mancherji Edalji Joshi, is known for its open-plan norms restricting the building heights all composed around five gardens connected by narrow intertwining well-paved roads. The former suburbs are now one of the most exclusive locations in Mumbai and one of the largest Parsi residencies. The planning has an emphasis on components such as sanitation, green zones, and mixed land use. The layout is a result of meticulous study in urban design as well as the habits and dynamics of the community. As one embarks through its streets, a blend of culture and modern elements in all aspects can be experienced, which proves to be the essence of the area. The area has become a famous shooting location today.
Another well-known colony is the Cusrow Baug built-in 1934 by Jerbai Wadia. Situated in Colaba, this all Parsi settlement was built as a housing project for Parsis who couldn’t afford accommodation. Some of the other colonies similar to Cusrow Baug are the Nowroz Baug(Lal Baug), Jer Baug(Byculla), Ness Baug(Nana Chowk) all handled by the Wadia Trust today.
Some of the most prominent buildings and institutions of Mumbai are the contributions of this community. For instance, Sir JJ College of Architecture, the oldest and reputed institutions in India, was established in 1913 by Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy, making it Asia’s first architecture institution. Regal Cinema, situated at the Colaba Causeway, was built by Framji Sidhwa in Art Deco style. It was designed by English architect Charles Stevens, whose other works are the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a landmark structure of Mumbai’s colonial heritage.
The Navsari Building owned by the Tatas in 1928, with its subtle red facade, is known as a time capsule, mainly due to its old cage elevator of the woodwork and intricate detail, which works to date against the latest technological advancements.
Some other structures of Parsi heritage are the Mumbai Samachar and Sir HC Dinshaw building at Horniman circle, the Philomena building at DPC, and the Esplanade House; to name a few.
The impact these Parsi colonies and structures have on the urban character of a city like Mumbai, which with every day passing by falls prey to new modern-day development, is of utmost significance.
They act as an anchor that makes the city grounded to some part of its heritage and not completely dissolve into cosmopolitan architecture and planning of today, thus maintaining the charm and the very essence of the city that every inhabitant or visitor is familiar with and resonates too.