Despite spending a lot of my time in India over the years, this was the first time I had spent Christmas in Mumbai. The suburb where I am staying is called I.C. Colony (Immaculate Conception) and after Bandra is probably one of the largest concentrations of Catholics in Mumbai. Consequently Christmas is a major festival in this area. Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas is not celebrated in other parts of Mumbai due to the paucity of decorations, there is no mistaking it in I.C Colony. Late on Christmas Eve, The Boss and I prised my little niece away from her Hindi TV serials and went for a walk around the colony to see the decorations. The streets were filled with people considerably better dressed than us, the men in suits and ties, the women in their best dresses, the younger ones looking suspiciously like they were heading to a nightclub rather than midnight mass such were the slinkiness of their outfits.
The decorations were fantastic, the streets lined with stars, trees filled with blinking lights.
Each apartment building had a nativity scene set up in their grounds, a local political party having sponsored a competition for the best display. My favourite was the Football themed one, complete with Jesus Mary and Joseph in center-field!
I am often amazed by how the Universe looks after me.
Yesterday my car broke down. Not normally a reason for celebration you might say, however it broke down just as I handed the keys over to the Valet parking attendant outside one of my favourite restaurants in Bandra. The car wouldn’t start and anyone who has been in Bandra at lunch time will know that the narrow lanes are so jammed with traffic that it was impossible to push start the vehicle. So always one to try and make the best of a situation, I abandoned the car, asked the Valet to keep a watchful eye over it and went inside for lunch. No sense in being hungry at a time like this.
After carefully placing my order I started making a few calls. My citrus salad and BBQ chicken wings appeared a short while later so I put down the phone and concentrated on the more important matter of satisfying my taste-buds. The wings were beautiful, very tender with a sweet but spicy marinade. Hunger temporarily sated I resumed the calls and by the time the main course of succulent Roast Chicken with grilled vegetables arrived, I had located a very helpful man at the local Mahindra dealer. With the manner of your friendly neighbourhood doctor he asked a number of probing questions (about the car of course) and finally diagnosed that there wasn’t enough charge left in the (now 4 years old) battery to start the car and it would need replacing. By now I was really enjoying the chicken, beautifully cooked as it was, meat just falling off the bone, and he put me in touch with a local battery dealer.
I contemplated ordering another plate of roast chicken but decided instead to direct my attention towards the dessert section. I ordered a lovely molten flour-less chocolate cake with orange sorbet, the acidity of the orange balancing out the sweetness of the chocolate perfectly. The only disappointment was that the Boss insisted on sharing it.
Dessert satisfactorily devoured and a couple of cups of a very pleasant white tea from Darjeeling later, an elderly man turned up on a scooter, (outside the restaurant I hasten to clarify), with a new battery which he duly fitted. I paid the bill, thanked the staff for their excellent service, retrieved my keys from the parking valet, and headed on my way, stomach full and Tommy enjoying a pleasant post-prandial slumber.
While in Mumbai a very good friend from HK happened to be there and was staying at the Taj Lands End in Bandra.
It was the first day of the Bandra Fair which commemorates the nativity of Mary and a very auspicious time to visit the Mount Mary Church which is right next to our friend’s hotel.
So we decided to kill two birds with one stone and dragged our friend out and up the tree-lined lanes winding through some of Mumbai’s most expensive real estate up the hill to the Church.
There were some interesting signs on the way.
Mount Mary Church or to use it’s official name “ The Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount “ has been a place of worship in one form or another since the 16th century and is very popular in Mumbai.
Visited by people of all religions it is interesting to observe an example of the many cultural differences present in India. You can spot the Hindu worshippers easily as, accustomed to removing their footwear before entering a temple, they do the same before entering the church, despite not being required to do so. Muslim women enter and cover their heads as is their custom in the mosque.
Outside the church are stalls selling wax offerings shaped as people, houses and even body parts. If someone has an illness or injury affecting a certain limb, then you purchase the wax moulding of that body part and make an offering of it inside the church in the hope that your prayers to the Mother for healing will be heard.
I don’t consider myself a religious person, more spiritual, and not a big visitor of churches. I have to say though that it was a very pleasant experience inside. Very calm and peaceful and one can see why so many people seek this space out.
The serenity of the church is only disturbed by the large black crows cawing from their perches on the red chandeliers hanging from the church ceiling, seemingly passing comments to each other about the worshippers kneeling below.
The other day The Boss and I went to visit our friend who lives in Bandra in West Mumbai. Bandra was first colonized by the Portuguese in the 1500’s and administered by Jesuit Priests and consequently became home to a predominantly Christian population.
In more recent times Bandra has become the preferred residential location for the rich and famous and is to Mumbai what Beverley Hills is to Los Angeles.
Many of Bollywood’s bright lights live here and every time The Boss and I come to eat in one of the many excellent restaurants we always spot a celebrity. Not seen a superstar yet, the equivalent of say, a Tom Cruise or a Julia Roberts, but we have spotted many other actors and actresses each time we have dined.
The Boss is an excellent spotter. She only needs to see someone once in a magazine and will then recognize them anywhere. I am terrible. Most of these people, without makeup and in normal clothes look nothing like their on-screen persona, so consequently I never notice, preferring to tuck into my food and knock back copious quantities of fermented grape juice, and it is only when the Boss brings them to my attention, that I realize that I am eating in the presence of Bollywood Royalty.
The interesting thing is that if any of these film and TV stars are out in public in other parts of the city or India they are mobbed in no time by the public. But in Bandra that is uncool. Bandra residents may glance sideways and will possibly mention it to their companion, but will not make a fuss and they just carry on with whatever they are doing. Even though I am a foreigner here and don’t watch a great deal of Hindi films I still get a thrill at seeing someone famous or even infamous, but Bandra people would never lower themselves to indulge in star struck adoration.
I wonder if it’s the same in Beverly Hills? Can any readers enlighten me?