Friday, March 4, 2011

A Simple Desultory Memoir

(Published in 2009 in the Bandra festival mag)

Much as I shrink from opening sentences with the pompous ‘Contrary to popular belief’ cliché, I have no choice but to give in here. So, contrary to popular belief, I never heard the cheerful Birdie song even once during the year I lived in Bandra. Heck, I didn’t even hear Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight. I’m still in deep shock. Why weren’t the stereo players in the Catholic neighbourhood spinning stereotypes? Had the world changed so drastically when I wasn’t looking?

Oddly, it’s Simon & Garfunkel who always come to mind when I think back (fondly, of course) on my days as a ‘Bandra bugger’. I like to believe that I stumbled upon the inspiration for 7 O'Clock News / Silent Night in a leafy lane one evening. Christmas was round the corner, and choir singers were enthusiastically giving nightingales a terrible complex in one of the buildings on St. Cyril Road. A listless chauffeur in a car parked below was dreaming of dinner while listening to the Hindi news. The swell of the choir, the crackle of the radio and a staccato voice urgently delivering grim news, ooooh. It gave new life to a tired old phrase: Art Garfunkel imitates life. (Sorry Paul, deeply regret that I couldn’t fit you in).

Every bit as precious as the snatch of music I’ve waxed eloquently on above, is a snippet of conversation I overheard on another of my evening perambulations in the neighbourhood: an irate father sternly threatening his downcast son that he’d give him ‘good pasting’ when they got home. I struggled to contain the insane urge to hurl myself into the irate father’s hirsute arms. While that remark didn’t quite make up for the Birdie song, it reassured me that the good old Bandra was still there - somewhere.

Those experiences go into my crammed memory chest, along with my first meeting with Ernest Fernandes - who, incidentally, does not live up to his name, hallelujah. Mr. Fernandes was mine host in a charming Catholic quarter of Bandra, strategically situated within walking distance of Hearsch, Café Andora, Candies and Mac Craig – a prime location for incorrigible snackers like myself. We eyed each other wearily and warily as I entered his house. I’d seen about 50,896 unsuitable apartments in Bandra, he must have met an equal number of unsuitable prospective tenants, and really, we weren’t in the mood to have a cosy chat about life, the universe and everything. But God, as always, has other plans, and that’s exactly what we found ourselves engrossed in while the broker glanced frequently at her watch. She wasn’t doing it surreptitiously either, but I ignored the hint. It’s not every day that you enjoy stimulating conversations with complete strangers, after all.

What did we talk about? Mr. Fernandes’s karmic fear of being caught in dark alleys by vengeful copywriters he’d gleefully tortured during his marketing career. Wives of the stung copywriters would tearfully plead with their children to pay attention to Messrs Wren & Martin and Strunk & White or else that dreadful Mr. Fernandes would box their ears when they grew up. Legends get around and he was justifiably wary when it came to light that I happened to be a (shudder) copywriter too. I warmly assured Mr. Fernandes that I don’t carry nail files in my handbag, leave alone steak knives.

The conversation lazily drifted to the habits of nuns (my lips are primly sealed), and a book I’d just reviewed: Nalini Jones’s What They Call Winter. When Mr. Fernandes knowledgably informed me that the fictional Santa Clara in her book was based on this very area, and that her ancestral home was spitting distance away, those were not goose bumps I experienced, but goose hills. My inner Hindu surfaced and threw some soul-stirring questions at me: Was it the spirit of one of Nalini Jones’s ancestors who led me to this lovely house as thanks for the glowing review? And, more importantly, was it a Casper the Friendly Neighbourhood Ghost sort of spirit or more like something in The Exorcist?

Chez Nous (Our Home) - that was the name of well, our home in Bandra. It went down a treat with our Bordeaux and Brie friends, but it didn’t go down at all with many others. Picture this: it’s 3 am, a Meru cab is on its way to escort my drowsy husband to the airport, and the confused driver calls up - he’s been going round (and round and round and round and round) in circles looking for a building called Shaynu. He’s not exactly affable at this point – can’t blame him, can you? After dealing with that tedious issue, we brace ourselves for the next inevitable stumbling block: ‘Not Sant Squirrel Road, it’s Saint Cyril Road,’ we groan. Gosh, that was a terribly frustrating experience, but we giggled effervescently through it each time it happened. Admittedly, we laughed a lot that year.

When we eventually decided to a hunt for a home of our very own, we were extremely picky and choosy about certain things - for starters, we made darn well sure that even non-Alliance Française alumni could pronounce the name without stumbling. I have to wryly confess though, that when Meru cabbies come calling these days, it isn’t as much fun anymore. Sigh. Fortunately, Bandra is walking distance away, and if you see a shadowy figure lurking pensively around St. Cyril Road every now and then, please don’t give me good pasting - I’m just waiting to hear the Birdie song.

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