June 09, 2006

Ranvar's East Indian Charm

On our way to Ranvar we took the left-turn before Balaji hotel, a short way off Lucky restaurant in Bandra, entering a narrow lane in Waroda, where we rode past houses that sat on the edge of the road; their balconies seemed to bend over the road in fatherly concern. We circled the place at slow pace while I looked out to see if I could identify houses with old world East Indian or Goan charm. There wasn’t much of a hint of it from the road. One would need to criss-cross the narrow lanes that bisected the road at regular intervals to catch a glimpse of those houses. When we got off near Mehboob studios after circling the area in search of Ranwar, the rickshawallah said he had never heard of the place, I decided it would be a better idea to walk it out. In the end it turned out the right thing to do.

Stopping at a house parallel to the Rebello road we asked for directions to Ranvar. An elderly man in white vest, joined by an elderly lady, possibly his wife, and curious to know what this was all about, pointed out a cross-road a short distance away and asked us to take it, and on turning left ‘walk straight, and you’ll reach Ranvar.’

After walking down the cross-road, we turned left, into Rebello Road, passing old-world, colourfully painted houses, some with wide fronts and gates with peeling paint. I read the names off buildings and bungalows that lined the road on either side – Joylyn, Butter Cups, Tulips, Kylemore, Beryl Apartments. There were many more, but I was too engrossed taking in the feel of the lane to write them all down. The names were very Goan, maybe East Indian too, the latter I wouldn’t know for sure as I haven’t seen much of them in Goa. The original residents of Bandra, the East Indians, originally hailed from Bombay Salsette, Bassein, and Thane, and worked for the East India company, hence the name – East Indians. Later, as Christians from Goa, and Karnataka arrived in large numbers, often sharing the same surnames with the original residents, the latter took on the name ‘East Indians’ to distinguish themselves from the new arrivals. Together they gave Bandra a unique cultural thread that is visible in part in the houses we were looking for.

We crossed a road and continued down the Rebello road before coming upon Veronica road. We took a narrow lane off the road, stopping to buy two bottles of flavoured milk from a shop in the lane that led further on to Ranvar; in olden days the Ranvar club was well known for its Christmas, and New Year Eve dances. The Ranvar road ran parallel to Veronica Road. Later in the day we realized that sandwiched between these two roads were houses that sat cheek-by-jowl, connected by narrow lanes that criss-crossed the locality. Some of those lanes, maybe I should call them passages, were so narrow as to allow space for a single person. In a squarish area hemmed in by houses on all sides stood a Cross with space in front where the faithful could gather for prayers. While I took its picture a middle-aged East Indian lady leaned out her first-floor window and called out to me to ascertain my identity. Convinced that we were upto no mischief she smiled not before telling me that "Even Thane has East Indian population." Passing through those narrow passages constrained by houses that rose above them on either side, it was almost as if I was seeing a bit of Portuguese landscape from pictures exhibited at the Fundacao Oriente back in Goa three years ago. While we stood on the road, contemplating our next step, Krishna and I met a elderly drunk wearing soiled clothes. He looked amiable alright. He saw us for what we were, tourists.

“You come to see heritage?” he asked us.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Come this way, I will show you,” he offered, pointing further down the road. But I was wary of any offer from a drunk, not only for where he might lead us to in an unfamiliar place but also for what he might demand from us at the end of it.

“No, it’s alright. We’re waiting for a friend,” I offered, hoping to shake him off. But he displayed the tenacity of a drunk. It took us some time before we could convince him that we were fine by ourselves. Finding us steadfast, he went his way, which wasn’t very far, stopping at a house for a chat on seeing a familiar face in the verandah. We quickly walked past, pausing at the turn where Nagrana lane ran between a tallish building and a compound wall to our left that was spray-painted with Gangsta Rap messages. We took the lane, emerging out onto a busy road that led to the Holy Family hospital a short distance to our left. We returned back the way we had come. We had barely emerged from the narrow Nagrana lane when we heard a voice behind us call out sharply, “Go straight, and turn left, and you’ll find what you’re looking for.” We turned around, and saw the drunk gesturing to us. “Walk straight, and turn left over there,” he said, pointing to a narrow lane further up the road. We did as he said, walking past a blue Maruti car parked in front of a large house that looked more an entrance to an Army barrack than a residential dwelling, and found what we were looking for – the East Indian locality in Ranvar.


Anonymous said...

Your writing easily correlates with civic and cultural engagement of our country India. Its enjoyable and your write ups have a touch of history which make them edifying. Phrases like cheek-by-jowl are really effective,leave a mark on the readers mind.

Anil P said...

To Anan: Thank you. Walking in places that serve up history every footstep of the way is edifying in itself.

Anonymous said...

the thing is, everytime i read something on your blog, i wish to leave a comment. but having said how wonderful it is to read what u write, i dont want to sound repetitive and hence am left with nothing in particular to say. maybe, if there was a way you could see the smile of satisfaction adorning the reader's face, leaving a comment wouldnt be as daunting a task as it is now!

Anil P said...

To Anonymous: There is no way to see a 'smile of satisfaction' when the face is anonymous, but having said it satisfies me knowing that my writing evokes a smile, and pleasure. It makes my effort well worth it, and motivates me to deliver more. However it would indeed be nice to actually see the smile! Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, Anil, great stuff!

I've gotten some great ideas for the various nooks and crannies of the city that I want to see next time I'm back.

Keep it up!

Anil P said...

To Filmiholic: You're most welcome. There are more corners to Mumbai than most other cities. Good luck :)

Unknown said...

Anil you've seemed to have captured the senility and beauty of the hidden East Indian neigbhourhoods of Bombay brilliantly. Every time I walk - the buildings with their soiled exteriors and cracking interiors they stood there seeing entire through decades through, making me wonder what sights each of them must have born witness too.

Shashi Nayagam said...

Thanks for visiting my blog.
Altough I wouldn't have thought that my pond was inviting with water that was full of algae and frogs.
Your pictures especially the nature pictures of Goa are delightful. They reminded me of Pachmarhi a hill station which nestles amongst the Sathpura ranges and where I grew up.I enjoyed seeing that side of Bombay which we rarely see through your camera.

Anil P said...

To Akshay: Precisely. It is the 'unsaid' which these old dwellings promise that entices me time and again into visiting them. The feel of these places is quite something, they induce a thinking kind of silence.

Smoothieshake said...

I really like the pictures you have on this site... and even though a picture is worth a thousand words (oh how i HATE to be cliche), i find that you put up and picture and have a story behind it, which makes the pictures all the more entertaining. Thanks for visiting my blog!

Anonymous said...

hi again.. the thing about being anonymous is it helps keep illusions alive..lets let that be so, for u never know, the suprise might not very pleasant :)