Thursday, February 24, 2011

Her name is Shantabai and she is not a doormat!

She woke up to an earthquake every day. Some of us are used to waking up to the birds chirping, some are woken up by the gentle insistence of sun rays that fight their way through the curtains, some by the insistent ringing of the alarm clock that is so hateful. But Shantabai woke up to the tireless shaking of all the vessels in the tin cup sized ‘barsaati’ she lived in with her husband and two children like there was an earthquake happening. She did not have the luxury of lying in bed, stretching lazily and taking her time to welcome the day. She usually sprinted out of bed while she was still half asleep to stop the vessels that had crept perilously close to the edge of the shelves from tumbling down and waking up the whole household. She was always amused by the fact that she slept through the various trains that passed by the railways tracks next door through the night, but the 5:15 am fast local always made her jump up and sprint.
She had a lot of work to finish before she left for work that day. She had to finish her household chores, cook, clean, send her husband off to work and pack. She was going to her village the next day to leave her children with her in-laws. As she walked over to the community toilet across the tracks with a bucket in her hand and her long, thick, lustrous hair swaying in the wind, she thought of the day when she had agreed to let her children go. Shyam, her husband was a mechanic in a small garage and she herself worked as a part time maid in 4 houses in the large housing complex across town to make ends meet in the monstrous city of Mumbai. She worked through the day and returned home in the early evening to take care of her children and loved singing them to sleep every night. But over the past two months Shyam’s owner had not been paying him. He said something called a ‘recession’ was on and the garage was not doing well. They had been running behind on rent payments. Putli, the lady who used to watch her children had refused to keep them anymore unless she paid her the last month’s due. Shantabai had got some advance for a while from two of the houses she worked in, but there was never enough money.
She remembered the godforsaken night, while she was trying to get the children to sleep and she heard the stray dogs outside barking viciously. The door to the house flew open and a few of the men from nearby huts carried Shyam in. He was bleeding profusely from the head and had several bruises on his face and body. After the men left, Shyam told her that the landlord had him beaten up for non-payment and was threatening to throw them out on the street within a week if the rent was not paid. Shantabai cried herself to sleep that night but woke up with a start in the middle of the night to find Shyam brooding at the door. He said he had come up with a plan that would save them. He wanted to leave the children with his mother at the village so that Putli would not have to be paid to look after them. He felt that Shantabai could pick up a job as a full time servant at one of the houses she worked in. This way, they would not have to spend money on her food or on rent. When a perplexed Shantabai asked him about where he would stay, he said he had worked all out. He would be a driver by day and a watchman by night, thus earning more money and not requiring a place to sleep. Though Shantabai thought this was a ridiculous plan and refused to be parted from her children, in her heart she knew she would bend down to Shyam’s will like she always did and would have to part from her children and her home.  
She finished her chores in her quick and efficient manner and left the children at Putli’s house. She did not go in lest Putli refuse to keep them, but just sent them in by themselves knowing she would not refuse the children once she knew their mother had already left. She waited for the bus and smiled as she remembered the first time she had ever ridden a bus. It was when she had run away from her village to get married to Shyam and come to Mumbai. It had taken them 2 full days of riding in buses and hitching rides in trucks to get here. It would take her that much time to go back to the village again. Her brow knit in anxiety as she thought of the excuse she would have to give in the four houses she worked at for not coming over the next few days. Though she was going away for 5 days, she would tell them that she was going only for 2 days so they would not replace her while she was gone. With all the travelling, she would not even get a full day to spend at the village.  
She knew the old madam on the 5th floor would make her do extra chores just because she would be away for the next 2 days and also cut her salary. Ritu madam on the ground floor would give her a chocolate for the children once she knew she was going to drop them off. But Anshi, the housewife on the 3rd floor and Nasreen, the accountant on the 7th floor would fire her today. When she was sick and had taken a day off, they had called Shyam and rained abuses on him. They treated her like a slave, did not give her anything to eat while she worked extra hours in their houses and always made excuses for not giving her, her salary on time. She had continued to work in their houses as Anshi had grudgingly given her some advance last month and Nasreen used to pay her an extra Rs 100 compared to the other houses. But the price she extracted for that extra money left Shantabai exhausted every day. The trip to the village would be a good excuse for her to leave these two houses. She would have to think of finding a house that needed a full time servant once she returned.
Shantabai was not the women to dawdle for long. She walked briskly to the complex once the bus reached its stop, thinking of all the work that lay ahead of her in the 4 houses. All her predictions of the reaction of the different ladies she worked for came true. The old madam from the 5th floor made her wash all the windows and the ceiling fans before she let her go. She got delayed there and was late in going to Anshi’s house. While Anshi berated her for always being late, she went about quietly mopping the floor. She searched for an opportune time to tell her that she was going away but Anshi was in a very foul mood that day and Shantabai did not have the gumption to face her in that mood. She figured she would tell Nasreen and hopefully she would pass the message on to Anshi. The scene was much the same at Nasreen’s house where she was made to clean all the wardrobes of the 5 members in the house for punishment of going away to her own home for a few days. Just as she was leaving the house Nasreen told her she was fired and gave her the balance salary. Shantabai had a sly smile on her face as she walked out that flat. She was happy to be leaving that house and also being paid early meant she could buy a small gift for the children before dropping them off at the village.
It was in this happy mood that she entered Ritu madam’s house. She found the whole house topsy turvy and Ritu madam lying in bed, burning with fever. Shantabai only did the dishes in this house as Ritu madam believed in balancing the work between maids and had a cook and another maid to do the cleaning. Her husband was out of town, she was very ill and the other two maids had not turned up. Shantabai immediately went into action. She asked Ritu madam to relax and first rushed into the kitchen to make some hot soup for her. She then swept and mopped the whole house and cleaned up. She also cooked extra food and stored it in the refrigerator in case madam needed it for the next day. She promised Ritu madam to look in on Lata, her cook who stayed next to her house and ensure that she will come into work the next day. It was already 7 pm by the time she finished all this work and reluctantly told Ritu madam that she would cancel her trip to the village if she needed her to stay. A part of her wanted the trip to be cancelled, but Ritu madam was gracious and refused to let her change her plans. She gave her chocolates for the kids as she had predicted, and some money to take with her to the village.
Shantabai returned home after a physically and emotionally exhausting day and all she wanted to do was hug her children and go to sleep. But she had a duty to fulfil first. She went to Lata’s house, admonished her for skipping work when madam needed her and made her call Ritu madam. She sauntered back home and sat staring at the walls for a while, not knowing what or where home would be when she returned. As tears filled her large and usually luminous eyes she happened to see her bag that had the chocolates and the extra money.  She brightened up knowing that there were still well meaning people in this world she could turn to for help when she needed it. She would come back and try and cajole Ritu madam to hire her full time. May be she could even hire Shyam as a driver and let them stay in her garage. It was with this hope in her heart and prayers for a happier future that she went to sleep. Who knew what the future held for her. The only certainty was that tomorrow, she would be woken up by an earthquake.
Note: This is a tribute to all the maids who are the back bone of this city. It is because of their hard work, that women like me can afford to have flourishing careers. It is high time that we stop treating them as door mats and accord the same respect to them, that we expect in our work places. This one is for all the Shantabais of the world.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love in the times of Bollywood

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy loses girl. Boy fights for girl. Boy gets girl and they live happily ever after. This is a plot straight out of several Bollywood potboilers that all of us have grown up with and enjoyed. However, this simple two line plot has been treated in several different ways, leaving behind some very memorable cinema that has left its impact on generations and generations of youngsters. I have always been fascinated by the influence Indian cinema has had on shaping the psyche of people who sit in dark theatres Friday after Friday and watch their matinee idols  serenade each other, fight goons and face several trials and tribulations on the big screen. We have all had our own favourite stars that we have idolized and wanted to be like, whose posters we put up in our rooms and for whose releases we waited desperately. I am particularly interested to trace the portrayal of love and romance in Indian cinema over the generations and how it both reflected the reality of our society and shaped it in many ways in this valentine week.
One of the oldest movies I ever watched and that has stayed in my mind is ‘Achoot Kanya’ released in 1936. Since, this was a movie made in the pre-independence era, it dealt with the taboo subject of love between an upper class boy and a dalit girl. Memorable performances by Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani and the circular screenplay where most of the movie takes place in flashback made this movie one of the biggest hits of those times and established the pair as one of the most memorable romantic pairs of the black and white era. It was still the time when transformation of the society was uppermost in the film makers minds and romance as we know it today took a little bit if a back seat. However this is the era even right up till the 50’s that gave us gems like Sujata, Bandini, Anupama, Saraswati Chandra etc and no one is complaining since each of these movies is a master piece in itself.
Romance came in its fully developed form in the Indian Cinema in the 60’s and I truly believe that a hero that spelled Romance in the 60’s was Shammi Kapoor, one of the most original actors of all times. He has several romantic classics to his name but in a way one cannot really differentiate the character he played across these different movies. He often portrayed the scion of a rich family, who is happy go lucky, independent but still tied to the roots of tradition and does not want to take any bold step without his mother’s approval. He was ably complemented by heroines such as Asha Parekh and Sharmila Tagore who again fell into the mould of the quintessential Indian Woman. Before they meet the hero, they are portrayed to be bold, vivacious women with a mind of their own, but somehow a drastic transformation happens the minute they fall in love. In love, most of these leading ladies seemed to bend to the will of parental approval and became passive spectators in their own love stories. In many of these stories, parental approval is not won by the grit and determination of the lovers, but due to a random evil act perpetrated by the villain in the story that opens the eyes of the parents to the love of their children.
However, I honestly believe that the 1960 cult classic ‘Mughal-E-Azam’, that portrayed Prince Salim’s love affair with the courtesan Anarkali truly is the pillar stone for depiction of love that is bold, courageous and breaks the bounds of parental approval. This was K.Asif’s labour of love that took 9 years to make and until ‘Sholay’ happened in 1976, was considered to be the highest grosser at the box office.  There are several path breaking scenes from this movie that have etched themselves forever in the collective conscious, especially the scene where Dilip Kumar caresses Madhubala’s face with a feather. I honestly believe that a movie becomes path breaking when it creates a character that defines the direction in which society is moving. I feel the much in love, yet honour bound Prince Salim portrayed by Dilip Kumar and the passionate courtesan who while knowing her place in society still does not shy away from declaring her love, portrayed by Madhubala were characters that shaped an entire generation’s definition of love. ‘Jab pyaar kiya to darna kya’ (Why fear if you are in love) became the anthem of a generation and sowed the seeds of rebellion in the name of love in the minds of several youngsters. While the end of this epic love story is tragic, the determination and pride brimming in Madhubala’s eyes while she mouths this song, made young people of the generation want to fight for their love and stand up to their elders for this if required. I should know. My own parent’s love story reflects both the class divide and this rebellion to a large extent J.
The 70’s and 80’s were decades ruled by ‘Garam Dharam’, super star Rajesh Khanna and angry young man, Amitabh Bachan. The epithets earned by each of these stars are important to note, as they reflect a key characteristic these actors wrought in their persona and portrayed in movie after movie. The truly romantic hero out of all of them was Rajesh Khanna who has several smash hit love stories to his credit. However, I believe that what helped Khanna was his boy next door looks, wonderful music and an approachable charm. I don’t believe that in the form of character he defined anything different from what Shammi Kapoor did in the 60’s. The 80’s were probably some of the worst years for Indian cinema, where multi-starrer magnum opuses with a focus on drama and violence ruled the roost. But, the advent of the Khans, Aamir, Salman and Shahrukh in the 90’s can be heralded as the next big milestone in terms of romance in Indian cinema. It is Amir’s ‘Qayamat se Qayamat tak’ released in the late 80’s that brought the trend of simple love stories focusing on the boy and girl back to Indian cinema and Salman’s ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ re-emphasized this message. But out of the three of them, the Khan who became the undisputed king of romance is definitely Shahrukh Khan.  
‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’(DDLJ) released in 1995 is a path breaking movie for several reasons. It is the movie that for the first time highlighted the business that can be made from the NRI markets and more than that it introduced ‘Raj’ to the Indian audience. Raj, the character portrayed by Shahrukh is a spoilt, rich kid without a goal or aim in life, very different from the romantic heroes of the past. But a unique twist that to me marks the greatness of this movie is Raj’s decision to not run away with his love Simran, but to stay back and make her family also fall in love with him. This movie heralded the arrival of a hero who was truly the boy next door, who respected his woman, her parents, her aspirations and wanted her to follow her heart. He was a unique mix of modernity and tradition which made youngsters believe that there was a middle path between rebellion and surrender that can be walked to make their love stories successful. Shahrukh reaped the benefit of playing this lovable character in several movies and made a super hit pair with Kajol in many of them. Movies like ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ that said love is friendship and ‘Dil to Pagal Hai’ that spread the message that there is the ‘someone’ out there for every one shaped the expectations of a generation on  how they wanted their love stories to be.
I loved the Simrans, Anjalis and Mayas of these movies while I was growing up and they left an indelible imprint in my mind of what romance and feminity were all about. In fact, like several girls of my generation, I believed that there is someone out there made only for me. Lucky for me I got him early on in life before cynicism jaded my views J. But, I still remember a comment a friend of mine passed after watching DDLJ. She did not understand how Simran, who was so bold in the first half that she was ready to embark on a Eurail trip only with friends was not able to stand up for her love and what she believed in, in the second half. Funnily, this difference is also shown in what she wears – western outfits in the first half and the chastest Indian outfits in the second half. I did not make much of this comment then, but when I think of it now, I feel that while the romantic hero has undergone a huge transformation in Indian cinema, the heroine sadly remained stuck in the time warp of the 60’s.
But happily, the most recent cult romantic movie, ‘Jab we met’ helped break these bounds that have been holding the Indian heroine down for decades. Kareena Kapoor through the inspired madness of ‘Geet’, in the movie showed us a character who has beliefs of her own (no matter how warped they may be and how much trouble they may get her into) and more than that sticks to them through thick and thin. In fact, in many ways I felt, she was the hero of the movie rescuing Shahid when is about to jump out of a train and sticking with him till she believes he has turned a corner. For the first time since ‘Kati Patang’, there was a heroine with a past, who was in love with someone else when she meets the hero. Even in the end, Geet takes the decision in her hands when Aditya wants to sacrifice his love and goes for what she wants. Here was an endearing, strong yet vulnerable character that I want this generation to follow. She was quirky and mad but still loyal and honest. In many ways, I feel ‘Jab we met’ is as path breaking as DDLJ, as it is the return to a character based plot, where the biggest villain in the movie is not external but internal. It reflects two lost souls finding the perfect companion through the trials and tribulations in life. While it still points to ‘there is someone out there for everyone’, it also gives this generation the message that in the route to finding that ‘someone’, they may make mistakes. It is alright to make those mistakes and accept them as a part of growing up but when they find the truest love of their lives, it is good to take a risk and go for it.
I don’t know what the next cult romantic movie will be or who the next romantic super star will be, but I do know that just like in the generations before this, Bollywood will continue to make the boy meets girl kind of movies, although, I have great hopes from the current crop of film makers that they will keep it real and fresh. I also believe that this generation is more complex and difficult to understand than in the past and I guess the love stories we see today are a reflection of that. But, I am sure that like in the past Indian cinema will continue to influence our notions of love and romance for many more generations to come. So this Valentine weekend, drop the cynicism and go catch the next romantic flick that comes to town. Sometimes, leaving the head behind and just taking the heart with you to the movies can be a hugely liberating experience.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Discovering Mumbai through the bylanes of Bandra

“This is an ode to Mumbai. My muse, my whore, my wife”.
These are extremely profound lines mouthed by Aamir Kahn in the recent movie ‘Dhobi Ghat’ and I felt they sum up this city to its lovers so aptly. It is truly the exploiter and exploited in every sense of the word. It is many things to many people and the more you discover it, the more mysterious it gets. I came to Mumbai as an outsider 8 years back and the city enveloped me as if I always belonged. I remember in my first week here, I was sitting in an auto outside Andheri station and felt mankind walk past me in a hurry to be places and do things. I still see the wonder and awe of people who have newly moved to the city in the initial few weeks while they are still coming to terms with its frenetic pace and trying to get rid of the pangs of homesickness they suffer in an alien city. It is these people who come and join it from various walks of life and distinct cultures that make Mumbai a truly cosmopolitan melting pot of people, cultures, cuisines, architectures and ways of life. No other part of Mumbai bears testimony to this fact as strongly as Bandra, a small hilly suburb in Central Mumbai which historically was a marsh land inhabited only by rice farmers. But, today this is an up and coming neighbourhood where heritage bungalows fight for space with new developments and swanky pubs and is considered to be the ‘it’ place for all young people to hang out in.
I have been as mesmerized by Bandra and its eating joints as I have been of Mumbai and jumped at the chance of discovering more about this neighbourhood and its roots when I saw the invitation for a heritage walk around the by lanes of Bandra that would trace its churches and villages.  This was a walk conducted by an organization called ‘Beyond Mumbai’ run by Mumbai enthusiasts who make a living out of discovering the ‘off the beaten’ track details about this city. Our starting point was the Mount Mary Church, one of the most well-known churches in Mumbai that attracts people from all faiths and religions since time immemorial. I myself have been to Mount Mary innumerable times to pray and to find some peace and quiet in an otherwise chaotic city. But it is through the walk that I discovered some very fantastic details about the church and its history.  I found out that the statue of Mother Mary that adorns the church was first sculpted in the early 15th century by Portuguese merchants who considered Bandra to be only a lookout point to see if their merchandise was reaching South Mumbai docks safely. Apparently, the statue was stolen and thrown into the sea three times but miraculously recovered each time by the sea faring fishermen or ‘kolis’ of the Bandra village. This repeated rescue by the locals made the natives believe in its miraculous healing powers and it is they who constructed a small make shift church using wood and mud for Mother Mary which in 1904 was turned into the magnificent structure that we see today. The locals felt a part of the legend of Mother Mary and hence, visited her shrine often to pay their respects, hence starting the tradition of people from other religions visiting the Mount Mary Church
Mount Mary Church, Bandra
I also learnt that the road leading up to the Mount Mary church which also houses the Mount Mary fair every year is one of the oldest roads of Mumbai. On that cool January afternoon, there were only a few stall selling candles for worship open. But these were not normal candles. I saw several candles shaped like eyes, legs, ears, heart and even cars and houses. On speaking to a shopkeeper, I found out that the locals believed immensely in the healing power of Mother Mary and believed that if they lit a candle in the shape of  the body part that needed healing, their wish would be granted. Of course in modern times this belief had extended to other areas like career, property etc. So today, there are also candles shaped like aircrafts being sold for people who want to make a career in the airline industry and hotels for people who want to enter the hospitality industry. Well, I must say as our wishes and aspirations have grown, we have learnt to be very specific in what we pray for to God and leave nothing to chanceJ. Do visit these stalls and buy a candle of your choice if you visit Mount Mary church the next time.

Wishing candles outside Mount Mary
As we meandered down the lane, we came across another church called the St Stephen’s church built at the end of the road. While I crossed this church many times in the past, I never stopped to take a look at this little building which seemed almost obscure in front of the grandeur of Mount Mary. But I learnt that as the East India Company started making Mumbai and Bandra its strong hold, it started posting more and more officers in the Bandra region as it considered this to be of tactical importance in its trade in India. These British officers did not feel comfortable worshipping in the Mount Mary Church along with several locals who thronged the building and hence built the smaller St Stephen’s church for themselves. St Stephens is also a protestant church while Mount Mary a catholic church. I wish I could have gone inside to see how the churches of these two faiths are different but unfortunately the church was closed, though we did get the chance to rest for a bit in the garden outside and spoke to Father Benedict who ran the church. Funnily enough, he said he was good friends with the Fathers who ran the Mount Mary Church and was an active participant in the Mount Mary festival. It was heart-warming to see these men of cloth overcome their differences and co-exist together proving that though methods of worship are different, God is one.

The smaller and more obscure St Stephens Church
As we walked away contemplating the spiritual oneness of the churches, Shriti our guide told us about the Bandra of the past. Bandra or Vandre as it is known in Marathi was a small collection of villages whose main occupation was fishing and rice cultivation. It is the Portuguese who first saw the potential to make Bandra an important docking point for merchandise and as more Portuguese merchant presence was seen here, traders from nearby parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and the Konkan areas also started coming to Bandra and made it their home. It was with the influx of so many Portuguese officers that the need was felt for a place of worship and several churches including the Mount Mary and St Andrews came into existence. Slowly, Bandra became such a bustling neighbourhood that the Portuguese were forced to appoint a Mayor for this village who would be responsible for its governance and upkeep. Jamshetji Jeejeebhoy, an eminent Parsi merchant was given the charge to be the first mayor of Bandra in the early 19th century. In fact, the credit to make Mount Mary and Bandra more accessible to the general public from the villages and the mainland goes to the Jeejeebhoy family. Legend has it that when Jeejeebhoy saw the throngs of worshippers coming to Mount Mary increase on a daily basis, he had the famous staircases constructed on either sides of the road of the Church. Also, that was the time when Bandra was connected to the mainland only by ferry and not by road. When Jeejebhoy’s little son fell critically ill, his wife Avabai used to visit the Mount Mary church almost every day for an year by ferry. When their son recovered, Avabai had the ‘Mahim’ causeway constructed so that worshippers from the mainland could access the church more easily.  It is touching to see a family of foreign faith; in a public office do something voluntarily to make the life of common man easier. One wishes that we had more people like them in the public office today. Indeed the Jeejebhoy’s contribution in making Mumbai and Bandra what they are today is immeasurable and not easily forgotten.

Steps leading to Mount Mary constructed by Jamshetji Jeejeebhoy in the early 19th century (One wishes that the roads constructed today are as sturdy as these steps that have stood the test of time for over a century)
Holden Caulfield in the ‘Catcher in the Rye’ said that he liked the education he got from detours rather than sticking to the beaten path. I too discovered the thrill of a detour when the group I was with decided to go and see the Anish Kapoor art exhibition that was on at Mehboob studios. While I had heard about Anish Kapoor, I am not a big art lover or follower and find modern art a tad too esoteric for my taste. But, the New Year was supposed to be about trying new things and I tagged along with the group for this crash course into Anish Kapoor’s art. At the beginning, when I entered the hall, I was thoroughly underwhelmed when I saw that the exhibition was just a large hall with mirrors of different shapes and sizes hung at interesting angles on the walls. I couldn’t wait for the group to finish their ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ so that we could re-commence our tour that had taken such an abrupt detour. It was only when the guide pulled me to see a live exhibit of Kapoor’s interpretation of the blood and gore of war that I sat up and took notice of what he was trying to say. The live exhibit consisted of a cannon that fired a blood ball onto a wall opposite it and the wall depicted the carnage that is left in the aftermath of war. I was sorry I could not take a picture of it but it was the hardest hitting piece of art (if that was what I can call it) that I had seen and it was only then that I tried to understand what Kapoor was trying to say through his various exhibits. The mirrors were cut and hung in a way that one got a different image from different angles. I realized it truly reflected the human perception because we saw reflected on it only what was reality to us and the only truth that exists is our interpretation of it. Of course, I would not have got this profound insight if I had not cheated and read the literature on each of his sculpturesJ. But it was a once in a life time experience for me and I am glad we took the detour.

Altar at St Andrews
We proceeded to the St Andrews church from there, one of the shining examples of Portuguese workmanship and art situated bang in the middle of Bandra.  St Andrews gave us an insight into the people and families that had accepted the faith in Bandra and chose to live generation after generation tied to the church and its philosophy. The compound around the church was full of gravestones where generations of a family were buried and it was all I could do to not step on any gravestone and have someone’s soul turn over in their graveJ. It is here that I learnt about the genealogies of several Christian families in Bandra and the difference that existed in the Portuguese conversions and the British conversions of the locals into Christianity. The guide told us that when the British aimed to convert people, they started with the high classed Brahmins and explained the gospel and the rituals to them such that they converted not just in terms of faith but also in terms of way of life. But, the Portuguese targeted the poor farmers and families from the lower class where conversion was the only chance for the farmers to keep their land in the family. So the conversion was more about change in faith but not so much the way of life. This fact is seen in the interesting cuisine that is served in the houses of the Portuguese Christians which still retains its local flavour and in their way of life which is an interesting mix of Christian and Konkan living.

A traditional family gravestone at St Andrews. Some gravestones can have as many as 25 family members buried under them across generations
The last stop on this culturally enriching sojourn was the Ranwara village. I learnt that Bandra was a collection of 24 traditional rice producing villages and Ranwara was one such village that had maintained its old world charm. The village consisted of houses built in the traditional rice farmer mould with a cluster of houses congregated around a square. The square was used as a community meeting place where ladies watched over their children play in the evenings and where social events and parties took place in which everyone from the community participated. Certain squares also had small oratories built in them where religious feasts took place.

An oratory situated in a square at Ranwara village

A 1000 year old house in the Ranwara village still maintained in pristine condition
Legend has it that a wedding in the Ranwara village lasted for all of 7 days in which the ladies from the community cooked all the meals. Th
is tradition still persists though the wedding celebrations have been cut down to 3 days now. The architecture of the houses was also unique with an emphasis on space conservation, so much so that even staircases were built outside the house instead of inside to save on space. I found the square concept fascinating, as it ensured a strong sense of community and that one never felt isolated living in such a village. It was sad to see that most of the squares today were being used as parking spaces for vehicles but some squares were still functioning and in good shape.

The villages were also cleverly constructed such that each of them would lead into the bazaar that served as an integration point to all the communities, where they could sell their wares. These bazaars would in turn lead to the docks from where the merchants could ship their merchandise. I wondered that in the past, even rice farmers seemed to have given a deep thought to town planning and built their houses and places of trade in a cohesive manner. Then why can’t we with all the technology that is available to us today be so organized about urban planning. The trip into the village did make me wish that I lived in a place where the sense of community was so strong and where the biting isolation of living in a big, bad city like Mumbai fades away amidst the sounds of community cooking for feasts and lusty songs sung at weddings where one forgot who the host was and who the guest was. We rounded off the walk with a drink and some music at one of the well known pubs in the vicinty, thus rounding off the Bandra adventure in the truest of spirits :-)