The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 29, 2000

Giving a facelift to Gateway of India
By Ratan Patel

HAVING braved the elements for close to a century, Bombay’s famous landmark, the Gateway of India is up for a facelift. At least three multi-nationals, including the French BNP Paribas and Baccarat are pooling in their resources for this massive conservation drive.

The project, was scheduled for completion by Divali this year. It has been phased out in two stages. The first involves carrying out repairs on the 90-year-old monument, especially on the RCC dome, chajjas and jaalis, which have developed cracks and holes.

The second stage would entail providing a polymer-based coating on the monument, which has been trapping moisture inside the stone, causing it to turn white and flake off. That it is directly exposed to the waters of the Arabian Sea and has made things all the more difficult for the conservation workers.

"We have woken up late to the need for restoring this historical monument," said Kriti Manck, a well known heritage activist with the Save Bombay Committee. "Our objective is to bring back the glory of the Gateway so that we can all be justifiably proud of it."


Gracing the water’s edge at Apollo Bunder in south Bombay, the 26-metre-tall triumphal archway was designed by the British architect, George wittet to commemorate the visit of King George and Queen Mary to India in 1911.

Ever since, it has been Bombay’s most enduring landmark and attracts busloads of tourists every day, much like Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Gateway has also served as convenient exit point for those taking the cruise to the nearby Elephanta Caves — another heritage site.

"The traffic that the Gateway handles every day has also contributed to its decay," said Shirish Rawle of the Urban Heritage Committee. "Apart from tourists, there are countless public functions, film shoots and night-long stage shows held against the backdrop of the monument right round the year."

Architect Brinda Somaya lamented at the state of maintenance in and around structure. "You can see placards and spit marks all along the promenade. The street furniture and fencing along the monument have to be repaired. The grafitti around the walls has also become an eye-sore."

But is the Gateway of India in danger of falling down?

Unlike most heritage activists, Somaya does not sound an alarming note. "Continued neglect would only raise the risk factor from corrosion. That does not mean the structure would fall like a pack of cards. But certain indicators like flaking of the stones are already visible, which should be taken care of."

"It is better late than never," adds Rawle. "If we do not mobilise public opinion and initiate measures for its conservation, one day nothing will be left of the monument. The polymer coating of the stone, especially at the foundation which is submerged under water, should have been done long back."

Another cause for much concern is "misuse of the place" by the hundreds of motor-boat operators who ferry tourists every day to the Elephanta Caves. They constitute a "floating population" of migrants, mainly from South India who do not have homes to go back to in the city.

"At any point of time, there are at least 500 boats plying between Elephanta and Gateway," Manek points out. " At night, all these boats are parked at Apollo Bunder and their operators and helpers mess about in the area. The sea-front is their home. They have nowhere else to go."

A few years ago, the municipal corporation had constructed a row of toilets for them in the interests of cleanliness and public hygiene in the area. At that time, heritage activists raised a hue and cry as the toilets "marred the beauty of the place". But nobody is complaining about them.

Right now however, what matters most to these activists is to complete the restoration programme in time for the Divali festivities in October. A grand celebration is being planned for the occasion, which would include installation of the world’s biggest chandelier in the central arch of the Gateway.

"The installation, weighing 1.5 tons, would be suspended from a dismantable support system resting by means of rubber pads on the balcony around the dome," revealed Jamshed Kanga, a former municipal commissioner of Bombay. "It will be up there for a temporary period."

"The chandelier will not damage the structure, said Jonathan David Lyon of BNP Paribas. "It is a celebration which we want people to enjoy. Over two million people visited the public park in Tokyo where this chandelier was hung last." — (Maharaja Features)

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