A Drive Through Bandra During Pandemic Time

I received this rather interesting account of a "drive-through my beloved Bandra" account written by Tanmay Joshi on 5th July 2020. I tried to ask around for Tanmay but couldn't get to him. It is quite important to record these accounts for a retrospective look of those times. Isn't it?

Today evening, I went for a drive through my beloved Bandra.

I turned on to Hill Road at the Globus junction. Hill Road didn’t have any of its weekend buzz. It bore a dreary look with most shops shuttered and only a few people up and about. The iconic Elco Pani Puri Center, where I’ve repeatedly binged on one of the finest Pani Puris in Mumbai, was silent and deserted. Onward I drove, past the vast grounds of St. Stanislaus School, eagerly awaiting its students who were cowering at home in fear of an invisible microscopic enemy. I passed by Hearsch Bakery, hidden in a nook behind a high wall. Usually, it’s impossibly crowded and serves delicious Burgers and Cutlets. Today was not the day, however. The shuttered entrance to American Express bakery, where I usually head to sate my cake cravings, went past.

I turned left after passing St. Andrew’s Church, it’s imposing structure standing tall against the gloomy cloud-laden July evening sky. This Church, one of the oldest in Mumbai, built by the first Portuguese settlers in 1575, seemed to provide a degree of reassurance. Somewhere, in some corner of my consciousness laden with the stress of the pandemic, a whisper: “I’m here – don’t worry. This too shall pass.”

I took the inner road, not the road that goes towards Bandstand. There is a rather pretty old grey building at the junction, the memory of which is affixed in my mind, because come Christmas, they always put up star lanterns of exactly the same make and colour, making for a very pretty sight. This time, however, there’d be an ominous grey in the celebrations. I passed the Damien furnishings showroom, which draws huge crowds come Christmas, for their beautiful Santa decorations.

I took the roundabout next to Mehboob Studio and ran into my first Police blockade at Goodluck Restaurant. I rolled down the window half a centimetre, the cop next to the car all masked up and standing a safe distance away, beads of perspiration dotting the poor guy’s forehead, a reminder of the impossible hours they put in during these times of the COVID 19 Pandemic.

“What happened?”

The cop gesticulated to roll down the window further. Times are such that even something as innocuous as rolling down the window to talk to somebody also is stressful. I obliged and rolled down about an inch of the glass.

“Where are you going? Do you live here?”

“No, I’m going to Mount Mary”.

“Is the Church Open”? The cop wasn’t sure.

“Yeah, there’s an open structure across the street, even if the Church itself is closed”

“Okay, Go”.

He waved me forward.

I drove up the steep spiralling road on to the road that leads to Mount Mary, perhaps the most beautiful Church in Bandra. To my left, I saw a staircase descending the hill. This was, until recently a dump. The locals renovated it, got in some architects to redesign the place, lit it up, built an amphitheatre halfway down. I’ve attended merry gatherings this past winter. Seen dance and music performances by local artists, have had Kabir frolicking about, on the steps. Today, however, there was nothing – the steps stood morose, wet, and soggy and dark in the gathering dusk.

Pandemic or no pandemic, nothing can take away the sense of peace that one feels upon gazing at the twin structures of Mount Mary – the Church itself to the left, and an open spiral staircase going up to a statue of Mother Mary on the right. The entire scene is so beautiful, with the soft yellow lights and the candles lit all around. Fortunately, this scene remained unchanged today except for perhaps thinner crowds.

I rounded the bend, took a right on to Kane Road, steeply descending towards the Bandstand promenade with the sea stretching out to the horizon.

The Bandstand promenade was almost empty apart from a few stray masked joggers. There was heavy police presence to avoid crowds building up.

Back again on Hill Road, I took the left at St. Andrew’s Church and headed towards the other sea-facing promenade that Bandra Khar is blessed with – Carter Road.

The maze of lanes between Hill Road and Turner Road forms ‘The Salsette Catholic Cooperative Housing Society’, a group of 199 plots in Bandra West, formed in 1918 to provide affordable housing to members of the Roman Catholic Community back then. There are many a time, when I’ve wandered endlessly through these lanes, both by car and by foot, just soaking in the old-world charm and the history behind the area. Some plots now house modern apartments, but many original bungalows are still intact. This time too, the ride through this historic precinct was a joyful one.

As I turned on to Carter Road, I had but gone a short distance, when I was forced to turn right at the Carter Road Police Station, the road further being blockaded by the Police.

As I climbed up the hill, the familiar narrow lane beckoned me, with its dense tree cover letting almost no light filter through.

In Bandra (like in Venice), the best activity is to get lost. There are so many unexplored nooks and crannies here, that you never know when you’ll be surprised. Every time I lose myself in this maze of narrow streets, I discover something new.

I remember that day a few years ago when I chanced upon a pretty café here called ‘The Bagel Shop’. On any given day, it has an easy-going ambience and a casual vibe. Instead of the usual tables and chairs, it’s actually more like a bungalow with two rooms, with folks sipping their coffee, enjoying bagels or the odd Salads, with their dogs by their side. It’s a beautiful place. Today, however, all that was gone.

I wandered the streets for a few more minutes, during which I ended up coming out on Carter Road again and being forced to take a U-Turn.

Eventually, I went up Pali Hill, and took Nargis Dutt Road, descending towards Ambedkar Road via the insanely steep Zig-Zag Road, and finally headed home, stopping at a pharmacy on the way.

Bandra truly is the ‘Queen of the Suburbs’. She has everything for a modern, comfortable, and very active social life. From trendy bars that jump out at you as you drive down Linking Road to the quiet vegan Café, tucked into a lane so narrow that you can never find it unless you’re specifically looking for it! She’s deeply spiritual, she’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, yet she assimilates all of us seamlessly into her open arms and warm bosom. She has not sprung up overnight like so many neighbourhoods in this city. From the East Indian settlements south of Hill Road to the 400-year-old St. Andrew’s Church, she carries the weight of history with pride. From Nana-Nani parks to children’s play areas, from street performances during the Bandra Fest in October to Music Concerts in the Open-Air Amphitheatre at Lands’ End, she has it all.

She’s down with COVID-19 right now, the spark all but extinguished.

But make no mistake, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, she will rise again!

Bandra will rise again!

We will rise again!

- Tanmay Joshi

(Written based on actual experiences during a drive through Bandra on the evening of 5th July 2020)

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