Back in the 1990s, it was easy to imagine Bandra as a slower, gentler, sleepier side of this giant throbbing metropolis. As a myth to live by, it was a good one
An aerial view of Jogger’s Park at the end of Carter Road in the early 2000s. Pic/Rane Ashish
Soon after my parents moved to Bandra in the mid-80s, I visited them one January. We had never lived there, so neither they nor I knew the suburb well. But my father, I found, had been doing some legwork. One morning, he yanked me from my bed, saying "Let's go for a walk! I want to show you Bandra." I grumbled, but there was no deterring him. I grabbed my trusty Contax camera and we set off.
It was a charming outing, and not just because it was the first time in a while that he and I had spent that long together. There was plenty to see and savour. For many years, I held on to the little sheaf of photographs from that morning. I would pull it out every now and then and look at them, or show them to friends. Somehow, they made me conscious of a time and place that was slipping away, that these images had managed to capture a slice of.
There was a shot of the City Centre boutique on the slope of Pali Hill. It looked smart and chic, with mannequins staring out at me from the windows, simultaneously slightly stern and slightly comic. There was a shot of a verandah on a corner deep in Sherly village - a typical Bandra verandah, jutting out from the house so that the road curved around it. On this mid-80s day, a few young men stood there playing foosball with gusto, and one turned to me as I stopped to aim my camera, bent nearly double with laughter at the fun of it all.
There was a shot of a wall dividing two somewhat overgrown properties in the heart of Ranwar. Perched on the wall, a small wooden sign with three scrawled words: "The Other Side".
Never figured that out.
On that long-ago walk with my father that also doesn't seem so long ago, Bandra was like that. Homegrown whimsy everywhere. The laughter and camaraderie you find only in leafy neighborhoods where homes open not onto a landing but onto the street. A certain lassitude, a lack of urgency because who was in a hurry anyway?
Caveats apply, of course. I was then just a visitor, and even my family was still new to the area. I didn't know too many people there, but I have no doubt plenty of Bandra-wallahs were in a hurry and lived accordingly. Still, I liked to think otherwise. Because I kept finding reason to, whether in foosball games or odd signs or something else. I mean, there was once that I was out on a walk on Carter Road and lost my wallet. Three days later, it arrived in the mail, courtesy some anonymous Bandra benefactor.
In those years, it was easy to imagine Bandra as a slower, gentler, sleepier side of this giant throbbing metropolis. As a myth to live by, it was a good one. As a place to live in, it was a good one.
One gentle, sleepy and possibly slow evening soon after I actually moved to Bandra, I walked up the stairs to our terrace, with that same trusty Contax, to photograph the sunset, the crows and the sea.
Suddenly I was surrounded by four burly men. "Who are you and what are you doing?" they wanted to know. "I live here and I'm taking photographs," I said, aware immediately that these were plainclothes cops from the nearby police office. Unable to stomach my explanation, one pulled out a gun and pointed it at my head. The memory of that circular muzzle an inch from my nose - the memory of my death an inch from my nose - is one I will take to my grave.
A few months later, in response to a petition about this and two other incidents, an Assistant Commissioner of Police named Kadam filed an affidavit in the Bombay High Court "on behalf" of the city's police commissioner. Recounting what had happened with me, the ACP stated that it was "absolutely false that the police officers concerned pointed a gun at the said Dilip D'Souza." Not content with lying once, he lied a second time: "There was no explanation given by the said Dilip D'Souza … as to why he had falsely stated his name as 'Shaikh'" - and this false statement by me, he averred, had made his "extremely watchful" men suspicious. I leave you to chew through the implications. That whole episode may have been my wakeup call to a suburb - and a city - that bore little relation to the myth I had been holding on to.
In the years since, I've run into my share of stupid bigotry towards different communities, nauseating attitudes towards the poor, cars that speed up to prevent the elderly from getting across the road… you know I could go on. And on. In my mind, those things now colour Bandra.
Even so, I still think of Bandra as a good place to live, better than nearly anywhere else in this gigantic urban sprawl. But I'm no longer sure I know why.
And when a friend came visiting not long ago, I went looking for those photographs I took when walking with my father years ago. To my sorrow, I couldn't find them. Which, it occured to me, is in some cosmic sense a reflection of a certain way of being in Bandra that is going.
Maybe even gone. Like my father.
The writer is an author and senior journalist. He tweets @deathendsfun