Zertab Quaderi is a Bangladeshi National living in Dhaka now. She spent one year in Bandra as a working girl in 2006. How she landed in Bandra would be another story. This is Zertab reminiscing about her life in Bandra back in 2006. It seems Bandra manages to evoke the same emotions now as then. Republishing her entire blogpost below.
In Dhaka Bangladesh September 2020
The hours after Fajr prayers have become a game of hide and seek as I lie in a half-awake and half-asleep state. As much as I want to, the oppressive heat and my sweat-matted hair don’t let me get back to a heavy slumber. As I lay in such a state this morning, I noticed a gentle breeze fanning away the sweat from my face and head. And suddenly I began to think of my life in Bandra.
Circa 2006 - A working girl's life
More specifically, life in Bandra (West). That’s where I lived for a year with a Goan Catholic family, as their paying guest. The year was 2006 and the month was June when I landed in Mumbai with a job. Although the job gave me the means to rent a room in a premium location, it didn’t give me many friends.
Therefore, I was usually left to my own devices on weekends, and boy I’m so glad I was able to carry on with my life in Bandra with no interruptions! I walked around the neighborhood that was predominantly Catholic. The street where I lived was St. Paul’s Road and it was one of those that was off the main road called Turner Road. I racked my brain trying to recall the name of the church near my place. Yes, it was St. Andrew’s.
In the beginning, I would lose my way back home every day after work. That brought on frequent panic attacks as I could make no head or tail of the narrow and sometimes dark alleys the cab took me through. But gradually I noted a few landmarks like Mehboob Studios and St. Andrew’s Church to help me find my way home.
I started to admire my neighborhood. Life in Bandra can be rewarding for those who love nature and vintage architecture. The area has many old trees and bungalows. I loved to walk in the shade of the big trees that spread their branches and shielded me from the hot sun. Sometimes I slowed down to take a good look at a bungalow and wonder who lived inside. The short steps, the windows with wooden slatters, the long balconies with ornate railings, and the slanted roofs adorned with weathered red tiles somehow had me spellbound. It seemed to me that each element of the house – even the iron gate – had a story to tell about lost loves, family celebrations, Sunday lunches, whispered secrets, and trysts.
My weekend morning and afternoon strolls took me near St. Stanislaus School. As I walked on the pavement passing it by, I used to look at the school playground where boys would be playing a sweaty game of football. I had to tread my path carefully as the roads were usually strewn with not flower petals, but dog shit. So you see, life in Bandra wasn’t always so romantic! However, on these walks, I could smell the delicious weekend lunches being cooked in homes. The smell of onion, button peppers, cumin, and oil would waft down as someone would add the tempering on their daal or curry. Sometimes I would take an auto to Hill Road where the street-side stalls held so many attractions for a 30-something me – cropped jeans, embellished tops, cool sandals, earrings, and other trinkets. Things were cheap and bargaining could make them cheaper.
There was an alley that led behind St. Paul’s Road where I was surprised to see so many female fishmongers. The whole place smelled of fish and the sea that was so close by. The area was full of colors and life as the women clad in gaudy saris chopped away the head, tail, or the fins of their catch, adding vibrancy to the multi-cultural life in Bandra. They wore the customary red bindi on their forehead and colorful bangles on their arms. Their slick, oily hair was tied in a neat bun at their nape. I think there was a mosque there and the call to prayers that reached my airy room in Hope Crest probably came from here.
Speaking of my room, it was a nice one with a balcony and windows on two sides. One of these windows overlooked the street and the large leafy trees I loved so much. I bought a red rug and a leafy green bedcover from FabIndia in Pali Hill for my room. To keep flowers, I got a stylish black vase from the same store. There was a florist right opposite Hope Crest and I used to buy yellow, mauve, and white chrysanthemums from him.
Entertainment Options in 2006
I used to watch movies and music videos on the VH1 channel from the morning on a weekend until it was about time for lunch. That was my favorite part of the day as I slowly made my way to Goodluck Restaurant near Mehboob Studios to buy paneer masala pulao. I used to gobble down half of it from the foil container and cover it back and keep it for later. That later was not much later though. After the afternoon siesta, I would eat the rest. In fact, the excitement of having it actually didn’t give me much sleep.
What’s a great meal without an equally great dessert! The slice of lemon pie from American Express Bakery was a melt-in-the-mouth experience. Their mushroom-spinach quiche was another favorite that I took as a snack. When speaking of desserts and snacks, another favorite of mine was Candies. It used to be packed with people waiting to be served. Sometimes I would go there and work with a cup of coffee and something delectable.
The pao wallah used to do his rounds in the neighborhood and I would buy a couple of pao from him sometimes to eat with canned tuna. The pao or bread was unbelievably cheap. Weekends also meant walking to Patel Provision Stores to buy my Maggi Atta Noodles, single-serving packs of soy milk, nutria-bars, and other essentials. There was an optics outlet right opposite Patel’s from where I used to get my contact lenses. I used to write letters regularly to my parents, telling them about my life in Mumbai in great detail. Those letters must be languishing somewhere unreachable now that 14 years have passed.
The sea breeze in Mumbai is always present and made the hot and humid days tolerable. My room had a door leading to the balcony and I used to keep it open throughout the day. Sometimes a dove would fly inside and watch me from the top of the wardrobe as I lay on my bed and stared back at it. From the balcony, I could see the neighbor’s two huge Great Danes housed on their roof.
There were so many evenings and nights when I took an auto to go to Bandstand and just sit by the sea under the huge canopy of a dark sky. I used to miss home. The breeze from the Arabian Sea caressed me and told me it’s alright. My watch reminded me that it was getting late and it was time to go home and prepare myself to face another day.
Read more stories by Zertab Quaderi on her blog.