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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.

27 June 2013

En Mass(e)

By God, church ain't what it used to be. Today, kids are allowed to colour in their books, chomp down snacks and – gasp – talk(!!) while the priest preaches from the pulpit.

Thirty-odd years ago, things were a hol(y) lot different.
For one, going to the Saturday evening service would not suffice in my dad's (holy) book; he insisted that the best way to start a Sunday was by attending morning Mass.

So our Sundays started bright and early – no sleep-ins and definitely no breakfast; we were expected to abstain from food for at least an hour before mass.

First things first: dressing in our Sunday best. No jeans or sneakers in the house of the Lord.
Those were the days of petticoats (trimmed with lace) and puff sleeves. Of frocks stitched by over-zealous mums who dressed their dolly-girls in frothy frills and lavender lace.

A sweltering 35-degree day meant for nought; the girls were made to wear said dress, that too, with said petticoat under it. The boys suffered in silence, tugging at their stiffly starched shirt collars below their altar-boy vestments.

Mummy powder puffed your face with Yardley talcum powder (gifted by an uncle working in the Gulf) and slicked back your brother's puff with Parachute coconut oil. Then, with two clicks of your Mary Janes (polished by dad the previous night), you were good to go.

We always got to church with ten minutes to spare. So while mum and dad knelt on the wooden pews, my brother and I watched the spectacle unfold before us.

I would spy the usual suspects, er, churchgoers. "Her Sunday is longer than her Monday," I would half-giggle, half-whisper to my brother, while mum shushed us. If you're saying, "Sunday what the..?", it simply means her petticoat was longer than her dress. Don't ask!

One by one, the 'church aunties' would make a solemn entrance, first “crossing” themselves with Holy Water. Tucked within their ample bosoms was the money for their Sunday Collection, tied up in a floral handkerchief. They would genuflect at a particular pew where they sat each and every Sunday. God forbid, you unwittingly took their seat.

The vaulted church ceilings meant that the fans above were for appearances only. So dad tried to sit us next to a widow (black veil in place) who invariably carried a pretty hand-held fan. You prayed that some breeze would miraculously blow your way and stop the trickle of sweat in its tracks.

We watched and tried to keep up as the congregation rose, sat and knelt through the Mass. (During mum and dad's time, the Mass was said in Latin.) No fussing or fidgeting, no giggling or gesticulating, and definitely no talking during that hour of Mass. If the Mass was a ‘High Mass’, my brother and I would be rewarded for our good behaviour with a Ravalgaon hard-boiled sweet from dad.

The readings always filled us with awe: about Eve being created from one of Adam's ribs; about pestilent plagues and prodigal sons, about parting seas and walking on water, about Jesus and His many miracles; about loss and love, about forgiveness and faith.

After the final hymn was sung and the congregation had dispersed, we would badger the parish sacristan for some unblessed hosts as we were too young to receive Holy Communion. And once in a while, our prayers would be answered when mum and dad would say, "Let's go to Hindu Hotel (a tiny Udipi cafe on Hill Road, alas, not in existence anymore) for sheera and medu wadas."

Amen to that!

Did your family have a particular Sunday routine? Did it involve church? Or a Sunday Roast? Do you remember any special outfit from your childhood? When do you dress up in your 'Sunday best' now, if ever?


  1. Haha! Sunday is longer than Monday! Hadn't heard that in a long time. And the Ravalgaon sweets.... brings back memories.


    1. Firdaus, when I told C1 that her Sunday was longer than her Monday, she said, "But mummm, it's Friday!"
      Am going to try and get my hands on some Ravalgaon sweets on our next trip to Bombay. Your little man H will have to wait a few more years until her tastes those Indian treats.

  2. For me, Friday is the Sunday today, and I try my best to wear my cotton sarees, just like my younger days when i had to wear my best while going to church, cant change that, and like the zealous moms u mentioned, I try my best convincing my girls that u must dress ur best to church, however, its not successful always, as most kids wear casuals like jeans and tshirt :( my memories of church was the udipi restaurant at dadar called 'Cafe Madras' yummyy

    1. Wonder if Cafe Madras is still around, Nancy...
      I insist that my kids dress up for church - but they're still young. I'm sure it will be a different story in five years. But I will always insist on good behaviour in church though.

  3. We didn't have church or a roast! It makes me wonder what we did on Sundays! I love the way you described it though! :D

    1. Thanks Lorraine! Ask your folks or siblings - I'm sure they'll have some memories. Your comment did make me wonder what my own kids will remember (20 yrs down the line) about our Sundays together.

  4. Between 1954 Aug & 1958 October , I a parishioner of St. Andrews, would hear mass at St.Peters for that was the church of my future wife to be--- I would look for a lady who sported a beret at an angle & there she was !! After mass we both would go the Mac Ronnel's on Hill Road for a cup of coffee & a snack ----as Alsion mentioned that was the fast routine,( then it was from Mid-night--- prior to receiving the sacrament ---
    . Well then a 2 cups of Coffee & a snack would 'set' us back by Rs 1 & eight annas, a royal sum in those days, and she was sure to take some pastries home for her sisters & brothers, who I think looked forward to these Sunday treats --- later I would reach my wife to her house---Bandra was safe in those days , but chivalry was not dead, the ulterior motive was to be invited for lunch, by an ever gracious M- I -_L !!!! My father had told me often why don't you not live there , for I think that I had more Sunday lunches there, than
    in my own home--- All well that ends ( Ended ) well Cheers __ all this was before your time Al--God Bless my In-Laws wonderful folks .

    1. Yes, U. Roddy, well before my time, but so lovely to read about the days gone by. I had NO idea that Aunty E wore a beret to church - tres chic! I can just imagine you going over to Nana's house as a dapper young man, hoping for that lunch invitation!
      Mum and dad always talk about MacRonnell's club sandwiches - they say no other cafe could ever come close. I guess Candies does a good job. Was four annas = 25 paise and eight annas = 50 paise?

  5. HI Ali
    Great to read your blog, we used to have mince hotdogs from MacRonnels ( in primary school) for lunch everyday, they were so good! And those Easter eggs were wonderful. Unfortunately now MacRonnels is closed and you never get the same quality or taste anywhere else !
    Melissa Menezes


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