This column is ten years old to the day. I read it and thought how much has changed. There are no more kaleji-wallahs because open fires have been outlawed. There is no more locals-mostly-Monday fair because it’s ‘Bandra’ now, those apostrophes signifying all that has gone horribly, awfully, wrong in a place that once drew people to it because of it’s trees and spaces rather than it’s ancient streets jammed with autorickshaws and cars. Despite my best intentions, I didn’t make the novena again this year. And my mother will not go to the fair. She feels too fragile for the thing it has become. Still… here it is for what it is worth. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
“As you read this, the hordes are getting their shiny shoes shined, their frilly frocks aflutter and their purses filled with small change. They’re taking trains, buses, autorickshaws. They’re thinking about the rickety ferris-wheels, the slippery steps, the millions of candle-selling children. Mothers are telling their children where to stand if they get lost, teenage girls are getting ready to fend off the feeling hands, little boys are waiting to buy their candle-driven tuk-tuk boats whose stories always end with wax in the buckets and at least one yelling adult. They’re coming to the Bandra Fair. Bandra cowers in fearful anticipation.
Like changing hemlines, waist-measurements and hair on the aging male head, all things past their sell-by date evoke a little nostalgia. Sorry, but here comes mine. It all begins 10 days before the actual Sunday of the feast. This year Toddler A (oh yes, we have officially graduated to toddling — Go Toddler A!) made nine trips to the Basilica with her mother who’s made the novena practically every year she’s lived in Bandra. Flaunting her pagan upbringing, she bopped to the falsetto pitches that are gifts only to the Bee Gees and two aging, bad-tempered nuns who every year, hog the microphone and drown out the little schoolgirls singing off-key in the background.
You can mark the passing of the years if you remember what your main prayer was each novena gone. Age 14 — a good percentage in the SSC. Age 15 — Dear God please make me thin. Age 16 — let me pass in accounts because man, I know now taking commerce was a bad idea. Age 17 — now that I’m in Xavier’s, please make me thin. Age 18 — now that I’m thin, I’d like a man please, other people are starting to look at me funny. Flash forward — Age 26 — Dear God, please let me not be pregnant. And then last year, with the permanent roommate stuck in New York, suddenly, mid-week, every single unit of the throng prayed for peace on earth post September the 11th.
The fair itself. For the tourists, cotton candy and unhygienic tattoos, helium balloons and ‘kaleji-wallahs’, a visit to the church, a walk down Bandstand, the unfettered dissemination of so much garbage.
For the young locals, its jam sessions, first boyfriends, (that funny story about how 14-year-old R’s mum came and stopped the ferris wheel because he was on it with a forbidden, impending-SSC-exam non-friendly girlfriend — oh the shame).
And then there’s the Bandra Fair for the Bandra people — the Monday after. When the tourists have taken their toffee paper hats and irritating little plastic peeping things home, the locals come out. The stalls are coming down and the rides have their safety screws off (much more exciting that way and if you land in a balcony, you’ll just meet a new neighbour). The kaleji-wallah fills your plate up extra, your annual raspberry duet melts onto your jeans. You take your six-year-old twin siblings for a spin on your scooter, balloons tied to the spare wheel, your hair flying behind you onto their cotton candy.
Your mother grinning because once again, she’s bought a truck-load of junk super cheap because it’s the last day. An unforeseen, future permanent roommate ties a balloon to a bar on the ground floor so it bobs up to your bedroom window. Wax in the buckets. Peace in Bandra. Until next September.”