The lessons of living in House at 43, Hill Road
Though property is considered an asset, property under dispute can lead to a lot of losses, tangible and intangible. While many Goans have been facing the same situation as they try to preserve their ancestral property, Brenda Rodrigues has documented her family’s struggle against devious minds and authorities over her property in Bandra in her book, ‘House at 43 Hill Road’
How well does one know their family history or the tales about the ancestral home that they were brought up in? Many might be able to go back to one or two generations but Brenda Rodrigues and her husband Joe who now call Chorao home, have traced their family history to six family trees, going back till the 1700s! She was keen to know more about the house that was built by Joe’s great grandfather, Braz Rodrigues. The same house was also the reason for their court battles summing up to 71 cases in six years from, 1989 to 1994. The family history and the struggle to keep their ancestral house is beautifully documented in Brenda’s third book, ‘House at 43 Hill Road’. Though she first started writing the book in 1992, she took a break to complete her first coffee-table book ‘Lydia Brides’ on her mother-in-law, Lydia, an internationally known bridal gown designer, followed by her travelogue, ‘My Journey through Wonderlands’, a 420-page book of her visits to different places across the globe. ‘House at 43 Hill Road’ makes you go back in time to the 1800s, when the bustling city of Mumbai was nothing more than coconut and mango groves with a few houses spaced over a wide region. A non fiction book, it traces the life of aristocrat Braz Rodrigues and his family and how the movable and immovable assets of this wealthy man were divided among his children. As the third son of Braz, Dominic inherited the house that is the focus of this book, then known as House 36, Hill Road, which was later changed to House 43, Hill Road. “I had been working for more than 10-15 years to learn about the family tree. I would spend hours at the church office and the girl working there became my good friend over the years. I traced the family trees of six different families and the Henriques family tree was the biggest family tree,” says Brenda. Joe adds, “Brenda showed me the chief buttress at the Basilica of Mount Mary and told me that that is the name of my great grandfather Braz Rodrigues who built the family house on Hill Road where we live in.” The book documents how government authorities assisted land grabbers to take over the property in Bandra’s prime commercial area and how the couple had to fight it single-handedly. Speaking about book, Joe says, “The content started with Brenda writing our experiences just to get it off her chest. We wondered about what would happen to others facing the same situation. We started writing down so that others would get tips. All this was happening in the house built by my great grandfather. So it goes back to the the early generations, then to the time when we were kids and what my mother, Lydia, went through, which was really traumatic. Braz built the house but my mother gave it an international address.” He further adds, “We had trouble with our earlier tenants and we had to rely on ourselves and a power beyond us as we felt that justice was not being done. We were in the right but it was frightening how the officers not only put their weight behind the wrongdoers but openly threatened us. A lot of what we have accounted is also our personal journey to discovering ourselves, which, in turn, leads to a final unexpected conclusion, a totally miraculous ending.” Brenda shares her dismay at the lack of loyalty among authorities. “At least 20 people must have told us ‘don’t worry it will be solved’ and nothing ever happened. These people had a very heavy ministerial backing. You have to be bold with officials. Never ever get scared of them if you are in the right. They can do nothing to you. The lawyers were bribed and bought. You will see the betrayals in the book.” Brenda had started writing the book in 1992 but shelved the project until she could breathe new life into it. Ishaan Jajodia of Bombaykala Books fulfilled her dream of publishing the book. “I changed everybody’s names in the copy of the book. When Ishaan heard that I had written a book, he read a few chapters and said that he wants to publish it. He said to put in all the real names as they ought to be shamed. ‘This is investigative journalism and you have to use their real names,’ he said. But a few names of the antagonists have been changed because today we are friends through a very complicated process. It is a total miracle and they helped us a lot in the end,” says Brenda, without giving away the conclusion of the story that played an important part in their lives.
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