If you have to ask you'll never know ! [L.Armstrong]... thats Louis not Lance.

Sep 11, 2008

The Golden Mile.

September brings two very disconvergent souls, together. Ganesha and Mother Mary. Mother Mary who rose from the seas of Bandstand in a fishing net. To be forever enshrined at the church at the top of the hill. Ganesha who is consigned to the waters at the seas of Bandstand till September next.
So you trudge up the hill for the novena , if you’re this side of 40 or share a rickshaw with your sodality friends if you’re not. The culmination of the novena happens on the 8th. The feast of Our lady, if you’re a saint. For every body else it happens on the Sunday following the eighth. The day that every one celebrates as Bandra feast. The day that Bandra fair begins. The day that little piggies have given up their lives for. To be re-incarnated as vindaloo and sorpotel.
The day has to start with a visit to the Mount. For mass. A half hour here or a half hour there doesn’t matter. There’s a mass every 1/2 hour. You get the homily onwards from the 7.00 a.m. mass and the stay on till the homily begins of the 7.30 mass. A bit disjointed but a full mass. If only I could have got my parents to see it this way when we were kids. I tried . They never did. Time spent in church is time spent away from the fair. Quickly you bought your candles . You went into the church. You drop your candles into the crates at the foot of the altar. You genuflect before the satue. You look warily at the crazies who have prostrated themselves flat out on the floor. At other faiths who are banging their heads on the chequered Italian marble floor. At the priest who is trying to explain the difference between prasad and communion to Hari Prasad Lohia. And why Hari isn’t getting any. At the dress of woven gold that adorns the statue of Our Lady. At the balloon wallahs who lurk just beyond the gate.
Mass done. You move to the fair. The church compound is filled with church supported stalls. St. Anthony’s home for the aged. Lucky dips. Where for a rupee you can win three embroidered handkerchiefs. Or a jar of home made pickle. Or a trio of plastic flowers. Or a set of dentures ? No. Those belong to the stall manager who’s taken them off for a break. The sisters from the convent next door have a stall with sandwiches and cold drinks. Orange juice, Kala katha, lemonade. Pre coke and pepsi days these. Sweet stalls . Chikki. Gram. Freshly roasted. Freshly shelled. None of the games yet. After an hour in church hunger overrides all else. The gas balloon guys know you want one even before you do. They tie the string onto your wrist quicker than the proton goes thru the Haltron collider. It’s a cruel parent who would make them take it off. But when they try and sell you one for each hand even kind parents turn cruel. The guys with multi colored hats make a racket with their pam-para-pas. The residents around the fair are agitating. To ban pam-par-pas. They have to put up with their flower beds doubling up as spittoons. Their compound wall being the loo. Their driveway being a sheekh kebab stall. But their sleep they hold sacred. Afternoon siesta included. And this holy space where angels fear to tread is threatened by pam-para-pas.
More food. Samosas. Chole bhature. Bhelpuri.
‘ But you just ate 4 sandwiches.”
“But I’m still hungry “
“Ok eat them but when you vomit don’t tell me.”
“ Ok.”
And then to round it off dessert. You’re spoilt for choice. Candy floss. Ice cream. Gulab jams. The candy floss wins. But a deal is made with a sibling who chooses ice-cream. So that you’ll both have the best of both worlds.
The games are popping up with more frequency between ever decreasing channa and bhelpuri stalls. And in the distance you can see the top three seats of the giant wheel as they go round and round. The call of the siren. ..
So you’re torn. Rush to the giant wheel. Or get into the Well-of –Death. On whose parapet they have a sequined clad motorcycle rider. Who revs [ what seemed like a Harley Davidson to you then] to full volume. While the loudspeaker next to him says something that even he can't hear over the noise of his machines engine. So we go up the rickety wooden ladder. And the game show starts out tamely enough. With cyclists defying gravity and going around a well that if not death, meant at least a few broken bones if they slipped and fell. And then the motorcyclist came on. A few practice rounds on the floor of the well of death and he was off. Soon just a blur of motion. Riding up to within a few inches of the railing against which we stood. At that speed and at that height the Well-of-Death could easily have been the Well-of Death. But it never was. Then came the special attraction . A woman was going to go into the Well-of –Death. Fanfare music would roll out from the tinny Ahuja speakers. A hush settles over this woden framed amphitheatre. And in a flash the said woman would be looking Yama in the face. A flash of flying hair . The jumpsuit with sequins the same as her predecessor. And when she finished her round she pull up at the bottom of the pit. And take a quick bow. Before vanishing into the little door cut into the side. And only those spectators right in front of her caught a glimpse of her Adam’s apple as she vanished.
Onwards Christian soldiers. On to the girl Snake Girl. Who had a head of a girl and the body of a snake. In badly sewn rexine. Which dangled below the table on which she lay. Rolling her large kohled eyes. Which at ten years old had seen it all and then some.
“ You want more candy floss ? You’ll get worms. I swear there must be a hole in your stomach. “
But you got more candy floss. And the worms. Well we’ll worry about that bridge when it’s time to cross it.
The laughing gallery was for fools. Who wants to pay good money to laugh at themselves ? Lots of people . So we laughed at them laughing at themselves . For free. Jo-boy , Clara, their fourth cousins from Borivli. Third cousins from Andheri. Second cousins from Santacruz and first cousins from Khar are spotted. So we stop. We kiss. Sweaty cheeks. Ours must be sweaty too. And candy flossed. We say “ Happy Feast” We promise to visit each others houses in the course of the week. Jo-boy slips some money into our pockets. Mother says “ NO.” Half heartedly. We try and give it back. Half heartedly. Jo-Boy insists.
That was a bonus.Which vanishes. When we try and toss five inch diameter rings over six inch long soaps and watches in seven inch long cases. And two inch long matchboxes. But we feel happy. Walking away with the most expensive matchboxes we’ve ever had.
There’s a table at the side of the road. Where an artist sits with his pallete of water colors. Coloring the black and white pictures that are being shot behind him. Behind sheets of black cloth. He has his work cut out for him when someone wants their whole head including their hat of many colors, colorized. So we agonise over where to pose. On the moon. A-la- Neil Armstrong. The moon is in profile. And we could stand on the bench behind it so that we crest the surface. Or the jeep. An open jeep. With a gun strapped to the front. Or the cardboard motorcycle. Hardly Davidson it says on the side. [ I made that up. But it should have ] And we finally pose in front of the Taj Mahal. The sight of whose badly plagiarized proportions would have made Mumtaz head for the family court in Bandra East and claim maintenance from Shahjehan for Aurangzeb.
Come back in 30 minutes. Coloured ? No black and white.
Into the hallowed portals of “ The September Garden “ we enter. Giant wheels and merry –go-rounds. Hot dogs and ribbon sandwiches. September Kings and Queens of the future manning games stalls. Test your hand. Trace the 1mm wire with a 3mm loop. And the minute one touches the other. Bells ring and lights flash. And the crowd watching you sighs in disappointment. They wanted you to win.
Candles on a board. Light twelve candles with one match and walk away with one Rasna bottle. Two blisters later you havent been able to light up even seven candles. Who likes Rasna anyways ! You try and kick the ball thru the hanging tyre. Now you know why you’re in the B team. You try and knock down a pyramid of empty cans. With three balls. From a million miles away.
Knock the bottom row out first.
Throw the ball really hard at the table and the cans will all fall down with the vibration.
The advice flows fast and furious. Nothing works. You aim for the table and hit the lampshade in the adjacent White Elephant stall. Thank god its plastic. You softly lob the next two balls onto the cans. But there are still more cans vertical than horizontal. You move to the hockey stall. Where you have to shoot the ball into a sideways lying 1kg Dalda dabha. You shoot twice imperiling said white elephant lampshade once again. For the third shot you close your eyes and shoot blind. And the Rasna bottle is finally yours.
Your budget is exhausted. And the family has to go to Uncle Giles’s house. Who almost lives in the fair. For lunch. Which will draw cousins from the far flung reaches of the city. From Khotachiwadi to Rathodi. Where Aunty Maries fugias make you go down on your knees and shout Alleluia. Where Uncle Giles will slip you a glass of shandy while he tells your Mom “ See crow !”
The giant wheel line reaches all the way to the niches of Mt. Carmels graveyard now. So we might as well save that for another day.
A detour from the strip is called for.A side exit past Suapri Talao. Which carries the remanants of the fair. Spread on sheets on the ground are fair worthy but not stall worthy items. Glass birds that alternately dipped and rose and dipped and rose. Ad infinitum. Filled with blue and green and red magical liquids. Motor boats that putt-putted their way interminably around a plastic basin. Powered by a little lamp. Doll house sets of furniture. In steel. In wood. In plastic. Earthen ware piggy banks. For whose contents you would have to break the bank. Posters spread out on an obliging compound wall. A wide angle shot of the grand canyon with Rhonda Byrne like quotes superimposed on the Colorado river. A younger happier Amitabh Bachan. Sacred heart of Jesus cheek by jowl with Zeenat Aman and Rekha. The resident of a building is disputing an entrepreneurs right to use said residents’ building gate as a display stand for his assortment of belts. Leather, cloth, metal and plastic. Coiled and looped obscuring the wrought iron lettering that proclaims. Av_ Mar_a Co_op Hsin_ So_y. Water filled balloons with long rubber cords attached make yo-yos. A little fragile. Assortments of plaster of paris fruits. In Gauguinesque colours. Replicas of birds. With plaster bodies and sequined eyes. But real feathers. Chains with little crosses below. Rings in brass and copper and aluminium and bronze. A stray channawalla. Who has a cane stand with all his wares contained in one basket. Makes for a quick getaway when the munciaplity descends on them. Because they’re off license. As you walk past you are implored to buy. Implored to Give. To assorted beggars. With an assortment of body parts gone wrong. The fascination for fingerless hands and legless torsos is something the adults don’t share.
“But how does he go to the toilet Mummy.”
“ Don’t ask silly questions now. Hurry up .”
Past the Supari Talao and on to Uncle Giles and Aunty Maries house. Where the noise of cousins who met each other only last month leads you to believe they are meeting after twenty five years or more. Where the cake and fugias are a pre cursor of good things to come. All the men of the family led by Giles himself are at the Mount. Where they organize communion lines and collection boxes. Priest’s vestments and visiting choirs. The women in the family keep the invading hordes at bay. With mince filled scones and patties. While news that they told each other over the phone yesterday is retold once again in person. The boys repair to the terrace to fly kites. Overtures are made to generous uncles. About how the money ran out at the September Gardens. About how at the ice cream stall there were so many flavours but so little cash.
The pillars that hold up Mount Mary's basilica are back. Tired from a duty that has had them on their feet from 5 in the morning. More wishes. More kisses. More shandy. For me. The piggie is being readied for his transfiguration. From piggie to protein. Sorry fats. Someones spectacles are borrowed to help him look cool. A lit ciggarete clamped between his jowls,helps him take his execution like a man.The pies are withdrawn from the oven. The moile and vindaloo ladled out into the serving dishes. The fugia bowl readied on the table. It follows the law of diminshing returns. Every time you return from the table, bedroom, terrace, bar, the fugias in the bowl diminsh. But Aunty Marie's largesse knows no bounds. And the fugia bowl replicates the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. So we all gather for the grace before meals. And then settle down to eat, eat and eat. After which the children ready for another foray into the fair. The parents are settling down to a siesta. One uncle is coerced into forgoing his siesta to escort the kids back to the fair. Where the line at the giant wheel, in the heat of the afternoon sun now has only the requisite mad dogs , Englishmen and us. Soon we're screaming our way in circles. Looking down at Bandra from a height we've never ever seen it from. Crammed four in a box meant for two. Getting that sinking feeling as the box plummets down to earth from a seemingly unrecoverable drop. The wheel goes faster and faster and just when you think it's going to help you become a replica of the Endeavour,it slows. Then the whole film played out backwards. And that for most of us was the high point of what was the Bandra Fair.


Anonymous said...

Awwww I LOVE the Bandra Fair.

patrice fernandes said...


The Bandra Fair has changed so much since we were children. But I love the way you have described it, hilarious!

Chriselle Almeida said...

Yes, the Bandra fair was always the highlight of September as a child. I miss it so much!!

Smiling Dolphin said...

you are priceless......!

Floyd said...

Oh i remmeber stealing A Kitty and A Friedas flowers for Novena. the only time God allowed stealing.

Nic said...

my mom always bought a nice skinny cane at the fair which lost its identity in just a few days...

I of course rememeber the kadio bodios!!! do they still make those?

Neil said...

... and the black Calicut Halwa that was sold near the stall that made "customised" keychains with your name embossed in gold... not forgetting the GannaJuice wallahs who sang in 50 different sharps & flats, beckoning you to their stall. And an anual favorite, the lil tin boat that ran on candle power!!!!!!!!!

Amit M said...

Saw the Bandra Fair for the first time last year. I liked the atmosphere, though I was suffocated by the number of people (in my defense, I grew up in the Bangalore of the 80s). My wife's a Bandra girl and she was so excited, so it was well worth the rain and mob.