Watson's Hotel (Esplanade Mansions), Kala Ghoda, Bombay
Taj Mahal Hotel, Colaba, Bombay
In 1871, Jamsetji Tata, now known as the pioneer of Indian industry, was allegedly refused entry to Watson's Hotel, at that time the swankiest hotel in the city which allowed entry to whites only. Humiliated by the racist snub, the legend goes, Tata built the Taj Mahal Hotel down the road, so often now referred to as an icon of the city.
A couple of weeks ago the Watson, a 138 year old structure, was declared unsafe and tenants were urged to be evacuated before the onset of the monsoon, the building having slipped further and further into decline since the death of John Watson and the success of the Taj. The building is India's oldest cast iron structure - the frame of the hotel having been shipped from England. This is merely a footnote now - the building today stands out for being the most obviously and outrageously dilapidated one amongst the well preserved colonial architecture of the Kala Ghoda area.
Last year, the Taj was the site of unmentionable violence and tragedy, and for me personally many, many tears. It is now more fiercely guarded than I ever remember, than it doubtless ever was. In so many ways no longer as welcoming as it used to be - the multiple rounds of security checks just to get in probably aid in keeping out casual wanderers, the interiors are now strangely quiet and sparsely crowded as a result. It is still as gorgeous and imposing from the outside and though I spotted workers carrying out repairs on the roof and in some balconies, a hint that it really isn't invincible, to imagine the waterfront without the twin images of the Gateway and the Taj is just as impossible. The crowds still throng the promenade and along with the gaudily dressed, glittering horse carriages that stand in line in front of the hotel give the whole area a wonderfully festive feel, especially in the balmy evenings with the lights on. I think every once in a while people take a second to just stop and gaze with some awe at the building that overlooks serenely all that frenzy.