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Mumbai: New Book Relays Terrifying Account Of Property Disputes In Bandra
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Frederick Noronha
2018-09-09 10:40:44 UTC
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FOR READERS IN GOA: Brenda Rodrigues speaks at the TTT Goa Book Club on the
Third Thursday of September (20 September 2018) at 5 pm at Broadway Book
Centre. The function is open to the public. See
http://groups.google.com/group/goa-book-club
==================

See this page for all the photos:
https://www.mid-day.com/articles/mumbai-new-book-relays-terrifying-account-of-property-disputes-in-bandra/19741183

Mumbai: New Book Relays Terrifying Account Of Property Disputes In Bandra

Aug 26, 2018, 07:51 IST | Benita Fernando

Everyone wants a piece of Bandra, and such is the story documented in a new
book, The House at 43, Hill Road

The Queen of the suburbs is not without her suitors. Bandra, one of the
most coveted addresses in Mumbai, is famed for its quaint bungalows,
throwback charm, and waterfronts. But, Bandra is also a battlefield. Even
as celebrities, creatives and upwardly mobile youngsters aspire for the
400050 tag to their addresses, this is where property owners have to defend
themselves from land sharks. Everyone wants a piece of Bandra, and such is
the story documented in a new book, The House at 43, Hill Road.

Authored by long-time Bandra-resident, Brenda Rodrigues, this work of
non-fiction takes you to a plot of land - once numbered 36, and later
changed to 43 - on Hill Road. Search for it today, by carefully reading
shop addresses, and you shall locate it with some difficulty. On it stands
a ragged four-storey structure, leaky and mossy. As with everything on Hill
Road, the only prospect here is shopping. But, this is where Brenda and her
husband, Joe, fought tooth and nail to save their building some decades ago.

The villa on what used to plot no. 36 (now 43), built by Braz Rodrigues in
the mid-1800s. This photo was shot in 1972, when Brenda, the author, and
Joe, her husband and Braz’s great-grandson, got married.

A gentle beginning

Brenda recalls the dispute in her author's note and writes, "[It] was the
start of an ugly ordeal that lasted six years. We had heard of cases of
people being forced out of their property, but never imagined we would one
day become victims ourselves. In fact, it did not take long for us to
realise that we were locked in a no holds barred fight not only for our
property, but for our very lives and the lives of our two young daughters."

None of that worry is seen today on Brenda and Joe's faces when we meet
them at their Khar studio apartment. The couple, aged 74 and 77
respectively, have retired to the tranquil of rustic Goa, making occasional
visits to Mumbai. Brenda is an author, and Joe has been conducting training
programmes for leading companies for more than three decades. "We fought 71
cases for six years, from 1989 to 1994. Around 1992, when I started writing
about what we were going through, I would break down at times. Putting the
events on paper served as a catharsis for me. Today I can pass 43, Hill
Road without a twinge of pain," says Brenda.

The villa was redeveloped in the 1970s into a ground plus three floors
building, with shops on the ground floor. The Rodrigues family was given
three flats, including this one. Pics/Brenda Rodrigues

Her writing was picked up by new indie label, Bombaykala Books, which
waited till the matter wasn't sub judice to publish it. The book will be
launched today at 4 pm, at Holy Family Hospital, Bandra.

Broadly in two parts, the book starts with how the house came to be built
on Hill Road, leading up to the present, when the dispute and the violence
started. Brenda traces the Rodrigues' family tree to Braz Rodrigues, Joe's
great-grandfather. Braz was born in 1811 in Parwar, a village near Pali
Hill that the British burnt down after the plague infestation. Braz became
a rich man, through the course of marriages and his an aerated water
factory that he owned.

Some time around the mid-1800s, Braz purchased a plot, numbered 36, on Hill
Road, and built a single-storey structure with high ceilings, flooring of
Italian tiles and a large attic. The spacious villa earned the nickname of
'burra ghar' (big house). But, the picture Brenda paints of that time, be
it of Bandra or the Rodrigues family, is far from idyllic. Over the years,
problems within the family and with tenants surmounted, but none so much as
what she and Joe had to face first-hand.

Braz Rodrigues' grave inside St Andrew's Church, Hill Road. Pic/Atul Kamble

Threats to life

"The house Braz built, one of the first to be erected on Hill Road, was one
of the last to be torn down in 1977," writes Brenda. In the 1970s, Bandra
was abuzz with talks of redevelopment, and builders would approach Lydia
Rodrigues, Joe's late mother and a noted dressmaker, with several
proposals. Eventually, an agreement was drawn up with one of them, and in
1980, a ground plus three storey structure replaced the bungalow. Three
flats were given to the Rodrigues. The ground floor had five shops, one of
which became Lydia's bridal boutique. The remaining four shops and three
other flats were sold by the builder. A cooperative housing society was
formed with all the occupants as members.

Lydia, Joe's late mother and a noted dressmaker, who owned the property

This is when the problem started for the Rodrigues. Some shop owners, who
happened to be property developers, started making "amendments" to the
building, without the necessary permissions from the housing society. The
resulting tussle between the flat owners and the shopkeepers took a new
turn when the builder, who developed the property and had a flat in the
building, fell in with the shopkeepers' plans. Another flat owner, a
reputed doctor-couple, also switched sides.

The worst blow, Brenda writes, was that most BMC officials, police and
lawyers were seemingly bought off by the builders and shop owners, leaving
them little room for redressal. Policemen would stall them for hours before
they could file complaints; lawyers would pretend to be away; important
letters regarding hearings were not delivered; and mobs collected around
the house late into the night on a couple of occasions. Their daughters
were sent away to Dalhousie, following a danger of being kidnapped. The
most horrific among these accounts include a coup to trap Joe in an attempt
to stab him. Joe recalls, "I didn't know much about the Maharashtra
Cooperative Societies Act, but, in the course of the dispute, I had to arm
myself with that knowledge. Several people told us that we had best give up
and get out.

That made me more determined. Where most people would have given up on
disputes like these, we didn't. Of course, there came a turning point."
Brenda's narrative can either terrify you or inspire you. You may feel glad
that you don't have property in a prime area to protect, or help you draw
courage from this couple to fight for your house. Here, you will find all
the intrigue, manipulation and suspense of television drama, but Brenda
chooses to be documentarian, recounting every step of the case in great
detail. It may leave you wondering if the dispute was going around in
circles, but that is precisely how long-drawn and exhausting it was. Also,
since the account is personal, it does not fully capture other sides of the
story.

Moreover, at the heart of the tale, is the sad truth about the disappearing
East Indian community, known as the original inhabitants of this city, who
are continually selling off their property and moving away from their
ancestral homes and even Mumbai.

So, some 10 lawyers later and a dispute that cost them lakhs of rupees, the
Rodrigues finally decided to sell their property in 1994. How they came to
that decision is a large part of Brenda's story. Joe says, "Today, when we
pass through Hill Road, I have no regrets that we chose to leave. This is
not the Hill Road we grew up in - it was much quieter. So, for me, it was
not an emotional wrench to finally leave the House at 43 Hill Road. So, I
told them, take this house and go."

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