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The Bandra of yesteryear was a tiny fishing village inhabited by Kolis (fishermen) and farmers. It was acquired by the British East India Company while the rest of Bombay belonged to the Portuguese.
It was originally known as Vandra, or Ape (home of monkeys), and then Bandor (Portuguese) and then Bandera, Bandura, Bandore, Pandara, Bandorah, Bandara, and finally Bandra, with a railway signboard finalizing it at the end of the last century. Originally, Salsette was separated by a tidal creek that the Portuguese called Bandora Creek, which the English changed to Mahim Creek.
At one time, Bandra had been inhabited mainly by East Indians (original residents of Bombay Salsette, Bassein, and Thana), a few Goans and Mangalorean immigrants, Parsis, Muslims, Europeans, and Hindu Kolis.
Bandra consisted of the villages Sherly, Malla, Rajan, Kantwady, Waroda, Ranwar, Boran, Pali, and Chuim. However, the sheen and plush of the new have stolen the lightning from the cultural and historical significance of Bandra. We take a look at the history of four of these villages.
Ranwar is the original of the 24 pakhadis, or villages, that made up Bandra.
When the Britishers took Bombay away from the Portuguese in 1661, they did not obtain control immediately. However, at some point, the Brits did annex the territory, but by that time, the Portuguese had left two important legacies through a combination of forced conversion and fornication: religion and family names. Thus, Ranwar ended up inhabited by fervent Catholics with names like D’Souza and Pereira.
Even today, many of the buildings in Ranwar are at least 100 years old, in the typical Indo-Portuguese-Colonial style with large wooden porches, external staircases, pointed roofs, and sometimes a touch of neoclassical elements to keep abreast of changing times. A lot of these buildings are made out of teak, and one can observe the similarity of architecture between other heritage areas like Khotachiwadi or Pali village.
Ranwar’s history would be incomplete without mentioning the establishment of Bandra Gymkhana in 1924 by some enthusiastic Ranwarites. The gymkhana is credited with producing experts in sports like badminton, tennis, cricket football, and hockey.
Ranwarites also had a literary group called ‘The Varsity Circle,’ started by some Bandraiites. They met for debates, held talks, and even published magazines which were in demand, even by outsiders. The Varsity Circle seemed to have encouraged literary, acting and public speaking talent.
The Ranwar fund is a chit fund started 150 years back and is still going strong – another reason why the community is close-knit. Even today, when the original financial objectives of the funds hardly matter, membership is full and often passed on as an inheritance.
Like the other heritage villages in Bandra, Ranwar today is under siege. Present-day Ranwar reflects the changing times. What were once quiet and peaceful lanes are now buzzing thoroughfares for traffic, with the ever-present dust, noise, and frequent traffic jams now accepted.
Ranwar village is located between Hill Road and Mt Carmel Road while touching Chapel Road, Waroda Road, and Veronica Road. The explorer’s treat is the street art that is found squeezed in these areas. Hence, Ranwar is now the center of Mumbai’s burgeoning street art scene thanks to an initiative called Bollywood Art Project, or simply (B.A.P).
Popular with the creative and hipster lifestyles, Ranwar’s heritage architecture may survive thanks to an influx of street artists and gluten-fearing foodies. Let’s be grateful they’re our best hope of preserving this slice of Old Bandra.
Unlike its fortunate brother Ranwar, this village is a far cry from the development or the artsy scene Bandra is famous for. Although it is in the vicinity of Bandstand with its posh bungalows and high-rise buildings, this village is unkempt and uncared for. The few original inhabitants of Bandra, or Mumbai in general, the Koli community (Chimbaikars) can be still found here.
This village is located behind Chimbai Road, and one has to ignore the stench of rotting garbage mingling with days of urine, which greets you as you enter the village. There is litter all along the seashore, as you get acquainted with the dark and dying face of Bandra.
The Kolis still fish in the water, and with the strict rules post-terrorist attacks in Mumbai, everyone must possess a photo id, without which they can end up in jail. One can observe that TVs and smartphones are ubiquitous in households. Badminton keeps them busy each night.
The main fishing activity takes place during the night, and your stint is over when you spot another vessel. Very rarely, there are tussles in the otherwise smooth-functioning night-fishing activity.
There is another surprise: the community shacks where children play and old timers gather for a chat. The families are encouraged to mingle since men could be away for days, hence, making a support system that needs to be in place.
Once the fishermen return, the village is abuzz with the selling activity and bargaining for the fresh catch. A little more banter and the fisherwomen bags your purchase.
Pali Village Market and Pali Village Cafe may be your regular haunts in this post locality, but Pali was originally a farming community. The farmers in this area purchased land close to each other and built houses while the fertile land was used to cultivate rice. The farmland was later sold while the houses still retain their elegance and affluence.
The houses are characterized by a verandah and grill for the people to indulge in chatting. In comparison to Chimbai, the houses here are better planned. The village at one time boasted of Catholics, while it is now slowly changing to cosmopolitan.
As compared to Chimbai, the villages were quiet and lazy, lacking the hustle and bustle.
In the 1940s, Chuim Village was as small as 70 houses, with some more along Ambedkar Road. Due to the low density of housing, one could hear the railway wagons being shunted at Khar Station in the mornings. On Sundays, it was possible to hear the bells of St. Anne’s Church.
The large tank between Garden Homes and the present church had water throughout the year, especially full after the monsoon. Chuim also used to be bustling with activities like Fishing Day, when fishermen from Chuim and Danda would cast their nets in this tank, leading to the on-the-spot sale of fresh catches. Such events were always announced by the town crier, assuring the presence of lots of spectators.
Another event was the cricket match between the Fernandes family and the rest of the public which went on until the 60’s, albeit with changing venues. There were so many Fernandes in Chuim that they could form their own team.
Running races were common in Chuim, too, as was badminton – another activity in the yesteryears popularized by the Badminton Club of Chuim.
As more people moved to Chuim, giving rise to high-rises and swanky residences, anonymity set in and the names were forgotten.
In spite of this, Chuim still retains the old-world charm, and only until a few years ago, film companies would often visit Chuim to capture it.
In the modern days, the face of the serene Chuim has changed with the opening of The Hive, a cultural hub located in an old Portuguese bungalow in Chuim Village. Split across two levels with a leafy outdoor area, it’s the address for performances, live jamming, workshops, seminars, and co-working, with the focus firm on furthering the arts and technology.
As one might have observed, the interest in these villages is on the rise due to soaring real estate prices, being a celebrity haven and home to upscale restaurants and neighborhoods. However, relishing the idyll and tranquil of yesteryears in such a place is a matter of nostalgia.
When people speak about Bandra West, they refer to the swanky suburb leaving out these villages, or gaothans. Thanks to the recent heritage status, the villages can retain the architecture and aesthetic. A piece of history, thus, preserved in the times of concretization.
While earlier, people only indulged in the village life in healthy doses, the emerging population wants to integrate itself to these villages. Hence, to the new ‘hipster and artsy’ populace, these villages satisfy their need for the chic, organic, undiscovered, and niche craving.
While the new establishments are in cohorts with the inhabitants of the villages to maintain the status of the villages, it’s highly debatable whether it’s just the aesthetic they want to conserve or the way of life on the whole.