Musical Memories of Bandra

When I was growing up during the sixties and seveties, music was am important source of entertainment, at least in Bandra. More particularly, western pop music. And Radio Ceylon was the main source of this music. Every morning as you walked through the leafy by-lanes or past houses in the East Indian villages called gothaans, your heard music from this radio station wafting in the morning air.

According to Corinne, who grew up in different parts of the country, Radio Ceylon that later became Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was a popular source of entertainment even in those places too. And the request programs were by far the most popular with most of the those asking for a particular song seeming to live in places like Kazipet, Bitragunta and other Railway colonies.

All India Radio too had weekly request program, ‘Saturday Date’, but it did not command the same allegiance amongst listeners as Radio Ceylon. The announcers of the latter station or the disc jockeys as we would now call them, seemed to be on a first name basis with the listeners. In fact, if I recollect right, these announcers once visited India and traveled to some of the places mentioned earlier to meet the listeners.

In those days, the radiogram which was piece of furniture combining a radio and a record player with two large speaker occupied the pride of place in many the drawing rooms of many houses in Bandra. Since we only had an old Telefunkin radio and a record player that constantly went for repairs, for some reason, I associated the radiogram with affluence.

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To increase business, many restaurants and cafés invested in a juke box. Such places would be packed with young adults who would listen to music over endless cups of chai  (tea). But this phase did not last too long as stand alone record players, manufactured locally, hit the market.

There were two music shops in Bandra, ‘Twist’ (on Linking Road) and ‘Sweet Melody’ ( on 33rd Road – off Linking Road), which sold LPs and 45s.  Sweet Melody still exists, but now sells TVs and other electronic equipment. These shops had little booths each containing a turntable and you were allowed to sit in there and preview the albums or singles. Like trying clothes today at some stores, you were only allowed to take only three or four  records into the booth,  at a time.

Given that music was an integral part of life in Bandra, it was not surprising that many youngsters got together to set up beat groups or bands. When these groups practiced passers-by were entertained, but I am not sure the neighbors felt the same!

These groups got an opportunity to showcase their talent at the annual Bandra Fair in the month of September. At the fair there were two places that had live entertainment, the WigWam that was run by the ex-students of St. Stanislaus High School and the September Garden run by the Mount Carmel Church. The former was designed as a Red Indian wigwam, complete with the mask of an Indian Chief hanging at the entrance.

The music bug bit at an early age. I remember when I was in school some of the seniors used to perform as a group for school functions. And the high point was the drum solo by a student named Paul Fishery. It was reserved as a finale and we always shouted for ‘one more’.

Paul later went on to be play with the ‘Juveniles’ that became the ‘Combustibles’, a leading Indian beat group in the sixties and seventies. And just down the road from where I lived and continue to live, another group of youngsters formed  ‘The Friendship Clan’, which attained much popularity and regularly played at various beat shows and Catholic weddings.

Part of the reason for the proliferation of talent was the annual talent contests that the various churches in Bandra organised for the parishioners. Normally held during the monsoons, the contestants were classified age wise, with separate contests for classical and modern music. And again these categories were split into vocal and instrumental.

Somehow, the whole community appeared to be involved in these contests with the parish being divided into zones based on geography and competing against each other. If you didn’t have talent to sing or you didn’t play any instrument, you helped by ferrying small children to the pianist’s house for practice. Or did some other odd jobs to ensure that your zone did well.

In those days, ‘terrace parties’ were a regular feature in Bandra on weekends. Any party whether on a terrace or in the house meant music and dancing. Not just music played on the radiogram or turntable; invariably there was singing with someone strumming a guitar. At times, the guitar would be supplemented with a bass (base?), a home made contraption which produced a bass sound. It was made by taking a wooden crate and drilling a hole in the centre of one of the sides. Through this hole a thick rope would be passed and the rope was knotted inside the box. The other end of the rope would be attached to one end of a wooden pole in such a manner that when the pole was placed perpendicular on the box, the rope was taut.

I have not gone into who was a popular artiste or which song topped the local hit parade charts. Those are personal preferences and I am only attempting to highlight the importance of music to us in Bandra, when I was growing up during the sixties and seventies.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

 

Do take a look at these links for more:
Bombay, It’s Ours
Sixties Mumbai Garage Rock Band Gets Vinyl Reissue – about The Combustibles
More about The Combustibles

Sample some Bombay Duck?

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Well Of Death

Unlike Corinne, who has spent her early years in different parts of India, courtesy the Indian Army, I have always lived in one city, viz. Mumbai. And I grew up in a quaint suburb, just on the outskirts of Greater Bombay, as the city was earlier referred to.

Ranwar Village - Heritage under threat *The suburb was and is called Bandra. Of course, the Bandra of my youth no longer exists except in some sepia photographs in old albums. No, I am not referring to music albums…..

Today, Bandra has merged into the city. And all the old beautiful cottages that dotted the landscape have disappeared to make way for high rise buildings. I guess it is the price of progress.

One of the highlights of any year for Bandraites, especially those who had lived there for generations, was the Bandra Feast and the accompanying Fair. The Bandra Feast is a religious occasion and is celebrated in a Basilica on a hill overlooking the sea, and referred to locally as the Mount and still attracts crowds from all religions.  The Bandra Fair,  on the other hand, was eight days of fun, music, dancing and eating.

I deliberately use the past tense because the Fair as I remember it no longer takes place. Something masquerading as a fair is still held on a road leading down from the Mount, with apartment blocks on both sides.

In the days I am reminiscing about, there were open plots of land on either side of this very same road and stalls were set up in these plots. And one of these plots had something we schoolboys looked forward to visiting and that was the Well of Death.

The Well of Death was literally a well constructed of wooden planks with a viewing gallery along the circumference at the top. You bought a ticket and climbed up to the gallery from where you could look down into the well.

At the bottom of the well were parked three or four well oiled motorbikes, brilliantly painted. Remember, these were days when Mr. Munjal was still manufacturing only Hero cycles and had not yet tied up with Honda Motors to set up Hero Honda Ltd. And those were the days when I did not even own a bicycle. Actually, I think I was still engaged in raising capital to buy one.

So our eyes used to light up to see those bikes parked there in all their glory. As the gallery filled up, all eyes would focus on a door in the wall of the well. And abruptly, the door would open and three or four young men in tightly fitting clothes with dazzling jackets would enter, in single file. Sometimes, they would be accompanied by a young lady, dressed identically.

And without much ado, they would proceed to mount the bikes, kick start the engines and then increase the revs to a crescendo, till all other sounds were drowned out. Oh, what a thrill is was for us youngsters craning our necks to get a view of the daredevils below.

2619966289_76948a024b_bOnce the crowd had been mesmerised, one of the riders would slowly roll his bike forward towards the base of the well that was slightly sloped or curved. And he would ride around the base, gaining speed with each successive lap.

And then, suddenly, without any warning, he would angle the bike upward and ride round the vertical walls of the well. In quick succession, another rider would roll his bike and after repeating the preliminary maneuvers,  join the first rider, but  traverse in the opposite direction. Our hearts used to be in our mouths anticipating a collision.

After the first pair had returned to earth, (pun intended) another pair would perform similar acrobatics on their bikes. And as a finale, all the four rides would be riding along the walls, each shooting off in a different direction and scaring us no end.

Whilst we boys would have liked to go to the shows on a daily basis, our financial position was usually quite unstable!  So we could afford to take in one or at the most two shows a year. As we grew older, I guess we just outgrew the thrill of the Well of Death. But the memories of those swashbuckling daredevils will always remain with me.

Corinne tells me that even today, in fairs in other parts of India such shows are held with lots of modern trappings, like music and lighting. Maybe I will one day revisit a Well of Death, if I get an opportunity. And hopefully the thrill will still be there.

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Today we’re on W of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Photo Credit: Canis Major via Compfight cc

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Vacations Redefined

A few days ago, as part of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, Sharmila Kulkarni had written a thought-provoking post about her Nana (maternal grandfather). But what struck a chord was the reference to the her annual vacation, when she was growing up.

Long, long ago, before globalization, going on vacations in India was a fairly simple business. There were only two choices for the average middle class family; you either went to your hometown, or you stayed where you lived. Of course, if you lived in the hometown ( or ‘native place’ as many Indians call it), then all your uncles, aunts and assorted cousins descended on you. Sometimes, but not too frequently, the ‘native’ cousins traveled in the other direction.

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Photo Credit: Apratim Saha via Compfight cc

But wherever you went, there were certain common threads that ran through the mandatory essay that you were assigned when you returned to school, viz. ‘How I spent my vacations’. I am sure that the teachers must have been bored reading these essays, if they did at all, but for some reason they seemed to enjoy handing out this assignment, without fail.

I have fond memories of traveling from Mumbai to spend days in Goa, soon after the liberation of Goa. Which is why I could identify so closely with the characters in the ‘Ferry Crossing‘.

In Goa, where public transport was and continues to be expensive and unreliable, my parents would hire a taxi for a day at a prohibitive price and go around visiting assorted aunts, uncles and cousins. In fact, going on a holiday was all about connecting with the immediate and wider family. Some were from other parts of the country and some even from your own city, but whom you hardly met.

The other notable feature was the benign indifference of your hosts, who were most likely your grand parents. They welcomed you warmly, made something special for you but generally ignored you and went about their daily routine or grind. And you can’t blame them.

My grandparents, for example, had their paddy fields to be tended to and workers to be supervised. They woke early and went to bed early. In addition, during the summer, they were quite busy getting ready for the torrential monsoons when they would be house bound for days.

So they prepared pickles, made sausages (chouriço) and dried fish. Minding the sausages, whilst they were put out to dry was a job I loved, as I could nibble at the meat with its distinctive flavor and blame it on the crows. I guess nobody believed me!

What I always looked forward to, but never quite achieved, was to go fishing in the river in the middle of the night with my grandfather. He and his neighbor would go to the river, set their nets and then wade in waist-deep and beat the water to drive the fish into the net. Each time he promised to wake me up and I too resolved to stay up, but it never happened. He probably didn’t want a nuisance of a grandson along, whilst he fished.

When Corinne and I reminisce about childhood vacations, we talk of two different places. (Corinne went for her holidays to Hyderabad). But she quite identifies with what I have said earlier. I am sure that many other Indians of our generation will share these views.

A great joy is coming soon in Monterosso al MareToday, the concept of vacations has changed for many Indians. Instead of visiting hometowns, which themselves have changed so much, there is a whole plethora of dream vacations offered with a click of the mouse. Travel agents and online portals offer customized holidays to suit various budgets and to exotic locations that once we learned about only by reading National Geographic.

In fact, even if you do visit your hometown, there is every likelihood that you will rent a hotel room rather than intrude on your relatives. And as for the benign indifference of grandparents, the latest trend for Indian grandparents is to travel to visit their children – usually abroad. This is with the express purpose of looking after the grandchildren during vacations so that day-care costs can be saved. Hail the rise of the Economic Man!

I don’t know if these changes are for the better, but vacationing has changed beyond recognition.It would be nice if you were to share your experiences and views on the changing trends in vacationing.

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Today we’re on V of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Kathputli – Indian Puppet Shows

Kathputli is a string puppet theatre, native to Rajasthan, India, and is the most popular form of Indian puppetry.

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Although there is no written record of this, it is said this craftof Rajasthan is more than a thousand years old. Kathputli is a combination of two Rajasthani words (Kath meaning wood and Putli meaning doll).

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Rajasthani puppets have their own unique specialty. Puppeteers manipulate the puppets with a whistling, squeaking voice and are interpreted by a narrator who also provides the rhythm. A slight jerk of the string causes the puppets to produce movements of the hands, neck and shoulder. Many puppets hang on one rope: one string tied to the head and other to the waist. The puppeteer makes a loop around his fingers and manipulates the puppet. He takes ghungru (bells) in his hands and plays it according to rhythm. These puppets have a very limited vocabulary, so the movements play a very important part. Puppets are moved towards each other with speed and with swords in their hands in fighting postures. Greetings and salutations are done by bending the puppets and leaving their arms to hang loosely. ~ via PuppetIndia.com

Do you enjoy watching puppet shows?

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Quintessential Goa

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Yes, this is one of the famous Indian cartoonist, Mario Miranda‘s cartoons and is part of the decor in our home. Miranda was an excellent cartoonist, but he excelled himself when he came to scenes from Goa. Any Goan worth his salt can identify the quintessential characters he created. Either we know them personally or have heard about them at some point in time.

The Goans have been associated with being a laid-back lot of people.  They love their food, their drink and their music. But they’re also quite religious. Those of us whose ancestors were ‘forcibly’ converted to Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese colonialists are often more Catholic than the Romans! The scene in the cartoon is part of a larger tableau of a religious procession. The two guys up in front are commonly known as ‘irmãos’ (brothers) who carry candles and standards.  It is quite an honor to do that. When José was young, although he lived in Mumbai, his paternal grandfather asked for him to be outfitted in this cape and the young chap  was given the honor (or burden) of running around like the little guy in the procession.  José was a small irmão! 😉

Miranda’s Goa cartoons also displayed a lot of musicians and musical settings.  Music is another thing we Goans do very well.  Goa supplied violinists, pianists and a whole other lot of musicians to the Indian film industry for years. Goa too has its own film industry.  Two of the well-known and much loved Goan movies were made in the 1950s-60s. They are Amchem Noxib and Nirmon.  Although we spoke not a word of our native Konkani, we grew up listening to this song – Molbailo Doufrom the movie Amchem Noxib .  To this day, it evokes such a feeling of nostalgia within me.

I will always associate good humour with Goa too. I can still hear the voice of my grandfather telling me stories and funny incidents that took place in our native village, Saligao. This is one story though that my Dad told us. Apparently a group of men would hang around the tinto (market), gossiping about the other villagers and calling out to unsuspecting passers-by to include them in the conversation. The butt of their jokes was  Caithanin (Cajetan) who was having problems passing his High School exam. One day they called out to him, and the leader of the lot says: “Hey, Caithanin you failed again right? I’ll make a deal with you that if you pass your exams in the next attempt, I’ll buy you a cycle.”  Now the leader’s son  Bosthiaon (Sebastian), was apparently having problems completing his Medical course. So Caithanin without batting an eyelid says, “What are you saying? If your Bosthiaon finishes Medicine, I’ll build him a hospital!”

Many characters can be found  in the book Ferry Crossing too.

Good food in Goa……..I’ll leave that to José to elaborate on in our upcoming posts.

 

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