Bandraites recall the essence of the popular Mount Mary Fair
From a new wardrobe for the feast to four anna goodies, old-time Bandraites recall the essence of the popular Mount Mary fair, as rapid commercialisation threatens to phase out its famed legacy
"There is an old saying that if you threw a stone in Bandra you were bound to hit a Pereira or a pig," former journalist Olga Valladares writes in the footnotes of The Story of Bandra Feast (1998) - a short and concise compilation of facts from scholarly works and archival material. Bandra or Bandora, as it was called in 1505 by Portuguese writer Faria e Souza, for us, is incomplete without the memory of visiting the fair, a week-long event at the Basilica of our Lady of the Mount following September 8 - the birthday of Mary.
As the years went by, the essence of the festival, we were told, was noticeably diminished and shrouded in controversy due to illegal hawking. As the fair crosses 300 years, we decided to take the road less travelled with residents for whom, the event remains a memory that lingers.
The week-long fair is an annual celebration at Our Lady of the Mount Basillica, Bandra. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Fun and games
"This church represents a lot not just for the Christians of Bombay, but for all communities in the city. The ability to keep celebrating the spirit of Bombay is to realise how enriching our differences are. You didn't label people. If there's a lesson in the Bandra fair, it is that the mother opens her arms to everybody," says historian Dr Mariam Dossal. A Pali Road resident for over 60 years, she adds how the street has been integral in shaping her memories of the fair - which back then had the church as its focal point. "Next to our house was a widows' home, which is now a women's hostel and wedding hall called Kalyan Kendra, where many Catholic widows lived. So you knew that Bandra fair was coming. During Christmas and the Mount Mary feast, there would be processions carried out. The street felt like a part of your home," Dossal says.
Young girls would have to have a new dress for every day of the seven-day affair. They weren't rich so that meant putting together whatever they could. "Our friends' mothers would cook and sell. There were giant wheels, merry-go-rounds, and distorting mirrors. One could take a photograph with different backdrops, such as riding a Cadillac. My cousins would come over from Marine Drive and we would go to the fair after dinner around midnight. A cook would often be sent off with some money to accompany the children,"
she recalls. Environment journalist Darryl D'Monte lived right by the Mount until 1973, and distinctly remembers the huge crowd coming in; East Indian women in their traditional checked sarees, and the four annas his uncle gave him to buy sweets that were then sold without packaging. But D'Monte felt differently about games. "I remember being terrified of the Well of Death. There was a big wooden pit and motorcyclists would crisscross it. As someone concerned with public safety now, I recall that none of them wore helmets!"
(From left) Jaffer Ali, Effie D'Souza, and Afzal Sheikh at Golden Scissors, Bandra
Memories to savour
Down Chapel Road, we spot Golden Scissors, a tiny tailoring shop with a legacy of nearly 40 years, but the three people gathered there - Effie D'Souza, Afzal Sheikh, and the tailor Jaffer Ali - have lived here for over 60 years. "As you can see, there is no one on the street walking to the fair. The novenas carried at the Mount are now said at every church, so the crowd is less.
Many people have migrated to the northern suburbs. This doesn't look like a Bandra fair," mourns D'souza. Sheikh recalls a fancy dress competition, and the stars and lighting that was set up on homes all the way up. "There were small stalls that families would set up outside their houses. In addition, they would bring the statue to every home during this week. That time is now gone," he laments. Ali would stitch the clothing for the Mother Mary statue for churches in the neighbourhood. And they would nibble on the delicacies served down Chapel Road - fruit and jackfruit cake.
Dr Mariam Dossal, Darryl D'Monte and Gloria Carvalho
A dying legacy
Gloria Carvalho, 40, has been helming the nearly 70-year-old stall up the Mount, Carvalho Stores, for the past 20 years. "There were around 12 Goan stalls, but we are left with two now. Nobody is interested in continuing the tradition," he says. Carvalho works overseas, but returns every year for the festival during his break. However, the next year looks uncertain with introduction of the lottery system.
"The prices have definitely increased. We have to pay Rs 50,000 for eight days, and there is no crowd. We used to bring around 12 people from Goa to Mumbai to prepare the sweets. We now have just three," he says.
Bandra Station. Pic/ Western Railway Archives
Journey of the past
The Western Railway used to run special trains of the Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway Company for the Bandra Fair. The station had a siding for meat trains carrying beef and mutton from the slaughter-house located nearby. As Bandra was growing, a separate station came up around 1888 with two platforms. The fair was gaining popularity among all faiths with an annual one held every September and the company ran two trains in the morning and evening from Colaba and back. The Bandra Bus Company started by FM Chinoy also had its depot in the vicinity and ran big, bulky grey and blue buses till 1949.
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