“Madam, come to this side, please... we are serving hot kathi kebabs,” the request from one of caretakers at the Kebab stall — one of the countless kiosks lined along the approach to Mount Mary’s Church steps, had taken me by surprise. After all, it was 8.30 am on a muggy Saturday morning, hardly the time to indulge in what looked like artificially coloured kebabs. Only a stray dog sauntering by the sidewalk seemed visibly interested in the goings-on in that sooty enclave.
It was the weekend before the hugely popular Mount Mary’s Fair to coincide with Mother Mary’s birthday celebrations, would come to an end. Having been a regular visitor to this iconic mention on Mumbai’s multi-faith calendar as a child, this visit, after nearly two decades, had quite a few surprises in store. The approach resembled a ‘fun’ fair -- the kind that is a familiar sight at the Bandra Reclamation nearby, with little or no semblance of the piety and real reason that one associates with this celebration. Young couples in search of some ‘timepass’; shady elements masquerading as beggars, lepers and their ilk and open violations including littering, cooking on the pavements, poor barricading and slack policing along this stretch meant it was reduced to a pale shadow of its earlier, sanitised avatars.
Apart from stalls dishing out all kinds of kebabs, savouries and Mumbai snacks (the lesser said about hygiene standards the better), makeshift carts were selling jewelry, clothes, accessories, bags – it resembled a shoddier, down scaled version of Hill Road. Gone were the days when groundnuts, peanuts and pink flossy candy made up for the menu while aiming to shoot at plastic yellow ducks for a grand prize of a rickety toy engine accounted for the thrill factor at the Bandra Fair. Not anymore. As we grew to discover that morning en route to the church, the sights and sounds were an aberration, an eyesore and a dismal reminder of how commercialisation hadn’t spared this event as well.
Jaded, we hope for some karmic intervention ahead. Rather magically, inside the church’s environs, the entire din seemed to have been left behind. It was a remarkable sight, this. People across faiths, were seen lost in deep prayer – one of the last few reminders of the multi-faith tinged fabric of our city – an identity, we hope, is never lost. Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Parsis were rubbing shoulders with Christians in a terrific frame of equality, no caste, creed or religion seemed to differentiate the sea of humanity. Countless offerings were probably made, challenging vows might have been wished for and miracles might have been prayed for amid an unspeakable calmness that had pervaded the space despite the numbers who moved around the space in amazing clockwork.
That’s the Mumbai that we are proud of – and we hope, will always be. Organised chaos, a potpourri of people, and a spirit that keeps its unique, multi-hued identity intact: Mumbai could do with so much of this good karma.
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY