I remember when Bandra was a sleepy little Christian community. Most of the kids from the little Christian community that I grew up in, went on to St.Andrews. For a long time, the only decent movie theatres for Western suburb-dwellers were Gaiety-Galaxy-(Gemini) off S.V.Road, Bandra. By the late 90s, Linking Road had replaced Fashion Street as the go-to place for college students’ wardrobes. Bags, shoes, clothes, accessories, they were all available on the numerous tables & tiny stalls that spotted Hill Road and Linking Road.
At the turn of the millenium, all of that seemed to change. There was a concerted effort to ‘rebrand’ Bandra. Promenades got cleaned up and beautified. Restaurants popped up. The street market was cleared away and the surviving shops packed into compact ground-floor stalls off Linking Road. That gully that housed the clothes-end of the street market got hip and found itself home to malls, fast food joints and restaurants. Suddenly everybody seemed to be going on about ‘The Queen of the Suburbs’. Bandra was the new ‘it’ place in town.
Over the past few years, Bandra has seen nightclubs, haute cuisine, exclusive boutiques and fad concept shops. It has also drawn an equally flashy population, ranging from local celebrities to yuppie stars. The old cottages and villas are being fast replaced by high rises and higher prices.
Here’s the Bandra of today:
Every second building is being redeveloped so the air is thick with construction dust and materials. The current Bandra citizen carries what I think of as the Delhi attitude – ostentatious displays of wealth, fancy cars and overaggressive attitudes. As a result the roads are utter mayhem. The above mentioned gully off Linking Road is a nightmare to navigate every single day. Not because its too small for the traffic but because it’s blocked up by overlarge vehicles whose drivers don’t know how to drive and will persist in loud arguments when challenged.
Public transport is the universal nightmare that unifies all of this city, at the moment. But in Bandra, it has reached a point of unrealistic proportions. I lived in Bandra for about 4 months and I lost a lot of weight – because I walked everywhere, rather than spend half an hour arguing with autorickshaws & taxis. I mean everywhere and this isn’t really a great solution to the problem. For one, the construction everywhere means filthy (or non-existent) pavements. The big vehicles make walking on the roads or even the bylanes a tangible danger. Arterial junctions like the end of Linking Road, the start of S.V.Road and the Elco end of Hill Road are all blocked off for digging, construction or redevelopment. The Bandra-Worli sealink has only compounded to Bandra’s woes by feeding in town traffic into what used to be the quieter end of Bandra, without adequate planning on where that traffic would go after. The Lilavati junction is the latest on the list of avoidable Bandra haunts.
Real estate prices are through the roof and for what? The chance to live next door to hip joints. Let’s talk about these places. Every single restaurant/nightclub/hip joint that I went to, was pretentious (even rude), overpriced and had service completely unworthy of the price paid. I can see why menus would need to be priced high in order to cover the rental costs of an expensive place like Bandra. But that doesn’t explain the lack of thought given to hiring proper staff and training them on how to provide service. High prices warrant at least good service, if not good products.
And finally, the actually living in Bandra. You can shut away the boors on the road and the creeps at a fancy restaurant. But what do you do about the poor construction of your own building? The water woes, following all the massive construction everywhere (meaning more people have to share the same water pool)? A friend of mine actually found a mushroom growing under the sink of his Bandra Reclamation flat. Shortly after, he had to move out of his bedroom because the rain entering the room had grown from seepage to bucketfuls pouring it. Monsoon in Bandra was anything but romantic or delightful.
The ostentatious display of wealth everywhere, does nothing but poison the attitudes of every person in its vicinity. Getting help is yet another in the long list of the Bandra nightmares. Maids, dhobis, milkmen, sweepers, every one of these is a potential problem. There is a palpable resentment, a hatred almost, that festers between the socioeconomic classes, especially when the money gulf seems so vast. The watchman of the building I stayed in, slept most of the time, when he wasn’t leching when I passed. Some nasty building redevelopment politics between the sweeper, the secretary & the landlord meant there was no garbage disposal system for weeks. The dhoban abused me and slammed the door once, because I didn’t open the grill before reaching for my purse. Personally, I felt well rid of the hellhole called Bandra, when I moved out.
A lot of the issues I faced, are borne by tenants all over the city. But to go through all of them together, while also paying through one’s nose, just doesn’t seem to make any sense. I can’t see how Bandra’s growth is sustainable. Already it is too expensive to own a flat in Bandra and I’ve demonstrated why renting is extremely unattractive. It could shift from a residential area to a shopping/nightclub district. However, the service providers don’t seem to have given any thought to how their customers will get to them and where they’ll park. What do they do to make it worth their customers’ making the extra effort of enduring Bandra? Zilch.
The only good thing about the so-called Queen of the suburbs seems to be that it connects Andheri to Dadar. Bandra is dead and I don’t mourn its loss any more than I miss that mushroom under the sink.
Update 1: Yesterday I tweeted asking why Bandra was supposed to be the Queen of the suburbs. Here’s a selection of the answers I received:
Update 2: DNA featured this article in their ‘Around The Blog‘ section on 9 January 2011.
- Things To Not Do In Mumbai (ideasmithy.wordpress.com)