Situated in a pool of green, thanks to a classically planned botanical garden, surrounded by the bustling streets of Byculla and its warren of empty crumbling textile mills, stands a building steeped in the city's rich architectural heritage and history.
With its collection of the industrial arts, economic products of the 19th century and a vast exquisite collection of local artifacts, the 134 years old Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (erstwhile the Victoria and Albert Museum) was conceived as a keeper and narrator of Mumbai's history.
Today however, the institution has a brand new story to tell.. One of painstaking renewal and a meticulous conservation that has restored the structure, interior and contents- all to its original, glitter and sparkle.
To walk into the glittering, freshly painted interiors of this Palladian structure built in the renaissance renewal style ( the only one of its kind in the city), it is hard to imagine the state of dereliction it had fallen to in the years after independence.
The original colours and details had been effaced from the, delicate stucco and stencil work was badly damaged, Iron pillars everywhere had separated from the walls and many of the etched glass panes were broken. And as is the case with most heritage buildings in Mumbai, haphazard and badly conceived electrification was conspicuous all over the building.
The unassuming green and white structure from the outside, does not quite give away the magnificent interiors that await one. Even the entry fee into the museum is a humble Rs 10!
But one push past an old railway style turnstile lies a stunning interior. Soaring two storey high walls and a intricately painted ceiling, held in place by handsome cast iron pillars, intricate red and gold grilles and a delicate celadon green that adorns the wall - lend a matchless grandeur to the space.
Walking on cool check board tiles, taking in the collection artistically displayed in re polished and restored wooden cabinets that stand in rows in the central atrium, one arrives at the grand staircase- clearly the high point of the experience. The monumental staircase, with its intricately patterned encaustic Minton tiles lends gravity and beauty to the building, its colours patterns and texture demanding a lot of attention.
As the story goes, the original planner and architects of the museum ran out of money half way through the laying of the tiles..! hence only the stair case and the upper story of the building are laid with the imported tiles, while the rest of the space was finished with locally sourced chekerboard tiles.