Short Note on Being Born no. 87

I was once in love with this girl who lived on Turner Road.

She lived in the building next to Hong Kong Bank. It’s the building where the two-eleven bus stand is. The gate is right behind the bus stand. The two-twenty also stops there on its way to the Station from Carter Road.

In case you’re wondering these are the names of roads and places in Bandra — which I’ve mentioned is H Ward — the place in Bombay where I was born and grew up. Turner, Carter: I’m not sure who these men were. I’m assuming they were men. How many roads do you know who are named after women? Except maybe some famous guy’s wife.

Bandra is filled with roads like that — named after people who you never met.

There is Peter Dias Road. I’m not sure who Peter Dias was, but I bet there are some people around who knew him at some point. There’s Ambedkar Road. We all know Ambedkar. He’s a famous Indian. One of the most famous. Like Gandhi — yes that famous. There’s Nargis Dutt Road. She was a woman. She acted in movies in the golden age of Indian cinema, which in case you’re wondering, was in 1950s and 60s. She was also married to Sunil Dutt, the actor, social activist and noted parliamentarian. I think she died of cancer a long time ago. That’s when they named the road after her. It was a nice thing to do.

There’s Cane Road. And Bullock Road. And Perry Road. And then, of course, there are the roads named after Christian saints, like Saint Andrew’s Road. Saint Peter’s Road. Saint Leo Road. Saint Cyril’s Road. Saint Martin’s Road. John The Baptist Road. Saint Paul’s Road. My friends Anand and Rachana used to rent a place on Saint Paul’s. It was a nice place. Outside in the afternoons you could hear the birds resting in the trees. Only once in a while a rickshaw would pass.

Bandra was once the settlement of Bombay’s prominent Roman Catholic community. But there were also some Muslims, Parsis, and Hindus of course.

They were traders mostly. I’m not sure what the Catholics did. My mother is a Catholic by the way, but she grew up in Central Bombay, in a place called Byculla or D Ward — which incidentally today has the notorious distinction of housing more people in a one square mile area than any other place on earth.

There are so many people in Central Bombay that it’s probably impossible to tell just how many. That’s the problem with Bombay. But recently estimates say around one million people? Plus of course all the rats, dogs, cats and cows.

My mother grew up on a quiet street called Love Lane. She used to walk down the street in her straw hat when she was three years old to go to her nursery school.

On Love Lane there is a Hindu temple, a Parsi agiary, a Muslim mosque and a Jain temple. The Hindu temple is built at the base of an old banyan tree that some say is at least one thousand years old, and there are always twenty cows sitting around it. The cows don’t do much. They spend most of the day chewing cud and blocking traffic. Not many people know this, but Mark Twain himself visited Love Lane on his travels through India. He mentions it in his autobiography.

At the far end of Love Lane is the Byculla Market. You need to see the Byculla Market to believe it. Anything grown anywhere in India is available here. I need to go there with a camera someday. It’s a place that needs to be documented.

Visions of Oliver Twist come flooding back as you walk through it. Close by are the Mazagaon Docks, where fresh produce is taken out of the country for destinations far and wide. The pickles sold here end up at Sainsbury’s on Regent Street in London. It’s an odd thought.

Anyway, the point is that Bandra was a very nice part of Bombay — it’s quiet, clean, and it overlooks the sea with its curving, rocky shores and mangrove forests, lined up against long stretches of shoreline. The mangroves have always acted as a natural protection from storms and unusually high tides when the moon is too full. The dhobis or washer men use them as hangers to dry clothes, bed sheets and curtains.

Then there are the roads with odd names in Bandra, like S.V. Road. No one knows for certain who or what S.V. is. And there’s the road that links Bandra with the northern suburbs of Bombay such as Santa Cruz, Andheri, Jogeshwari and beyond. Those in charge couldn’t agree on a suitable name for this important arterial road, and so it was decided to simply put an end to the matter. It would be called by its function, by what it did best. So this is Linking Road.

There’s another road like that in Bandra. It comes down this steep side of a hill into Ambedkar Road. The road is so steep that it’s impossible to cycle up it unless you’re under twenty years of age, and driving a car up it can be a hair-raising event, especially if you manage to get stuck in the wrong gear. As anyone who knows anything about the construction of roads knows, you know that a road on a hill must wind its way up in zigs and in zags, and cannot be cut in a directly straight line. They named this road Zig Zag Road.

There is no Saint Mary’s Road that I know of in Bandra — but there is a Mount Mary. There’s no Saint Thomas Road either. I feel sure there is a Saint Michael’s somewhere.

I live on Nargis Dutt Road. It’s nice to live on a road named after a woman, which is so rare — and even if she used to be someone else’s wife. Nargis was beautiful and mysterious, just like the girl I fell in love with. The girl’s name was Karen. We took French tuition classes together. Her French was much better than mine was.

I think she was just a much better student. She studied more and was probably just a whole lot smarter.

She had hazel brown eyes, light chocolate brown skin and a lovely set of sparkling white teeth when she smiled.

Although I remember shaking hands with her one day and being a bit surprised.

Not that it mattered. That’s the only time I ever touched her. It’s strange to look back on it all now.

I was so in love with her and all I could think at the time was,

“…rough hands.”

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