While the Feast is always celebrated on the Sunday after the 8th of September (the birthday of Our Lady), the Bandra Fair stretches from that Sunday to the next – with an extra Monday thrown in at the end for good measure.
Bandra Feast Sunday
Legend has it that a Koli fisherman hauled in the statue of Mother Mary along with his daily catch from the sea some centuries ago. Ever since, the shrine at Mount Mary’s Basilica has become a place of pilgrimage.
Every Catholic from Bandra and beyond started the Feast day with Mass at the Mount. Trudging all the way up the hill to the Basilica was a double blessing – good for your soul and your soles!
The elderly neighbours sandwiched themselves in auto rickshaws, unwittingly starting the Share-a-Rickshaw trend! Said rickshaws groaned and moaned up the winding hill to the Mount.
Outside the Basilica were stalls selling wax candles of intriguing shapes and sizes – body parts like arms, feet and faces offered to Mary to ask for healing of various ailments; or candles shaped like a house or a baby to grant favours.
It didn’t matter if you were late – there were Masses for the masses every half an hour – all choc-o-block with a surging, sweating, singing sea of devotees.
Religious duties done, we’d first stop to refuel at the Home for the Aged where the nuns sold us chutney sandwiches and mince patties. A lucky dip prize won you a hand-knitted trinket or a hanky. Simple pleasures from simple treasures.
My brother Jason and I then weaved in and out of the Funny Mirrors, our bodies magically morphing from fat to thin to droll to comic. Dad treated us to pink candy floss and Joy ice-cream which came in a plastic ball. But as much as we pleaded, he never relented to a family photo with fields of lurid tulips and Alpine peaks as the backdrop…
Further down the Fair were the toy stalls. Jason and I would race from one to another – the gaudier and gimmick-ier, the better! A motor-boat that putt-putt-putted round and round in your bucket-bath water all thanks to a candle stub. Bubbles to blow for hours on end. A china tea set to play House-House with your cousins. Delicate glass birds filled with red/blue/green liquid. A kaleidoscope forming mesmerising geometric patterns with each flick of the wrist…
Loot in hand, we’d finally make our way to my Nana Violet’s house (my mum’s mum) where we spent the First Sunday of Bandra Feast. Since her house on Chapel Road which was smack-bang in the middle of the Fair, scores of far-flung relatives from Kurla, Bassein and Uttan descended upon us after a visit to the Mount. We’d grin and bear it as they pinched our cheeks and caught up on a year’s worth of family gossip. Until the next year – same time, same place, same stories!
The family then feasted on a feast that included all the East Indian specialities: sorpotel, pork vindaloo, tongue moile, potato chops and – my favourite – fugiyas (little balls of fried, puffed bread).
A Sunday siesta was a must for the uncles after the bountiful Bandra Feast lunch – and a few stiff pegs – the sound and fury of their snoring making us giggle…
September Gardens outside Mount Carmel’s Church was the place to be. Preening prima donnas and beefed-up blokes filled out entry forms for the September Queen or King contests. Teenage boys tried to woo girls by showing off in games of skill: three tries to knock down nine tin cans or to kick a football through an old tyre. The prize? A bar of Liril soap!
My favourites were the rides. The excitement mounted as we waited in the serpentine queues for the Giant’s Wheel ride. Next stop: The Sea-on-Land, and a little ahead at St. Anthony’s Home, the Galloping Horses (carousel). Once the music started, our handsome steeds cantered round and round, up and down.
The “oohs” and “ahhs” of spectators watching the dare-devil stuntman on his motorbike do the rounds in the Well of Death was another drawcard. As was the crafty canine who sniffed out an audience member’s watch in the Dog Show.
The Bandra Fair still goes on to this very day, but I much prefer the magic and memories from years gone by…
* All photos in this post are NOT my own but taken from various unlisted sources on the Internet.
So tell me, what do you remember the most about fairs and festivals from your own childhood? If there is anyone from Bandra reading this, please add your own Bandra Fair memories in the comments below. Thanks!