It Ain’t Christmas if it isn’t in Bandra!
Come Christmas time I commit the sin of envy. I stroll the cobbled streets of Bandra drenched in the drizzle of fairy lights, drinking in the stars of Bethlehem and wish I had been born in one of the old East Indian homes, their intricate and ornamented architecture a bewitching Indo - Portuguese – Colonial medley. I imagine what the tree inside must look like. It is towering spectacle, of course. Bedecked with ornaments handed down from mothers to daughters through the generations – silvery, gold, shimmery red, blue and green stars, gold reindeers, ribbons of gold tissue, jolly candy canes, holly and mistletoe – all of which have been hibernating, wrapped in tissue paper for 11 months, to be lovingly brought out when December makes its cool entrance, cool and crisp, like Dean Martin singing Baby, It’s Cold Outside.
It’s nowhere near cold of course. It’s balmy and sweet this time of year. I walk with friends through Bandra’s quaintly named streets village-ward – Ranwar, Chuim, Chimbai. These are the names that have registered. I soak in the atmosphere. Tightly knit lanes, homes cheek by jowl. It feels to me like a scene out of West Side Story. I could walk here forever. I have no shame – I am as touristy as it gets looking around and peering with such earnestness. I can feel the intimacy of a community. People who’ve known each other since childhood, whose grandparents were friends and genealogical histories are as familiar as family recipes. The lights aren’t on and I am disappointed. We reach a village “square” – it is literally the size of a modest living room with chairs arranged in neat rows – for a performance at some point in time. I wonder out loud why the lights aren’t on and in response a man darts out from a house on the other side of the square and calls out: “You want the lights? Just a minute. I’ll put them on in a minute.” I am too taken aback to say anything and just stand there. The man crosses the square and flips on a light switch attached to a boundary wall along the lane I’m standing on. The village lights up. It’s a Christmas miracle. Every lane is a twinkling, dazzling, jewelled celebration. Just like that. The way one puts on the living room lights. The man dusts off his hands and goes back inside while we stand there, laughing, delighted, gawping like children.
I have heard venerable names of old families: Fernandes, Almeida, Fonseca. Names as stately as the great merchant ships that carried them here hundreds and hundreds of years ago over the seas to reach the land of spices. They are owners and gatekeepers of a colourful, rich culture that’s been coursing through generations with stories, personalities, events. Unknown to me, to the rest of us. There is nothing I would like more than to sit across a Christmas table and hear these tales, partake of traditional Christmas meals of roast pork, roast chicken with stuffing, vinadaloo, steak and kidney pies, plum pudding and boozy Christmas cake.
Bandra at Christmas is a never ending gift box. Correction. It is that any time. And at Christmas there’s more, more than never ending. It is a jewel in Bombay’s glorious crown. So much to see, eat, experience. There are the bazaars of Veronica Road, the peeping grottoes, sculpted crucifixes, hipster restaurants, storied landmarks, majestic churches, the happy throngs progressing towards midnight mass soothed by the brotherhood and joyous calm peculiar to Christmas.
So come. Faithful or not. And soak up the romance of this charming neighbourhood, this wonderfully peopled, alive place. And have yourself a merry little Christmas.
-By Malini Aikat