Amidst the traffic and chaos around Mumbai’s famous Girgaum Chowpatty, tucked behind narrow lanes, sits a charming little gaothan or village called Khotachiwadi. It may feel like you have walked into a time warp and landed in the 1940s, but your phone still works and if you look around you can see high rises in the distance. It is a curious place but real nonetheless, an oasis of the old world in the madness of the current one. Portuguese styled colourful houses, line the cobbled narrow lanes. Time seems to unfurl here slowly like the smoke from James Ferreira’s joint. He is one of the most famous residents of Khotachiwadi, a fashion designer and activist, fighting to preserve it. His 200 year old house has been used for multiple shoots. Even though it is placed near the bustling Girgaum Chowpatty it has managed to stay hidden from even Mumbai’s residents. It is possibly the city’s best kept secret. Charming though it is, it is also now down to just a few houses that gave it the distinct character.Built in the early 1800s, Khotachiwadi was designated as a heritage precinct in 1995. The village is said to be named after Dadoba Waman Khot, who leased plots in the area to the original inhabitants, who were largely East Indian Christians and locals. The original Christian and Maharashtrian residents have now moved to the suburbs or abroad. The current population is a more hybrid group with a few original inhabitants and Gujaratis, Marwaris and Jains.A Forgotten ArchitectureThe hamlet is recognized as a heritage area but the buildings have already come down from the original 65 to just 27 now. It feels an anomaly standing as it does in the middle of high rises. Builders have been eyeing the area for years now, but protests from local residents have managed to keep this remnant of Mumbai’s past alive.The houses are over a 100 years old. Built of wood, they have open verandahs, overhanging balconies, and latticed staircases leading to the rooms upstairs.Wall ArtThe core of Khotachiwadi is still preserved, barring one site where a proposed high rise is being planned. The site for the construction of this high rise lies cordoned off, the situation in a deadlock between the builder and the residents. A resident says of its construction, “The BMC has given permission for a 14 storey building on a 12 foot road. Our new residents would prefer to convert the area into a vegetarian zone and have tried to stop fisherfolk from plying their wares. The only reason we have been saved is our narrow roads. The chawls in the wadi have suffered. Neither the landlords not the tenants have repaired the structures for decades.”Its PeopleJames Ferreira says, “South Mumbai could be turned into a profitable and dynamic tourist zone. The centre of Bombay is now Bandra, and South Bombay has seen a lot of migration. We need to survey the area, repair or reconstruct the structures that are a hazard and dangerous and save the rest. The skyline should be frozen.”Maintaining the old structures is difficult though, Ferreira agrees. A lot of these problems come from the surrounding high rises. The residents of Khotachiwadi are divided on the subject of maintaining it as a heritage area or selling out and getting swanky new pads. Khotachiwadi’s decrepit chawls are also over a 100 years old, they are alive with activity though and house generations.The rents here are frozen in the 1940s. At Ideal Wafers Store a 70-year-old store where you get freshly made chips, we were told the rents are at Rs 250 a month and on the higher side hit Rs 450. This sounds idyllic to those looking to rent perhaps, but it limits the maintenance of these old buildings where repairs often come up.Heritage walks are organised for the area. The village is a part of Mumbai’s urban fabric and an example of a heterogeneous community living in close quarters peacefully. Down to just a few houses, one hopes this curious neighbourhood survives the assault of vertical development.You can read more about Khotachiwadi’s history here. We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.