Suburbs of Bandra in Mumbai offer a unique mix of rustic heritage villages and the glamor of Bollywood. On one hand, there are Gaonthans – as the villages of Mumbai were called and the Koli community that still holds on to some parts of this island. On the other hand are migrants who became the marquee residents of Bandra. This time in Mumbai Deepa Krishnan of Mumbai Magic took me around Bandra. Sharing stories of her business and showing me a bit of Bandra. I discovered a Mumbai I had never known.
We met at the Elco market on Hill road and began our journey with a sumptuous Pani Puri – now can there be a better way to begin a walk. Went to the market that sells women’s garments – right from comfortable night wear to embellished party wear. For a change, I felt like shopping but then gave up the idea in favor of a guided walk. For another half, an hour both Deepa and I kept clicking pictures of roadside shops and interesting window displays. I clicked a few pictures of smallest format retail where a vendor carries the shop literally with him or her. In Bandra, I saw many children doing that too and no they were not distressed. They were quite enjoying themselves, making fun of people and interacting with them in a way only children can.
Street art in Bandra, Mumbai
After having a fill of bustling bazaars, we were in the heritage area of Bandra – that still looks like a village. It suddenly cuts you off from the buzz of a metropolitan city. The high-rise buildings give way to tastefully done houses. You can admire the design of a grill or an unusual staircase or a railing that has clues to the times it belongs. We stopped at a quirkily designed café. I was told many such up-market coffee shops and restaurants are coming up in Bandra making it a happening place for the younger lot. The crowd across the window of the café and inside the café presented a juxtaposition that is so unique to India.
Crosses dotting the streets of villages in Bandra reminded me of Goa – the narrow lanes crisscrossing and marking the corners with a cross. I was told that a lot of these crosses came up during a plague epidemic that hit the area in last decade of 19th CE. Historically the Portuguese were the first ones to come to this island. Churches like Mount Mary were set up by them.
In the ancient times, this island was called Vandra and later aberrations made it Bandora, Banderam etc. Till it was christened as Bandra in late 19th CE – for a rail project. I think railways deserves a special mention for naming quite a few Indian places that had no fixed spellings to their names. We spent some time at the St Andrews church reading the family epitaphs and wondering how do the families fit in under a small slab. This church is supposed to be one of the oldest living churches in Mumbai with an oldest wooden cross gracing its garden.
Anecdote linking Bandra Island
An interesting anecdote tells the story of the construction of Mahim Causeway that first linked the Bandra Island to the mainland Mumbai. Lady Avabai Jamsetji Jeejibhoy was a mother of many sons and she wanted a daughter. She was told that if she prays at Mount Mary Church, her wish would be fulfilled. Avabai took a boat and with great difficulty managed to reach the island for her wish. I was intrigued by the wish for a daughter in this son-obsessed country. And then by Avabai’s resolve to do anything to get a daughter. She resolved that if her wish were fulfilled, no one else would have to take a boat to come to the island. Legend is that her wish was fulfilled and she got the Mahim causeway built.
I am not sure how many Mumbaikars, who use the causeway every day; know that it was built as a result of a ‘Wish for a Daughter’ being fulfilled. It is also one of the few public roads in India built by a private person and that too a woman. Tells me something about the empowerment women had to invest in projects closer to their hearts.
Bollywood Art at Bandra
On the walls of Bandra, I discovered Ranjit Dahiya’s BAP aka Bollywood Arts project. That aims to make Bollywood a part of the visual culture of Bandra and I ask why not rest of Mumbai too. There was Madhubala in her quintessential pose, there was a poster of Anarkali and two iconic images of Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. Every time I have bustled through the crowds of Mumbai – I felt that this city should be left to Bollywood and everyone else should move out, they could work anywhere. While looking at the classic Bollywood posters painted on the walls I realized that Bollywood remains hidden behind its nondescript studios and is hardly a part of popular culture of the city it calls home.
I did a bit of reading on Bollywood Arts Project and realized that besides having a passion for literally painting the walls, there is so much more you need to make it a reality. I am wondering why none of the billionaire Bollywood personalities have come forth so far to fund this project. It would be a change for them but would mean so much for the city. And in the process, they are just contributing to celebrating their own industry and its icons.
We ended the walk by admiring the latest Mumbai marker. Bandra-Worli sea link from ramparts of ancient Bandra Fort, next to the bandstand.
If you have 2 hours or so to walk around Bandra, choose to explore one or more of following.
- Shopping in the flashy markets
- Old houses with their architectural elements
- Graffiti on the walls
- Go hunting for BAP murals on walls and see how many you can discover
- Go Church hopping
- Visit the Koli villages
- Stop by at the trendy Cafes to recharge
Thank you, Deepa for this lovely walk. Hope to do more walks with you and your magical tours.
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Mumbai.