A feast and fair for all
Every true blue Bombaywallah will have their story from the annual visit to Mount Mary's Basilica and the Bandra fair. This year's a no-show, but the nostalgia it still generates is an intrinsic part of our urban cultural heritage
For eastern suburbanites like yours truly, there was a time during our growing up years, when heading to Bandra felt like a mini adventure; and was at par with the planning that was required if the family had to visit 'town' aka SoBo, for the many annual pre-Christmas shopping trips to Crawford Market and Colaba.
But come September in those days, and the mention of Bandra meant only one thing – Bandra Fair. Planning for the visit would begin in late August. The departure from our respective homes needed clockwork precision as it had to coincide with the BEST bus route timings (route 422). The day of the visit was either a Thursday (it was a school holiday) or a Sunday. The final group size had to include sufficient numbers of adults [we'll get to the reason later]. The bachcha log looked forward to this trip. Chicken and ham sandwiches were packed in pre-Tupperware era containers; everybody had to carry their own water bottle and hand napkin, and at least one aunt had in her multi-utility hand bag — the 'other' bag. Yes, we never forgot the bag that would come to the rescue of at least one unsuspecting victim from the pack who fell sick during the over hour-long journey.
The road trip was fun — swathes of salt pans, stretches of greenery, and then to remind us that we lived in a city, sooty dust balls, honking cars and endless traffic jams as we neared Sion. I also recall the stench that greeted us each time the bus wormed its way through Dharavi; us kids would wrinkle our noses in unison. By this last leg, we'd also get restless. Once the autorickshaw would drop us near the base of the steps, the heady aroma of fried snacks, ear-piercing whistles, and the non-stop shouts of hawkers meant our Everest was near. Adults were assigned the task of escorting [read: tightly clasping the hand at all times] the kids in the group. We bachchas would be riveted by the mind-boggling array — from the pink candy floss (buddhe ka baal) and shengdana to the chicken patties and buttery bhutta. With every passing year, the crowds would increase. En route were all kinds of worshippers – young, old, middle-aged, crippled, wheelchair-bound, and a scattering or 'foreigners'; many would say a prayer or sing hymns during the uphill climb.
I recall this one year when a film star had come by to visit the fair and pray at the Mount; the commotion was unprecedented. In my eagerness to see who it was, I slipped away when my mum let go of my hand for a moment to pay a vendor for my pink toy car. Panic struck as I found myself surrounded by strangers. Luckily, I didn't follow the superstar-crazed crowd who began to move in his direction. Those were the longest two minutes of my 10-year-old life; I froze as I stood on the pavement, hoping for my mother to trace me. She did, and the relief on both our faces meant an extra prayer had to be offered to Mother Mary once we reached the sanctum sanctorum.
When we stepped in, the beautiful stone façade building and its interiors struck me with its magnificence and calm, despite the chaos. Somewhere amidst the buzz, strains of the choir signing a hymn in Mother Mary's praise would envelope the air. During mass, my distracted self would gaze at the congregation and pray and sing in unbelievable unison, as my stern aunt would roll her eyes, reminding me to pray in the house of God. Soon enough, it was time to leave, not before making the long, slow walk towards the altar to seek Mother's blessings; a site that continues to draw in worshippers from all faiths and walks of life.
The bus ride home had its share of drama — crabby cousins sparring over who got the cooler toy; dozing uncles snoring their heads off, aunts arguing with bus conductors over loose change. Dead tired, I'd turn in early but it was with a smile on the face. There'd be tonnes to chat about during the next day's lunch break in school!
As the years rolled by, my visits to the feast and fair lessened. The essence and soul too seems to have changed, as regulars rue but there's something magnetic about the trail all the way up to the Mount that will always reassure me of a simpler Bombay.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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