Marzban Colony: Springing forth from history

The Marzban Colony in Agripada, south Mumbai, gets a new lease on life

Article by Meher Mirza | DNA India

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The story of ‘The Lal Chimney Compound’ begins in the 19th century, with Mancherji Marzban, who was a many-splendoured man. In 1892, he was elected to become an Executive Engineer of the Bombay Municipal Corporation over many competitors, including a European—quite a victory for a ‘native’ at the time! He sprang to many glories, including receiving the stately title of Khan Bahadur.

Marzban helped build many significant civic buildings in his lifetime. But what has gotten us talking today is his charitable work for the Parsis, particularly the Garib Zarthosti Rehethan Fund (Poor Zoroastrian Building Fund) that he created. From this fund were built two of south Mumbai’s lesser-known Parsi colonies, both called Marzban Colony—one in Gilder Lane, off Lamington Road and the other one in Agripada. Sadly, the former has unravelled with the vagaries of time. But the Marzban Colony in Agripada has had better luck.

Also called Lal Chimney, supposedly because the area used to have a red chimney stack, the colony was built for the working class of Parsis—clerks, artisans, etc. Preeti Chopra, in A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay, writes “Marzban’s housing projects not only reflect very local concerns but also predate the Bombay government’s reluctant entry into the field of housing for the poor.”

Five vernacular-style buildings incorporate wide teakwood balconies, carved façades, gable roofs and curved Gothic windows with wooden shutters. These sprightly buildings have been gifted a new lease on life because of Mancherji Cama, President of the Building Fund and Vikas Dilawari, a conservation architect. So successful was the restoration that it won last year’s UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for distinction and merit. Today, it is one of the city’s most beautiful Parsi colonies.