Meher Marfatia: Once upon a Hill Road

An arterial road in Bandra is as deep-steeped in general lore as it is in personal memory for someone who grew up on this street

I am the Resurrection and the Life’ affirms the inscription on the life-size marble statue of Christ at the entrance to St Peter’s Church in Bandra. I have just stepped out after the funeral of a Spanish priest distinguished for being the last Latin tutor in the city. Fr Peter Ribes shared sonorous nuances of this classic language in St Stanislaus (the suburbs’ first English medium school) and St Mary’s from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The Nusserwanji Ratanji Tata Agiary in Bandra is 130 years old. Pics/Tehniyat Fatima
The Nusserwanji Ratanji Tata Agiary in Bandra is 130 years old. Pics/Tehniyat Fatima

Counting over 20 exquisite stained-glass windows that cast a glow in golden slants of the soon to set summer sun, the beautiful mass done, I walk on to Hill Road. The street I grew up on is named after one of Bandra’s two hills, Mount Mary hill and Pali hill. It extends from the railway station till Mehboob Studio. The leafy lanes sprouting right from this west-east axis are clearly sainted — St Martin, St Cyril, St Paul, St Alexious, St John — while to the left run Jain Mandir Road, Boran Road, Bazar Road and Waroda Road.

St Joseph’s Convent
St Joseph’s Convent

Exactly across St Peter’s Church and Stanislaus School stands my alma mater St Joseph’s. The red brick convent run by Daughters of the Cross nuns boasts a sparkling roster: painter Papri Bose, actress Dimple Kapadia, the Bredmeyers (models Anna, Ulrika, Indira), journo-celeb sisters Malavika Sangghvi and Devika Bhojwani, lawyer turned activist Dilbur Parakh and Frene Ginwala, former Speaker of the National Assembly of Parliament in South Africa.

St Peter’s Church in Bandra
St Peter’s Church in Bandra

Cheap Jack and Pinky Pat were treasure troves. We grabbed their stationery split seconds before the bell rang opposite these Bohri shops, flying across the road barely in time to tail assembly lines. Our history teacher greeted new Parsi students with interesting localese. First, that the walls enclosing St Andrew’s Church compound were built thanks to a donation from Maneckjee Sorabjee Ashburner in 1862 — we were even trotted out to see this recorded on a slab at the main gate. Next, that Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy constructed a flight of steps from the foot of Mount Mary to the north side of the basilica known as “Degrados de Bomanjee” (Steps of Bomanjee).

If Catholic girls knelt in the school chapel, I didn’t have too far to go. Oasis-like, the Nusserwanji Ratanji Tata Agiary has welcomed the community for 130 years. The Zarathushtra image on its stained glass panel depicting the prophet between Edwardian motifs once graced Tata Palace. As kids my brother and I raced to buy fragrant sandalwood sticks from the quaint Dickensian shop curiously embedded in the fire temple’s outer wall.

A childhood haunt yet faces the agiary. Happy Books, so easily a second home where we stuck noses in pages for as long as we liked. The mother ship in Colaba was rocked by spicy controversy in the 1960s. Held for stocking copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, that bold bookseller had a choice: a fine of Rs 20 or a week in prison.

Somewhere between my school and bookshop the same dusty banks still see customers file in. And the counters of our favourite chemist continue to democratically dispense both allopathic and homoeopathic remedies. Amit Chaudhuri’s poem, Bandra Medical Stores, describes how “branches purled and knitted shadows” around the Nair family’s tree-shaded pharmacy.

From the original gems, New Talkies is rudely replaced by a giant Marks and Spencer hugging a prime corner of the road. Made members of its Sunday Picture Club, we learnt to love movie madness that’s lasted happily lifelong.

Food as much on our minds then as well as today, we’ve savoured it all, from MacRonell’s confectioners to Lucky biryani. Not forgetting the meatiest kebabs in Casbah and the best cart pani puri at Elco Arcade, elevated to posh restaurant avatar now.

Other typical attractions abounded. I’d hate missing the evening sight of a uniformed lamplighter slowing his bicycle to a stop at every post he lit with a tall rod... Flocks of goats herded en masse en route the abattoir near the station... and down the length of our stretch of asphalt trundled the small van with “Music grows where Maurice goes” painted on its walls — a hat tip to Maurice Concessio’s band few functions were a hit
without hiring.

The street name changing to Ramdas Nayak Marg meant nothing. Hill Road was and always will stay simply that. “Know where you come from, then you will know yourself,” Fr Ribes had often said. In Latin this sounds
profoundly pitch-perfect. “Noverim te, noverim me — May I know you, may I know myself.”

Write in to Meher at: mehermarfatia@gmail.com

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