3 churches and a basilica: Exploring Bandra’s Christian heritage

It’s a little before 7 on a muggy Saturday morning in March earlier this year.

At Bandra’s Basilica of Our Lady of The Mount, otherwise known as Mount Mary, the morning service is in progress. The stalls outside the Basilica are already open for business. At that time of the morning, there are hardly any people out on the roads; an occasional rickshaw, car or jogger pass by stopping for a quick prayer before going on their way.

Mount Mary, Churches of Bandra, Mumbai

A jogger stops to say a quick prayer outside Mount Mary

I had wanted to attend the morning service at Mount Mary, but the bus that got me to Bandra from Navi Mumbai got delayed. Not wanting to enter the church midway through a service, I decide to wait at the Oratory of Our Lady of Fatima, which is across the road from Mount Mary.

With me is a friend and together we plan to explore Bandra’s Christian heritage that morning by visiting some its places of worship. I pick up a pamphlet on the history of Mount Mary from one of the stalls outside the Basilica and settle down on the steps of the Oratory to read.

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Street art @ Reay Road

There I was travelling in a Harbour Line local train that hot April afternoon.

I had just woken up from a short nap when the train halted at Cotton Green station. I was still drowsy when the train crossed the beautiful drinking water fountain (that I always look out for whenever I travel by train on this route) just before Reay Road station. I noted that the water fountain was there, a little more decrepit than ever before, a little more lonelier and a… wait a minute… what was the flash of colour on the wall behind the fountain? It looked like graffiti, but I couldn’t be sure.The train had already crossed that patch and was slowing down for its Reay Road station halt.

A week later, I was back on the train travelling the same route at round the same time. This time I did not sleep. And this time I saw that my guess was right. There was not just one wall with graffiti, but what looked like a lot of them. My first impulse was to get off the train and explore the area immediately. But the deserted area, run-down buildings and a general sense of unease at going alone made me postpone the visit to another day and with company.

So a month later, I was back on the train and this time alighted at Reay Road station to wait for Rushikesh Kulkarni, a fellow blogger, the guy who runs Breakfree Journeys, and the guy who very readily agreed to be my bodyguard and explore the area with me. :) A short walk from the station and I was looking at the first of the many works of art I saw that afternoon at Reay Road.

Peek-a-Boo !Graffiti, street art, Reay Road, Mumbai, abandoned warehouse Continue reading

Neighbourhoods of Mumbai 2: Khotachiwadi

Neighbourhoods of Mumbai is a series that will explore the different areas of Mumbai, their history, their sub-cultures, their architecture, the changes sweeping through them, and what makes them tick.

No discussion or debate on urban heritage and conservation in Mumbai is complete without a mention, and then some more, of Khotachiwadi, a neighborhood / village / hamlet (depending on your perspective) in the Girgaum area of South Mumbai.

Khotachiwadi, Neighbourhoods of Mumbai, Breakfree JourneysI first came across Khotachiwadi in a newspaper article on the rising builder–politician nexus in Mumbai and how old neighbourhoods and enclaves of the city were in danger of being demolished to make way for highrises. The grainy black and white photographs that accompanied the article were all of Khotachiwadi’s cottages. This was sometime in the early 1990s and while I don’t remember who wrote the article or even the newspaper it was published in, I still remember the sense of wonder I felt at seeing the cottages. I actually double checked to be sure that Khotachiwadi was indeed located in Mumbai !

The article was also responsible for sparking an interest in urban heritage and conservation issues. It is an interest that has sustained till date and I still keenly follow the (always heated) debates on this topic. Even after two decades, Khotachiwadi still remains at the heart of such debates.

And yet, in all these years of living in Mumbai I had never visited Khotachiwadi. Something that was remedied when I visited it for the first time two months ago as part of a guided walk of the area organised by Breakfree Journeys. Our group met at Charni Road station and walked the short distance to Khotachiwadi. When we turned off from the main road and into the lane leading to Khotachiwadi, we left the crowds and the cacophony of Girgaum and stepped into a world of peace and quiet. The contrast was so great that I felt I had stepped through a portal and entered another world, another time.

Khotachiwadi, Neighbourhoods of Mumbai, Breakfree Journeys

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Neighbourhoods of Mumbai 1: Matunga

Neighbourhoods of Mumbai is a series that will explore the different areas of Mumbai, their history, their sub-cultures, their architecture, the changes sweeping through them, and what makes them tick.

How difficult can it be to write about a place that I have known all my life? I would have said not very, till I sat down to write this post on Matunga, a central suburb of Mumbai. Read on with advance warning that it is a long post ! :)

Matunga is where my mother grew up, where I spent a part of my childhood, and a place that is so much part of me and my memories that I’ve never given it a second thought. So when I heard about a guided walk of Matunga conducted by a fellow blogger and friend, Rushikesh of Breakfree Journeys, I was surprised and intrigued. Surprised, because someone found it interesting enough to conduct a walk, and intrigued because I wanted to know what exactly was being covered in the walk and if they would look at Matunga the way I saw it and do it justice.

On a Saturday evening earlier this month I went on the 2-hour walk that took me through the history of Matunga, its development, the different communities that are resident here, its architecture, it unique sub-culture, its eateries, the changes sweeping through it… Some of what I learnt on the walk was new to me, some of it was a literal walk down memory lane, and some of it was seeing the same place through new eyes. Join me as I take you on that Matunga walk and also share my memories and thoughts about the place.

Matunga 1

My maternal grandparents’ home … somewhere in Matunga

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The Sewri Fort

A couple of years back, I happened to travel in a cab whose driver was very chatty and unusually boastful of his knowledge of the city. About 20 minutes into the journey, I had enough of his tales and asked him:

“Since you know so much about Mumbai, tell me how does one get to Sewri Fort. I want to visit it.”

“Sewri Fort? What Sewri Fort? There is no Fort at Sewri.”

“Of course, there is a fort there. I read a report about the Fort in the newspaper only last week.”

“Newspaper? Bah !” said the driver in a dismissive tone. “Don’t believe everything that they print. Listen to me, I’ve been there so many times that I know the area really well. I know Sewri Jetty, all the automobile service centres there, the Port Trust Offices, the dargah… everything. I can tell you confidently that I have never come across any Fort there.”

And that was the end of the conversation.

Last month, I visited Sewri Fort. Yes, there is a Fort, but after visiting it I could understand why the cab driver and many others like him are neither aware of its location or existence. Incidentally, it is located right next to the dargah that the driver mentioned. Just see the view outside the Fort in the photograph below. Is there any indication that there is a Fort anywhere in the vicinity?

Sewri Fort, Forts of Mumbai, Eastern Shoreline

The approach to Sewri Fort

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A double-decker bus, a launch & Mumbai

Sometimes, all it takes is a bus ride to see your surroundings in a new light, or a new perspective. Don’t believe me? Read on… :)

It all began with an invitation from Audio Compass to celebrate the launch of their AudioCompass Guide with an “open air bus journey through Mumbai at sunset, discussing and getting to know her many stories”. So, on the appointed day and time on a beautiful day in March, I boarded the open air, double-decker BEST bus near Churchgate Station in South Mumbai.

As I surveyed my surroundings from the upper deck of the bus, it was with a sense of familiarity of seeing old landmarks—the Asiatic Departmental Store across the road, Resham Bhavan on my left… And yet, everything looked so very different. That’s when I realised that the elevation made a huge difference to what I was seeing and things that I had not noticed or details that were not visible from ground level were suddenly in focus. For instance, I could see the white spire of St. Thomas Cathedral rising above the trees through the left windshield of the bus — something I had never noticed before.

Audio Compass Bus Tour, #Stories of Mumbai, BEST Double Decker Bus, Nilambari

This is the ‘church’ whose ‘gates’ have given Churchgate its name. To me, this felt like an auspicious start to the tour and I couldn’t wait to see what else was going to be revealed during the bus ride. I didn’t have long to wait and once the other guests had arrived we set off. Continue reading