No one visiting Bandra now could ever imagine what it was like 60 years ago. Today it is a non-stop party, pulsating through the night, choc a bloc with ritzy boutiques and eateries, one pricier than the other. But the Bandra in which I grew up was a sleepy hollow, where the only excitement was the annual Mount Mary Fair.
We would be in a tizzy of excitement as the day grew nearer, and finally our ayahs would escort my sister Aparajita and me to the fair, keeping a tight grip on our paws, and a watchful eye on us lest we get lost in the crowd. Colourful stalls lined the steps, but all we wanted was the bilious pink candy floss and the soap bubbles one could blow through a wire hoop. What bliss!
We lived on Mount Mary Road, lined with handsome bungalows on either side. All the families knew each other, so much so that our neighbour Uncle Madhavdas Mody would do his entire socialising simply standing at his front gate, exchanging pleasantries with all who passed by. In the evening he would reposition himself at the gate and get an update on their day.
We kids got together in the evening to play the now extinct hop scotch and catching cook. My father had installed a large swing and a slide in our garden, and inevitably all our friends landed up at our place. And on the weekends we went to Bandstand armed with jam jars to collect tadpoles. It was an innocent and idyllic childhood.
When I was a kid all our shopping was done in Dadar or Colaba because there were no suitable shops here. But for us there were two shops that mattered back then.
One was Borees, a veritable cornucopia of multicoloured lozenges temptingly arranged in glass jars, and cleverly placed at eye level because one had to stand on the street virtually with our noses against the glass counter to make our purchases.
Several years later I realised that the etymology of the name devolved from the venerable bearded shop keeper who was was a Bori Muslim. Borees is now a trio of shops, one called Cheap Jack, which is a misnomer.
The other favourite shop was a confectionery called Mac Ronells. It drew people from all over Bombay because they created the most amazing birthday cakes. One could ask for any shape or theme and they would produce works of art.
Alas it died an untimely death in the ’70s but not before Rosie Thomas, an English student of anthropology, studying the Hindi film industry as her subject (I am not kidding) ordered a cake in the shape of a blue swimming pool, with a diving board, and a demure maiden in a red one piece bathing suit poised on the edge of the board.
Rosie informed me dead pan that the maiden was Hema Malini. Both the shops were on Hill Road which was a peaceful thoroughfare at that time, a far cry from the nightmare it is today.
There was one more major attraction on Hill Road. Our somewhat worse for wear neighbourhood movie theatre — New Talkies with tattered red seats, whirring fans overhead, and friendly mice playing leap frog over our feet.
But we loved the place, and the four anna packet of potato crisps and the choco bar ice cream that were a non negotiable part of the treat. From the balcony of the theatre, one could see S D Burman’s home in the distance, a white bungalow with red trimmings called The Jet.
It was on Linking Road opposite the Khar Telephone Exchange. It is hard to believe that I have actually seen a Linking Road with no buildings at all. Just shows how old I am!
Bandra was considered the boondocks by the SoBo crowd in my youth. I remember sometime in the early ’80s a SoBo lady visiting our home for the first time declared that she felt unwell whenever she crossed Worli.
How the tables have turned! SoBo has become moribund, and all the young millennials from there come to party through the night in our ubercool and trendy suburb. In fact, Time Out declared Bandra as one of the 15 coolest neighbourhoods in the world.
I don’t need Time Out’s endorsement. I was born here and have lived all 65 years of my life here. I wouldn’t settle for any less. Bandra was always known as the Queen of the Suburbs. If one considers the Bandra of my childhood as Queen Victoria, then the Bandra of today has got to be none other than Freddy Mercury.