The characters in Bombay Balchao are real and yet they are not: Jane Borges
Jane Borges' debut novel Bombay Balchao is shortlisted for the Atta Galatta-Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize. The Sunday mid-day journalist discusses how a forgotten South Mumbai neighbourhood inspired her book
Sunday Mid-day journalist and the co-author of Mafia Queens of Bombay, Jane Borges reimagines Bombay (now Mumbai) with shades of nostalgia in her debut fiction novel Bombay Balchao. The book has been nominated for the prestigious Atta Galatta Award at the Bangalore Literature Festival.
Originally from Karnataka, Jane grew up in Muscat. She was thrilled by the vibrancy and progressiveness of Mumbai after moving to the city with her family. Cavel became Jane’s home in 2003, a locality which bewildered her initially because it was so different from the rest of the city.
A quiet neighbourhood in south Bombay, Cavel is inhabited by East Indians and encompasses the rich culture of migrated Catholics. But Jane didn’t think much of it in the beginning. So what prompted her to write a book about the Catholic residents of Cavel? In an interview with mid-day online, Jane Borges talks about Cavel and reveals the creative process behind her book Bombay Balchao. Excerpts from the interview
What is Cavel like?
It’s a locality sandwiched between two bustling markets but is surprisingly calm and completely silent. Over the years the neighbourhood managed to remain isolated and retain its aloof charm. The lives of the residents of Cavel are intertwined with each other many of whom are relatives. Their conversations revolve around Church, feasts and events. They are largely disconnected from the outside world and I remember saying to myself, ‘why are you like this?’
When did you start feeling at home?
The more I started mingling with the people of Cavel, engaging in their lives and festivities, the more I understood their stories, rich legacy and migratory histories. I also learnt about the many lives the residents of this quaint neighbourhood have lived. And this made me feel as one with the “Cavelites.”
But I soon realised that amid the towering skyscrapers of Mumbai, this sleepy little locality, home to some very profound people who contributed to the city in many ways, be it sports, governance, music, health or education; is getting lost.
The city and my quaint neighbourhood, in particular, have transformed in the last 15-odd years. The charm the city once had is slowly vanishing under the towering skywalks; thanks to the underground Metro, even the ground beneath our feet is shaky.
What is the reason behind the dwindling population of the community and what can be done to protect it?
The history of Cavel dates back to approximately 4 centuries but now there are about 120 residents here. That is mainly because of migration. Many have moved out of Mumbai because living in Cavel is an expensive affair now. Some are settled abroad due to their jobs and livelihoods. The ones who are here have a thriving, active life out of Cavel too. They have jobs and social engagements but their lifestyle and culture is such that it stands out from even the other Catholic communities of Mumbai.
However, asking Cavelites to protect their culture and community will be putting too much pressure on them. Moreover, migration and pursuing better opportunities is a part of life. My book Bombay Balchao is an effort to reintroduce the nearly-forgotten community of Cavel to the readers.
Are the characters in the book inspired by the residents of Cavel?
I wouldn’t say they are inspired but they definitely comprise different traits of the residents. The characters of the book are humane and strike a chord with the readers. Some of them are “totally loveless” another is “extremely jealous” and so on. But the traits of the characters are what make them relatable. So in a way the characters are real and yet they are not.
Because my characters felt like a Balchão, a Goan preserve used to prepare a fish dish. The spicy and tangy flavours of the masala were in a way, a reflection of the traits of the characters in my book. Strangely, it's this title that led me to the last chapter, where the Balchão becomes a very significant element in the plot.
Jane’s tale of a unique little neighbourhood in the middle of an ever-expanding city did not fail to touch lives of people even out of Mumbai.
How was the book received outside Mumbai?
The initial accolades came from Kerala and Delhi and gradually it kept growing. A story like Bombay Balchao could have a deep emotional impact on people from different regions because it is about beauty of human qualities and empathy. I would also want to thank my Instagram family who helped in spreading the word and showered love to the book.
Now, the book has been shortlisted for the prestigious Atta Galatta Award at the Bangalore Literature Festival 2020 which is a massive honour for any writer and an achievement in itself for a debut novelist.
What was your first reaction?
I couldn’t believe it when my editor Sanghamitra informed me that the book has been shortlisted for the award. I immediately logged in to Google to check if it was for real.
As we wait for the Bangalore Literature Festival to commence of December 12, 2020 we wish Jane Borges all the best and extend our gratitude for telling a deeply impactful and charming story of Mumbai.
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