The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jinnah House for Saarc, not Pak

Mumbai, Jan. 30: The race is finally over for Pakistan.

After over half a century of dispute, requests and appeals, the historical Jinnah House will finally belong neither to Islamabad nor to Dina Wadia, Jinnah’s estranged daughter and Bombay Dyeing boss Nusli Wadia’s mother.

The 70-year-old real estate goldmine has been the bone of contention between the two for years with Dina writing to the Indian government and requesting that the property be handed over to her.

Now in a diplomatic masterstroke, Delhi has decided to turn the spectacular 2.5-acre villa overlooking the Arabian Sea in the Malabar Hills area into an art and cultural centre for Saarc nations.

“We expect the centre to be thrown open to the public on August 15 this year to coincide with India’s 60th anniversary celebrations,” Sanjeev Kohli, deputy director, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), told agencies today.

The hub would be called the South Asian Centre for Arts and Culture and would be one of its kind in South Asia.

The villa, which was the official residence of the British deputy high commissioner, is currently held by the ICCR.

“Jinnah House is in a dilapidated state right now, but it is still a magnificent structure. Restoration work will begin from February,” said Tasneem Mehta, convener of Indian National Trust for Cultural Heritage (Intach), which has been entrusted with conceptual planning and execution of the project.

A source in Intach’s Delhi headquarters said they were informed about the Jinnah House project last December.

But earlier this month, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee gave nothing away when he talked about Jinnah House during his visit to Pakistan.

“I am fully aware of the sentiments of the people of Pakistan in regard to Jinnah House and I respect this sentiment. We are fully aware of the issue and we will try to resolve the issue as expeditiously as possible,” he had said.

Having fanned Pakistan’s hopes, the latest decision could ruffle a few feathers.

The restoration will be overseen by Mumbai architect Sam Kapadia. “We have to begin at the beginning. The house that has always been painted white has spectacular mosaic inlay work which I propose to keep.

“All three storeys have exquisite marble flooring. The elegant woodwork is in bad shape, but we will try to restore as much as we can. And we will revive the lush garden surrounding the house.”

Built in 1936-39 under Jinnah’s personal supervision and designed by architect Claude Blakey, Jinnah House had fallen into disrepair since controversy erupted over it.

“It… will have exhibition spaces, an audio-visual library, a concert hall, an open air performance area, a seminar room and a café,” Intach convener Mehta said.

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