A Christmas Story: There's no place like Bandra
Bandra serves up a little bit of itself in myriad ways—its old residents, the bakeries, the old signages, the cottages and cats… not to forget how the suburb and its villages light up for Christmas
If the essence of a city can be captured in a few leafy bylanes and warm smiles, Bandra would be it. Like Bombay, Bandra is an emotion too.
My connection with this suburb pre-dates the hip neighbourhood it has become— to a time when I walked through the Saint Peter’s Church football field and out through a narrow lane on the other side to a quaint village nestled in Waroda Road. These visits to my grandma were punctuated by the aromas of potato chops being fried, and the sounds of mothers in their verandas, ordering their kids to run errands or warning them to stop playing and come back in time to eat ‘hot-hot food’. The occasional sow with eight piglets in tow added to the milieu.
Uncles trundling by on their scooters, aunties walking home from the bazaar—all of them would smile. Something as simple as who had right of way was a conversation starter. It didn’t take much for someone to offer you something to eat in Bandra. I remember one uncle who would offer me a hot dog every time we bumped into him. (By the way, no fancy sausage filling comes close to a Bandra bakery ‘red-mince’ filling.) The offer would almost always be followed by his recounting how smartly he planned ahead and left mass surreptitiously, two minutes into the recessional hymn from a side door, so that he could make it in time to the bakery before the others cleaned the shelves out. The fact that he could part with such a hard-won hot dog made him my childhood hero. And obviously he was called Hot Dog Bert.
Everyone in Bandra has a nickname. Sometimes it replaces the person’s actual name over time, and it’s totally okay. Oh the stories of Duffer Danny, Lamboo Shawn and the Fighter Sisters. Nicknames here are painfully, amusingly accurate, and are accepted without any hard feelings (so refreshing in the woke times we live in). How else will the neighbours differentiate one John from the third?
Before ‘bro’, there was, and thankfully still is, ‘men’. Attached in good measure to the end of most sentences, it exemplifies Bandra English. A unique lingo, which is, without a doubt, a curtain-raiser to the disarming nature of this suburb-by-the-sea.
“Are you ‘lisning’ or wot, men?”
Bandra’s residents are still just simple folk with big hearts. If you walk into its neighbourhoods and get to know them, there’s an instant sense of a more carefree time. And that is old magic.
Today, it is repeatedly rated as one of the trendiest places to be, what with all the events and restaurants that keep popping up. But the vegan lattes, the hipsters, the coolerthan-my-sneakers cafes, the wall art, the influencers… all of it exists simply because Bandra is a place that has always given individuals and ideologies something that is in rather short supply these days—acceptance!
But who’s doing this accepting? Largely, the Catholics of Bandra. As a culture, they value community, and despite a proclivity to harmless gossiping, they are open-minded.
During feast days and Christmas, the true spirit of Bandra shines. The construction of high-rises creates dust storms on all sides, but the lights are sparkling and the cheer is apparent. The bungalows gleam with decorations. There is a festive air, and the greetings of the old- timers and relatives from abroad, who make their annual visits back ‘home’ to Bandra, fills the streets. Walk into the village and church bazaars around this time and the creativity of the community catches your eye. Handmade ornaments. Upcycled bottle lights. Pretty crochet toys. Not to mention, the excellent food.
At the recent Bandra feast (a week-long celebration of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Mount Mary’s Basilica in September), I met the neighbourhood’s food vendors who add so much personality to the festivities with their fiery choriz pavs, friendly faces, and great sense of humour. “Don’t have change? Give me tomorrow, men baba. Where I’m going, you eat now.”
But how can they be so trusting, I think to myself sometimes. Not a moment of wariness about ‘where I’m going’, even when they’ve met a person for the first time. And the way they give you the food that they have cooked, it’s not a business transaction like other food carts—they’re serving up a little bit of their story too.
Entire families help these ladies of the house who slave through the night to bring delicious snacks for devotees after church. They work hard, and smile even harder. Putting their kids through college with their cooking. Bandra’s little pockets of Bazaar Road, Chapel Road, Ranwar and Waroda Road have always had these tiffin-makers, who supply delicious meals to so many homes. There is something very beautiful about the way these ladies use such a basic lifeskill as cooking food to feed and nourish so many families and, in turn, their own. It fills my heart to see them, and if I spot their stalls at any of the local fairs, it’s a bagful of goodies for dinner that night.
Bandra’s aunties, and some uncles too, have what is known as ‘the hand’, when it comes to cooking. They love to eat and feed. And much before the home-chef craze of today, tattered phone books would be opened in Catholic homes across the city, and orders for pan-rolls, vindaloo and milk cream would be placed with these popular providers, weeks in advance. I’ve known friends who moved to Bandra vegetarian, and now have Sunday sorpotel lunches for their friends who visit from ‘outside’. Acceptable behaviour in Bandra? Without a doubt.
Hordes of people want to move to this suburb for many reasons—the celebrity address, the young vibe, the fantastic sea views. It is home to so many rented Bandra dreams.
For me, it’s partly my childhood and partly this ‘happening’. A few Decembers ago, some typical Bandra ‘buggers’—a couple of Parsis, some East Indians and some Goans blocked off a main street to sing carols. We got out of our car because we couldn’t drive through and walked down the lit-up street. The joie de vivre of this bunch was infectious. One minute we were watching them sing, the next, we were interlocking elbows with them and belting out ‘Feliz Navidad’. Beers were shared and croquettes and choriz planted in our hands. No questions asked. In fact, when they learnt of our intention to make Bandra our permanent home, phones were removed from pockets, calls were made and we found ourselves with an appointment to meet one of their builder friends, and an invitation to a Christmas dinner. The magic of Bandra, displayed in ten minutes flat!
Could this happen in any other part of the city? As an inhabitant, and lover, of this crazy suburb, I can confidently say—“No bleddy way men!”
Denise D’Silva is a Bandra-based award-winning advertising writer, author, food and travel columnist, and culture raconteur. All this when she isn’t teaching people how to pronounce her name (Din- knees)
Photos: Prasanna Sankhe, Sameer Zagade, Sushant Anikhindi