I travelled to Mumbai on work in March and chose to stay in Bandra. For the unacquainted, Bandra is a trendy, cosmopolitan coastal suburb in Mumbai and usually a convenient place to be based at. There are restaurants at every corner, gyms, spas, hip boutiques and weekly farmer’s markets. There are also pubs, clubs and promenades by the sea. With this constant liveliness it’s easy to miss the restful, colonial Portuguese houses that still dot the area, each standing aloof as if in fragile defiance to the current scene. The focus of my visit to Mumbai was the ongoing work at our sites, but as I settled into life in Bandra it became difficult to resist the pull of this anachronistic world.
I began spending mornings and late evenings strolling around Bandra’s smaller lanes and discovered comforting, languid, coastal scenes among the bustle. Some are featured here, others up on Instagram or Facebook. The better maintained homes are usually leased to members from the Catholic community by the Salsette Catholic Cooperative Housing Society. The more run-down ones housed people who couldn’t afford their upkeep, were under litigation or had been sold to developers.
The older residents of Bandra told me that it was different before the developers took over– the doors were kept open, neighbours known, walls low, the skyline free and the atmosphere easy. It’s the story one hears almost everywhere in urban India today– of the sudden redefinition of the cultural and urban environment of middle class neighbourhoods. Homes that were previously designed by families and architects have been reconstructed into high rises by developers. Apart from the obvious social changes, this exchange has seen gardens and green spaces replaced with concrete on almost every square inch.
Of the colonial Portuguese homes that had been abandoned and awaited demolition in Bandra, it was the small ones that left a lasting impression. Like an empty cottage that lay on an extremely busy intersection that was barely holding together. It’s quaint wooden porch looked out onto a tiny semi- circular lawn, surrounded by beds of Spider Lillies. At one end of the garden, stood an old Frangipani tree in bloom overshadowing a waist height, wrought iron gate, it’s flowers strewn across a chevron patterned brick driveway. It stood in solitary dignity amid the noisy traffic and offered me momentary repose. I felt appreciation for its unassuming beauty and deep respect for the thought behind every aesthetic detail that had been tended with years of love.
Today, it’d take a stretch of imagination to envision what this house with the others like it and the surrounding streets might have been at their prime. Glimpses of the older Bandra may still be caught in scenes of men and women reading papers on verandahs, taking to each other across house walls, drinking their evening chai on porches or playing cards in their lawns with family and friends. Walking down the streets I’m only too aware that this too will pass, but grateful that for now it still exists, timeless and surreal.
Photos: Shivani Dogra