The seasons have changed since the Panchgani.visit, but memories remain. And they must be shared before they fade away.
As you enter the town from Mumbai, on the right side of the road, stands Chistia Manzil. It was built around 1940 by a Gujarati builder Pranlal Vardhaman Modi, who named it Modi Mansion, says Asif Merchant (www.dancingheartpanchgani.blogspot.com), the current owner of the house.
The main structure of the house is rather reminiscent of Javed Manzil in Mumbai’s Mahim area. Except that while Chistia – it was renamed in 1948 by Merchant’s father Dr Ebrahim Karim Merchant – is made of stone and is in good shape, Javed is made of wood and is rotting.
Speaking about the journey of Chistia, Merchant says, “My father came to Panchgani in 1940, when I was 1 year old. This house has five blocks in the main building, which are interconnected. If you open all the doors, you can walk from one end to the other.” He adds that block no 1 and 2 and 4 and 5 have common verandahs with a tin partition in between. If the partition is opened, the two blocks become one big block.
Dr Ebrahim rented the whole house in 1941. “We stayed in Blocks 1 and 2. Block 3 was the dispensary. Blocks 4 and 5 were let out to my father’s patients. He was a medical practitioner. He had expertise in the treatment of tuberculosis, so most of the patients were suffering from TB, and required to stay on for at least a year,” Merchant says over email.
There’s also a cottage at the back of Chistia, which has three blocks. The verandah had partitions, which could be opened up to make the whole cottage one single unit. As was common at the time, the toilets were built outside the living area of the house from the house. A set of five or six toilets used to stand in the space between the cottage and Chesson Road, which runs at the back of the house. The property, which has been declared a Heritage building Class B, extended right up to Chesson Road.
Merchant adds that the family later rented out Block no. 2. Block no. 1 was rented out a few years later, after the Merchant family extended Block no. 3 and shifted there.
Merchant adds that which he doesn’t know much about architectural styles, he would classify Chistia as a pseudo-British colonial home. “I spent a long time there, and being interested in geometry, was able to spot many errors in the construction of the house. One obvious error is that the building is not parallel to the main road. It is not at the centre of the property. The space between the eastern end of the building and the boundary hedge is less than the space between the western end of the building and the boundary hedge.”