A Piece of History in the City of Dreams: When people speak about Bandra West, they refer to the swanky suburb that’s associated with glamour, weekends and parties. Not many consider the old villages, or gaothans, of Bandra, which are now hidden behind the tall buildings and shopping malls of the area. Records imply that these villages date back to early 1500s, under the rule of Bahadur Shah of Gujrat. Only a few of them have survived the time, a few of them are on verge of extinction, and some of them are listed under heritage. Thanks to the recent heritage status, the villages can retain their architecture and aesthetic. Bandra area originally had 25 “pakhadis” (villages). These villages were either fishing or farming villages. The original inhabitants of these “pakhadis” were mainly the East Indians, Goans, Mangalorean immigrants, Muslims, Hindu Kolis, Europeans and Parsis. The old Bandra was scenic. With vast stretches of green, bungalows, clusters of villages, villas surrounded by little gardens, and a beautiful coastline.
In my project, I visited four of these villages, namely Ranwar, Chium, Chimbai, and Pali. Each of these villages have their own characteristic nature that I have tried to capture in my photographs.
Ranwar Village: Ranwar is the original of the 24 pakhadis, or villages, that made up Bandra. Quaint houses and bungalows make up Ranwar village, an area full of heritage buildings that show what Bandra (and Bombay) looked like before the 21st century caught up with them. When the Britishers took Bombay away from the Portuguese in 1661, they did not obtain control immediately. However, at some point, the British did annex the territory, but by that time, the Portuguese had left two important legacies: religion and family names. Thus, Ranwar ended up inhabited by 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.
1) Street art: The most striking feature of Ranwar village is its vibrant street art, home to the best works of graffiti virtuosi from all over the city. Recently, an artist from South Africa has made his mark on the scene, with brightly coloured elephants as seen in the picture below.
As soon as i walked into the lane leading up to Veronica street (considered to be the heart of the village) I came across this building. I could see that I wouldn't have to go too far to find the graffiti artwork that I had heard so much about. As I wandered further into these streets, there was no shortage of paint. Shutters of closed shops, broken down buildings, walls of homes, were all used as canvas for these artists to showcase their talent while bringing vibrancy to the area.
3) BAP: The Bollywood Art Project started in 2012 creating larger-than-life murals of Bollywood legends. Its lofty aim is to transform the walls in Bombay into a living memorial to Bollywood. BOLLYWOOD ART PROJECT (B.A.P) started with the vision of one man: Ranjit Dahiya. After arriving in Bombay in 2008 he was surprised that one of the city's biggest icons, Bollywood, didn't have much of a visual presence. So he decided to do something about it. Being trained as a graphic artist, and having worked as a painter of movie signs for cinemas, Mr Dahiya soon found his creative space. Large murals came up all over the city, particularly in old Bandra, a welcome paint job for its crumbling facades.
Of the many tributes to Bollywood's contributions, this mural stood out for me, largely because of its size. If you look closely you can see the 'Bollywood Art Project' signature towards the bottom right. While it may seem calm, this lane was particularly crowded with traffic, the bikes and autos clearly not yet accustomed to stopping for art lovers who are attempting to take pictures in the area. I was nearly run over multiple times while trying to capture this wall to the best of my abilities, but I came away with pictures that I really like.
Pali Village: Pali Village Market and Pali Village Cafe may be regular haunts in this 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 the Chimbai village, the houses here are better planned. The village at one time housed a majority of Catholics, while it is now slowly changing to cosmopolitan.
4) Quiet lanes, and cafes: The village is characterized by serene lanes seemingly only wide enough for two wheelers. How the residents navigate their cars through these roads its quite the mystery. And while Pali Village Cafe may be the most famous, these lanes are dotted with numerous small and picturesque cafes that are still largely undiscovered.
The residents of the area are very friendly and helpful. There were some boys playing football in this lane who very enthusiastically cleared the space to ensure I get a good picture. I spent some time watching them play, and it was amusing to see how they frequently had to avoid the bikes and cycles that went past in the narrow lane.
5) Houses, and Architecture: As mentioned above, most houses in the area have large verandas, reminiscent of the time before apartment buildings took over the city.
The man sitting in the chair on the veranda of this house was reading a newspaper, while residents on walks were stopping by for a chat. It seemed like the people living here all knew each other, rather like an old village within the city.
Chuim Village: Chuim was a small village in the 1940’s, consisting of perhaps 70 houses in all. Nestled cosily in Bandra’s belly it is a matrix of wooden cottages and two-storey structures. People here continue to live their laidback lives, completely oblivious to the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. Chuim village came into existence after inhabitants started settling around the vast agricultural fields around 200 years ago. They would trade in agricultural produce and flowers. Like most gaothans, Chuim, too, has witnessed many bungalows bite the dust and get transformed into multi-storey buildings. The village once had 37 cottages, of which now only 20 remain. 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.
6) Community and residence: Unlike the other villages, Chuim village has a Muslim majority community. Most of its residents wear skull caps and hijabs. As mentioned above, houses here are in the form two storey buildings, which have colourful paint jobs.
It was clear that this village is not as well off as say Pali village, but to me, it still held a certain charm. The colour is what drew my eye, and I tried to capture that in my photographs.
7) In the interior of the village, garbage disposal trucks empty their contents. The people in this area live in old dilapidated buildings and the area is strong with the stench of garbage and rotting fish.
There were a lot of children playing in the area, with marbles or old cricket bats. Some of the younger ones were celebrating Holi early and were very excited when I walked past with my camera. The begged me to take pictures of them and to show them the pictures after I was done. Despite the poverty they lived in, these kids had a perpetual smile on their faces and and air of not having a care in the world.
8) Education: In the early days, a school set in the midst of vast mango fields imparted primary education. Now, most of the kids go to roadside 'street schools' or are taught by the residents of the area, while the more affluent families send their children to primary schools nearby. Many children, however neglect school on most days.
While I was taking the picture of the left, a water balloon landed right next to me, soaking my shoes. Looking up, I saw a group of children on the terrace of a nearby building, laughing as they prepared to launch more of these at me. I assumed these kids had a holiday from school walked away hurriedly. A few metres ahead, I saw the group of children in the picture on the right, hard at their studies.
Chimbai Village: 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 a the stench of rotting garbage and sewage reaches you as you venture deeper into the bylanes of 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.
9) Occupation: The bylanes in the village open out to the sea shore. Here you find the shawls and shanties where fisherfolk live and tie up their boats when not in use. Their tiny houses reside in the shadows of high rises that have taken over most of the Bandra suburb.
While eventually these small settlements might be taken over by the city, at this moment they do exist and I wanted to capture this contrast. If you look behind you can see towering buildings looming threateningly over their makeshift homes but if you look the other way, all you can see is the vast open ocean.
10) Narrow lanes: The main roads of the village are marked with numerous lanes leading off them which grown exceedingly narrow until they open out to the sea.
Initially, I wasn't able to figure out how the people living here accessed the coast. I wandered into what looked like a town square (the picture below) where I found a number of people shopping for vegetables or fish, or just hanging around. They pointed out these narrow lanes to me, and said I would find what i was looking for if I walked down there. The picture on the left was the end of a lane that had a sewer running alongside it. The one on the right was a lane that I had completely missed as I walked past.