Celebrate Bandra

Project collaborators: TheBusride Design Studio, Celebrate Bandra

We curated and co-edited a publication for the ‘Celebrate Bandra’ Festival 2011 that focused on cultural and environmental Diversity in Bandra. The publication was designed by ‘Idea Spice’ and contained contributions by writers, bloggers, designers, artists, urbanists, and other enthusiasts from across the community in Bandra.

Cover by Nash Paul

What Man by Manish Sehrawat

The following text was published by Zameer Basrai:

The idea of Bandra

I went to school in Bandra. I never knew the religion of my classmates in school, nor their place of origin, nor their regional or occupational affiliations and surely not their family income. I never needed to. I barely realized my school was Arya Samaji. Then I went to college in Gujarat and sometime in 2002 finally realized I was Muslim. Maybe its just part of growing up, I reassured myself. But nothing was the same again. For example, peoples’ names started to mean so much. I found myself analyzing surnames. Every one was categorized instantly in my mind. Maybe its just part of growing up, we tend to flatten identities, put people in their place. I conjectured everything from these names, where they lived, where they came from, how they might behave. It didn’t make for good conversation. I just jumped to conclusions: Conservative bah! Valsad dismissed! Which village @>!!@$pur? Oh Delhi, that’s why! Ah, you’ve recently moved, why? North Indians! South Indians! Gujaratis! Bhaiya! Bihari! Hindu! Muslim! Easy categories. Flat and easy.

And then I returned to Bandra. And I realized it wasn’t only about growing up.

In our times, what you do, and what you believe in defines you much better than your religion, region or income. But there are still plenty of societies that tend to encourage traditional categories. We must be very fearful of any society that makes you realize you’re no more than what you were born as. These societies don’t allow you to affiliate again, to evolve your tastes and preferences, to re-identify. And this is an indicator of a society that has nothing larger than details to fight for.

Identities must be fluid. This is what I have realized upon my return to Bandra. Names don’t mean anything. Bandra is built to defy categories. Anyone who identifies with any idea of Bandra still has some room to re-define themselves. That is the success of the idea of Bandra. We all buy into it knowing well enough that Bandra is a colossal distraction! It distracts us from mundane categories. It defies singular identities. A wise man once said about Bandra ‘even the women distract you’. You could be religious, you could be a successful businesswoman, and a Bandra-ite all at once (but if you’re a Bandra-ite frankly nothing else matters). A number of places in Mumbai identify themselves through a function (market/office district/tourism), or a religion, or political affiliation or even an ethnicity or are defined as such by outsiders. Contemporary Bandra has begun to defy even these categories. There is no fixed function, no particular resident group, definitely no political affiliations – just a lingering idea of itself as being above all of this. Everyone here is comfortable with layered, multiple identities because everyone here has the Bandra-ite label right above/next to their other identifiable characteristics.

This attitude builds resilience – not only the Bombay resilience that comes from mercantile inter-dependency, but also one that comes from a sustained attitude. Mercantile inter-dependence is something we find across the city of Bombay. It builds immunities and naturalizes communities, and in turn fights xenophobia. A simple example: You could be buying your bread from a Parsi bakery, your mince roll from a Muslim bakery, your Chicken Biryani from a Catholic bakery, your mutton from a Muslim butchery, your fish from a koli village street, your cold-cuts from a catholic cold storage, your wines from a Punjabi shop owner, your sweets from a Bengali shop owner, your fried fish from a Sardar caterer, your vada pao from a Maharashtrian street vendor, and attending New Year’s Mass each year irrespective of religious affiliations. How do you suppose you could severe these intimate relationships for a little unrest. This is the reason why Bombay bounces back each time after its communal riots. But it is disconcerting, relying only on mercantile relations to remain resilient.

Bandra is resilient at another level. A very significant aspect to the resilience of Bandra is in its diversity. Diversity is a celebrated idea across the contemporary world. Its time we celebrate it here, in Bandra. Where else is every religion, every caste, every ethnicity, every age group, and every income group so well represented? There’s the sky-rises and then beside them the quaintest of villages; the quietest of residential streets alongside the busy, commercial ones and a myriad of cuisines, fashions, music flooding the streets. A short walk on the Bandra promenades and one can easily perceive the diverse nature of this society. Bandra is large enough an idea to accommodate this diversity. And since it is an inclusive idea everyone who believes in it, can be part of it.

At one time, Bandra consisted of small fishing and farming villages. Today, these villages remain sanctuaries amidst the jostle of a bustling suburb. Change is inevitable. But isn’t the idea of Bandra resilient to change? Don’t we sustain that same quintessential idea of Bandra today that was once formed by small villages hundreds of years ago? If so, it’s our generation that decides what happens to Bandra – what happens to its culture, its environment, and every other thing that makes Bandra the place we cherish. The idea of Bandra is a project in sustainability. Simply said, the question is: “We love our life in Bandra, how can we keep it that way?” We must buy into the idea of Bandra, whatever it might be and whole-heartedly invest in sustaining this idea for generations to come. So lets celebrate Bandra like we are the golden era!

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