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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

25 September 2008

To Market, To Market...

Breslyn, Caitlyn & I were doing our weekly supermarket shopping, and amid the austere aisles with their goods all packaged and itemized, I suddenly longed for the hustle-bustle of the Bandra Bazaar.

In our house, dad was the one who made this weekly trip to the Bandra Bazaar and, once in a blue moon, I got to tag along. After Sunday Mass and breakfast, he’d take his trusted bazaar bag (you know the one - black rexzine bought at the Mapusa market) and off we’d go. Once the Yezdi was parked by the Cross at the junction of Chapel, Veronica, and Bazaar Roads, the grocery shopping would begin in earnest, pausing only for a quick hello to Aunty Mary who spent her twilight years watching the world go b(u)y from her porch at 100 Bazaar Road, and a chinwag with old school chum Joe on the politics of the hockey team selections.

The fruit and vegetables first. Carts of fresh produce - oranges, tomatoes, sweet limes, melons - all arranged in perfect pyramids, enough to rival those of Giza. The hardy ones like onions, apples, potatoes, watermelon and carrots were placed at the bottom of the bazaar bag, followed by the squishier ones like custard apples, palak and chikoos (no fancy-schmantzy imports like avocado or zucchini in those days). Next halt: the adrak-mirchi-cotmir stall for the ‘green masala’.

After a great deal of higgling and haggling and ‘making bhoni’, dad usually ducked into Kalidaas, the grocery store, where you bought everything from Kashmiri chillies to kala namak. Come December and all the Catholics would flock here for their Christmas sweet and cake ingredients – candied peel, dried fruit, Amul butter, flour, caster sugar… While the baniya toted up the bill on his scrap-paper ‘notepad’, you watched hawk-eyed, as the old fashioned weighing scale with the stone weights, see-sawed precariously as gram upon gram was either added (but mostly subtracted) until the perfect balance was achieved (no digital devices here).

Another shop that beckoned was Coin Tea. Hessian sacks filled to the brim with fragrant loose leaf teas like Orange Pekoe, Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri tickled your nostrils as you chose your blend for an afternoon cuppa.

Since Sunday lunch usually meant chicken curry, that’s where we’d go next. The stench from the Broiler & Egg shop would assail you from a mile away. Chickens clucking & squawking away in their caged baskets, prepared to meet their doom. And I was always too chicken to watch…

The butcher was next – cuts of beef and mutton on display, as well as offal like liver, trotters (Paya curry, anyone?), tongue and brain. Dad would buy a hunk of beef, half of which would cubed and rammed into the metal grinder to emerge as squiggles of mince on the other side.

The last stop was the fish market, for obvious reasons. Ramzaan, the coconut seller who talked in plurals, (see my coconut post dated April 5) always stood guard outside the entrance to the fish market. Cats milled around, waiting for scraps of fish heads and tails, while your nose got accustomed to the pungent pong. Fish mongers with their baskets of the freshest catch called out to you in Marathi, “E pori, kai paije?” Pomfrets, surmai, bangada, kurdee, crabs, shellfish, bombils - all glistening and glorious in their round wicker baskets clamoured for your attention. The pitch of the fishmongers’ voices got shriller as the bargaining got more heated. Dad would walk away, only to be called back and placated. Once the pomfrets were gutted, the sharks skinned in one swift motion and the prawns peeled, we’d be on our way back home with our bounty.

14 September 2008

The Bandra Fair

Today, as every Mack in Bandra makes his/her way to Mount Mary’s Basilica to celebrate Bandra Feast, my mind rewinds to the Bandra Fair days of my childhood.

While the Feast Day is always celebrated on the Sunday after the 8th of September, prior to this is the nine-day Novena to Our Lady. Accompanying dad at the ungodly hour of 5.30am to the Mount ensured that we got to visit the Fair at least three times during the eight-day festivities.

The Feast Day itself brought thousands upon thousands of devotees to the Shrine. Crushed in the throng - an amalgam of sweaty armpits, talcum powder and frilly frocks - we were automatically pushed forward once the previous service ended. Religious duties over, we’d make a pit-stop at the Home for the Aged for a breakfast. Yummy mince patties, chutney sandwiches and lucky dip prizes were the drawcards.

Then we'd wind our way down the Steps and all the way to Chapel Road to my Nana’s House for the Bandra Feast feast, with many, many diversions along the way. First stop: the numerous sweet stalls where mum bought packets of kadio bodio, curly white sugar bits, and roasted channa for all her colleagues at office. After that, my brother and I would race from one toy stall to the next, the gaudier and gimmick-ier, the better! What should we buy??? A motor-boat (see my Sail Away piece). Bubbles to blow for hours on end. A china tea set to play House-House. A kaleidoscope with the coloured glass bits inside forming mesmerising geometric patterns with each flick of the wrist.

Bandra Feast Sunday at Nana’s house usually meant that scores of big bosomed aunties and 43rd cousins from Vasai and Uttan descended upon us after a visit to the Mount. We’d grin and bear it; trying not to count the fugiyas they ate(less left for us!). A siesta followed the splendid Bandra Feast lunch; the sound and fury of our uncles' snoring in direct proportion to the number of pegs they’d drunk.

The evening dictated another trip to the Bandra Fair. September Gardens outside Mount Carmel’s Church was the place to be. Teenage boys out to patao chicks by buying them pink candy-floss and hoping they’d cling onto them once the Tora-Tora ride gained momentum. Prima donnas and beefed-up blokes filled out entry forms for the September Queen or King contests held on the last Sunday of the Fair. Others tried their luck at the games of skill. My three tries to knock down the nine cans usually missed their mark by a mile. Deflated, I’d turn to dad who would save the day by expertly kicking the football through the suspended tyre. A bar of Rexona soap or suchlike was the coveted prize.

We’d make a bee-line for the Giant’s Wheel, the serpentine queue only heightening our anticipation. The thrill of your stomach sinking as you descended turned to terror as dad purposely rocked the carriage. And if our bucket-seat was right on top once the ride ended, we had even more time to convince dad to pay for another go... Yipee!!!

Opposite the September Gardens was the next joyride - the Sea-on-Land, and a little ahead at St. Anthony’s Home was the Galloping Horses. Once we’d hopped onto the handsome steeds and the carousel music started, we went - round and round, and up and down.

Weaving in and out between the Funny Mirrors as our bodies magically morphed from fat to thin to droll to comic, savouring our Joy ice-cream which came in a plastic ball, watching the pariahs perform their tricks at the Dog Show, and posing for a family photo with fields of garish tulips as the backdrop… And before we knew it, it was 9pm – time to go home but comforted by the promise of returning tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.