I first heard of this 69 year old boarding house, from artist Allen Shaw . I had gone to Artisan’s in Kala Ghoda to view Allen’s exhibition there and in the course of our conversation he mentioned he was staying in this quaint place right opposite the Crawford market. He had even done a sketch of the splendid market from his room. Sujata, one of the owners of lodge was present at the exhibition and we got chatting.
She talked about how she had got the place renovated in 2014 and used existing material from this century old building to add decor touches to the boarding house. She showed me images of this charming place, a slight modern aesthetic touch to an otherwise traditional boarding house.
I was intrigued and a few weeks later when a shopping trip to Crawford market came up, I gave her a call and went to the New Vasantashram boarding and lodging, which was established in 1947.
The entrance to the building is surrounded by pavement shops and the ground level entry is grotty, littered with rubbish on one side and I made my way up three floors on this old grand wooden staircase that had history scratched and stained over it. Once I reached the guesthouse that occupies two floors, I went – “wow” as it was a step back into time. This cheerful place that Sujata is so passionate about and has done a nice job revamping, had retained all the old touches that allow a visitor to recapture the past as you walk through the rooms. Large airy well ventilated rooms with Gond and other traditional Indian style paintings framed on the walls. My favourite space was a long corridor that leads into the rooms on one side and has a view of Crawford market on the other. An artist from Bengal who was staying at the guest house got commissioned to paint some of the cupboards, old trunks and drums ( which are now being used as food counters) that provide vibrant colours to a very calm space done in white, distressed wood in hues of sea green and exposed iron pillars. She bought lights off a ship that was being dismantled and had them put up in the common spaces. Old wooden print blocks for door handles.
Sujata told me how her father and uncle came from Mangalore, via Madikeri to Mumbai looking for work. They were initially funded by a Gujarati gentleman to start the boarding and lodging house. In those days food was provided too, so one brother use to cook and the other went to the central railway station that is nearby, to source customers. Since the lodge is located close to Crawford market, it got a lot of traders coming in from Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and other parts of India who came to sell their wares or collect cash from the markets nearby. It still does – Jayaram Muthuswamy, a jeweller, has been frequenting this establishment since its inception.
However Sujata decided to make changes in the space to cater to a different demographic. She says that with bank transfers online, paytm and markets moving out of south Mumbai, the clientele is changing to students coming to intern in law firms or attend workshops, young backpackers and foreign tourist who want to experience Mumbai on a budget. She has tied up with Airbnb, Trip advisor etc to attract this segment of clients.
I met two travelers from France in their twenties , who rode their bicycles all the way through Europe, Turkey, Afghanistan and were now exploring India.
Sujata’s passion for the space goes beyond just the commercials. She has been keen to promote the space for cultural events and has in the past hosted a musical evening, a heritage talk show and has got me thinking of holding a tapestry weaving workshop there. Well, her feel for the place is contagious !
Hope it’s around for another generation to usher in clients.
All images – courtesy of the internet and the author’s own