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Jinnah House to be SAARC cultural hub

January 30, 2007 14:13 IST

Jinnah House -- a palatial, seven-decade-old bungalow in Mumbai -- is to be resurrected into a new cultural hub for South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, with a soft launch slated to coincide with India's 60th Independence Day celebrations on August 15.

The first of its kind in the country, the hub -- termed SACAC (South Asian Centre for Arts and Culture) -- will come up in what was once the home of Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah and later the official residence of the then British Deputy High Commissioner.

"We expect the centre to be thrown open to the public on August 15 this year to coincide with the 60th anniversary celebrations of the country," Sanjeev Kohli, deputy director, Indian Council for Cultural Relations told PTI on Tuesday.

"That is the sentiment, and for SACAC to be fully operational we are looking towards December end," he said.

From cobwebs, weeds and overgrown trees, the house is to be remodeled into a fresh forum, an open space, a new landmark in the national and Asian regional landscape.

After 20 years of controversy, neglect, disuse, and being passed over through several hands, SACAC has finally received the central nod, and the sprawling 2.5 acre plot on plush Malabar Hill has been handed over to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

Close on the banks of the Arabian Sea, Jinnah House is expected to usher in a new chapter in SAARC cooperation.

The three-storey bungalow, replete with marble floorings, elegant woodwork and lush gardens, was built in 1936-39 under the personal supervision of Jinnah and designed by architect Claude Blakey.

The house is historic -- it has played host to several dignitaries, including the Queen of England, Jawaharhal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Subash Chandra Bose and many others.

The landmark talks to discuss separation were also held here between Jinnah and Gandhi in 1944 and later between Jinnah and Bose on trifurcation.

But Jinnah himself when in residence had meant the house to be an open forum for the exchange of ideas and the generation of new concepts, His Parsi wife Ruttie had hosted many an elegant gathering here.

Built at a princely sum of Rs 2 lakh, the lily-white building has been in disuse since 1982. For a while it had been handed over to the CPWD but has now been handed over to the ICCR.

"The new vista too, as envisaged by ICCR, will be an evolving platform to generate ideas, explore the SAARC region and look to the future," Kohli said.

"SACAC will host seminars, debates, cultural events, panel discussions and conferencing between member nations" and "no we cannot compare it with any other cultural house or venue because it will be SAARC specific," he said.

ICCR has entrusted the conceptual planning and execution of the project to the Indian National Trust for Cultural Heritage.

The house will be renovated and reconstructed wherever necessary to overcome the disrepair and neglect it has faced over the past two decades.

The plans provide for exhibition spaces to display contemporary art, an audio-visual library, a concert hall, a seminar room and cafes, says Tasneem Mehta, INTACH convernor.

SACAC is expected to be a space for the best of exchanges between artists, dignitaries, academia, and ordinary folk to imbibe the spirit of SAARC.

Nishka Ratnam in Mumbai