I look forward to visiting Mumbai. I have three good reasons to do so. My son has set up base there, my niece lives there with her husband and two adorable kids and a few dear friends live there, too. There is the fact that there are places in Mumbai that I grew up reading about or seeing in films, reared as I am like most Indians, on Hindi films and I get to see these. And there are some good cafes and restaurants that have nice food and nice people. So here I am !
My son and niece live in Navi or New Mumbai. So on a chosen day I took an Ola taxi that drove me one hour and twenty minutes later to Bandra, an old, leafy neighbourhood which still has some old bungalows and apartment blocks, thanks mainly to the community of Christians and Parsis. Oh ! And I got entertained on that journey by a small screen that played movies or TV serials or songs-they are providing these in Ola cars that run on whatever constitutes a ‘long journey.’ So what if I watched ‘Vicky Donor’ for the third time !
Yasmin Khambatta is one of my above mentioned friends who lives in Bandra. She belongs to a community of Indians that I admire a lot. She is Parsi-a community that believe in Ahura Mazda, (the creator of the universe) and their Prophet Zarathustra or Zoroaster and his teachings. Most of you probably know that the Parsis belonged originally to Persia but, fleeing persecution, landed on the western shores of India around the 8th century and by dint of hard work and enterprise became one of the most prominent communities here. Like Hindi films, most Indians of the 20th century grew up seeing Tata trucks(that said, ‘OK Tata’) careening down our potholed roads, locking their valuables in Godrej steel cupboards that occupied pride of place in the tiniest of homes and seeing in magazines an institution that gave us back our collective self-respect, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel of Mumbai built by the same Tata who gave us our trucks. So you have the Tatas, Godrejs, Nariman, Shapoorji-Pallonji, Wadias, etc, etc, the list goes on.
‘My father, Nariman, Nari to his friends, was a very kind man,’ says Yasmin. ‘ We had a large extended family. One part of it lived in a bungalow that stood where the building I live in is and the other part lived in a bungalow across the road. When I was a child, he would pack all the kids into his black fiat and take us to the Juhu beach where we played, bathed in the sea and were treated to ice cream.’ Nariman Khambatta looked after the public relations of his friend’s company, Chika limited, that manufactured chemicals, fibres and built boats. His wife,Gool, Yasmin’s mother, was anglicised. She admired the Queen of England and subscribed to the Woman and Home magazine (as my mother did !), followed its recipes and put very nice pies and cakes on the table. ‘There was, of course, Parsi food cooked most days and there were visits to the Fire Temple (where Parsis worship)on Hill Road in Bandra on Parsi New Year and birthdays. But since we lived away from the Parsi- dominated areas like Mumbai Central and Grant Road- that was about my only exposure to Parsi tradition !’
‘There were probably many kindnesses done by my parents,’ says Yasmin, ‘because recently I bumped into a lady in a bungalow in Alibaugh (a suburb where the affluent of Mumbai have their houses)who turned out to be a nephew’s wife who remembered stories about good turns done by my parents that I did not know about.’
In the early 70s, the Khambattas sold their bungalow and when an apartment building was made in its place, bought a two bedroom flat for Rs. 60,000/-. Today, that sounds like a joke considering that Bandra is one of the most prime properties in India.
The building has areas left all round giving it a feeling of space. There are some old trees that stand on it. As a contrast, next door, an old bungalow was pulled down and the trees on its grounds removed by none other than Sachin Tendulkar and, in today’s style, a huge block-like building has been constructed, rising almost from the road, using every inch of space.
The flat itself is neat and free from clutter. The floors are beautiful in terrazzo worked to a gloss. The woodwork is solid, with lots of windows that overlook tree tops. The furniture in teak was made by a carpenter and copied from popular Danish styles of the 50s and 60s. The all-white kitchen is a study of good space utilisation and cleanliness, the latter attributed to Maria, Yasmin’s long-time help.
‘Maria looked after my daughter, Akeshya, after she was born. She jumps to her defence right or wrong. In fact, Akeshya listens to Maria more than she listens to me !’ says Yasmin. True to her words, Yasmin requests Maria to ask Akeshya to put on some bangles and a particular pair of shoes(and not the ones she has on) for the birthday party she is going off to and Akeshya returns soon after with those pieces on ! Aryaan, her tall, teenage brother is walking her to her party on his way to a football game.
Yasmin, after a long hiatus, is back building a career out of photography and design. She does both really well. She enjoys photographing kids and pets and has landed up shooting quite a few subjects. Right now she is busy designing diaries for a client where she will also use some of her portraits of women.
At the Bandra gymnkhana for dinner, the place packed with Bandra dwellers, some friends of Yasmin and I have just voiced the desire to have the Parsi Dhansak cooked by Yasmin in her mother’s style. Think we can reserve that treat for my next trip !
‘Bye for now. Hope you have a good week ahead !