“Mariiinaaa! Coming down to plaaay?” I screamed... many, many years ago, to a friend who stayed in the same building as I did in Bandra. “Not now Men” she screamed back, “I have to help my mother with the cooking!”
My thoughts floated back to the way her “Mai” would arrange the masalas in a thali, painstakingly grind them in a stone mortar, my mouth watered while I waited... for the most delectable Mangalorean curry on the planet.
Besides my friends in the neighbourhood, I also had many at school and college, whose ma’s and mum’s fed me their fantastic best. Though many of them have since moved, the aromas and tastes of those biryanis, rechads, dhansaks, balchows, rajmahs, mince rolls, kadis, samosas, puddings, cakes and halwas will remain with me forever. Their authenticity, the effort that went into their making and the warmth with which they were shared, made these dishes and their tastes unforgettable.
Those who cooked and shared were thus the culinary heroes of Bandra... long before the rise of commercial eateries on the scene.
Simultaneously, Bandra itself began growing in popularity, on account of its diverse ethnic culture, quaint old houses, relaxing sea-lapped borders, peaceful tree-lined lanes, great educational options and inter & intra community cohesiveness.
While each of the many communities residing in Bandra contributed wonderfully to the overall ethos of Bandra, I especially recall the congenial nature of the then sizable Catholic community being infectious.
It was Parish priests in those days that constantly used the term “Bandra Boy/Girl” in reference to children or youth who grew up in Bandra. A “Bandraite” on the other hand was anyone who had chosen to make it their home or place of business... at any point in their lives.
Going back to our story, the numerous ethnic flavours my palette was exposed to in those days, served me well through life, as a benchmark of what good food was about. Along the way, I also realised that the culture of impromptu meal invitations greatly contributed to the already diverse culinary interests of its inhabitants. Like my friends and I, most Bandraites were exposed to this culinary dynamism and social ethos for many decades before and after my experience.
Further, the many Bandra residents who worked aboard ships and aircraft contributed greatly to what they learnt from their international destinations. They brought back loads of money and ideas which they hoped to have carried out locally. Bandra restaurateurs and caterers rose to this need slowly but surely and a culture of diverse culinary fare began becoming available in a commercial format over the last couple of decades.
To cater to the challenging demands of such palettes, eateries began cropping up and their numbers grew. Each one was strongly critiqued by residents till they either improved or shut down. Bandraites over time became food mavens i.e. opinion leaders on food. Many from outside Bandra began considering it as a haven of food alternatives, which added to its already growing reputation.
With growth of course comes change!
Many of the young uns I grew up with have moved away – the pristine shores of Australia, cool weather of the US and Canada, Oil dollars of the UAE and farms of New Zealand beckoned. They left to discover newly subtle taste buds and a fondness for Sushi. But even today when they return for summer break we reminisce and sometimes taste the old flavours we grew up on – the coconut curries, the bombil fries, pickles from Aunty Marie, aam-papad from the Bandra fair, the mince rolls, the bohri biryanis, the pav-vada on the street outside school, pani-puri now made with mineral water for their gentle tummies to digest!
The baton passed from some of its oldest Bandra residents like the kolis to some of its more recent ones like expats. Hanging out at Carter Road and wild parties happened then and happen even now but going fishing at Bandstand and jiving at “socials” at the September garden of the Mount Mary feast gave way to playstation games and the coffee shop culture.
Many people who came in from “out-of-town”, felt connected with Bandra or sensed something special about it. Associating with Bandra became aspirational. Those who wanted a piece of the action and could afford it... executives, celebrities, collegians... became Bandraites.
With the great influx of many new people came the demands of replacing bungalows with buildings, widening roads, changing educational institutes & places of worship etc. With this, came the fear of Bandra not being what it used to be... and it is true that it isn’t, though its vibrancy still remains... at least so far.
The truth is that today’s urban lifestyle rarely permits its residents the time to build deep relationships as in the past. Like every Bandraite, my wish for Bandra is to retain its magic with all its change.
I ask that old residents remember that it is in their suburb’s culture to be accommodative and that its roots are certainly strong enough to absorb the change of the new and merge it with the old. I also ask that new residents make the effort to try and understand how they could carry on the Bandra-style neighbourhood connect from the old residents; rather than simply look at their newly acquired homes as trophies through which they can exercise their legal rights and demand for change. In this way, residents both old and new will succeed in earning one another’s trust and respect and realise the immense mutual gain of living in harmony, both for themselves as well as for the generations to come.
My other wish, for the food in Bandra is to bring back some of its lost traditional glory.
“Hey Marina, I’m organising a potluck with some new friends from LA who now live in Bandra. Hoping you can still remember how to make Mai’s delicious curry that I’ve raved so much to them about?”