There’ll be no bike camping in Bandra West
“How was your flight?” Uncle Aloysius asked me, passing my bags to his driver. I looked at him incomprehensively, not understanding a word he said.
He’d directed the driver to park his car under the lone tree at the Mumbai International Airport. Not only did I foolishly make a move for the driver’s side (the vehicles are right-hand drive), but I’d also stepped towards the front passenger seat.
Uncle motioned that I join him in the back and gave directions to the driver in Hindi. He then turned to me and continued to speak, only I could barely understand him.
This didn’t make sense, I thought to myself. We’d been corresponding by email – in fluent English – for seven years. In the emails he’d explained how we were related (he was the son of my grandmother’s brother), described his ancestral home in Goa (where I’d be living for the next six months), and urged me to come visit (to meet relatives, learn about my family history, and write a book).
Aloysius had kind, jovial eyes and I watched his face carefully as he spoke. As our car honked and bumpered up and around bicycles, motorcycles, taxis, and trucks on the southbound Western Express Highway I began to make sense of his words. He was speaking English – British-tinged, in fact – and I couldn’t easily understand him because I wasn’t used to the way he spoke.
His daughther Deepika (at whose home I’d stay for two weeks) later explained that her happy, healthy, extremely sharp seventy-four-year old dad had a bit of a growth in his vocal chord area that may have made it difficult for me to understand, but it just took a bit of getting used to.
She showed me my room in her and husband Emil’s third floor suite, and this bike-camp traveller marveled at the luxury of it: a queen-size mattress on a handcarved frame; a private western-style ensuite bathroom; and a balcony overlooking a cobblestoned laneway. A two-foot tall basil plant scented the sun-warmed deck and bright yellow orioles hid in the shading coconut trees.
Over lunch, Aloysius and Deepika explained that we were in a neighbourhood called “Bandra West” about twenty kilometres north of downtown (“South”) Mumbai. You could say the middle-to-upper class seaside area was Mumbai’s first suburb in that when the British arrived in Bandra in 1775 to assume sovereignty from the Portuguese, its communities of Christians and their churches were already well established (see A Brief History of Bandra West).
Our families and their Bandra neighbours were probably among the first to be baptized under the sponsorship of our Portuguese missionaries, and accordingly took on their names: Aloysius’s last name was D’Souza, Deepika’s married name was Carhavallo, and it appears my ancesters paid homage to a certain Father Rodrigues.
After my uncle returned home, I hunkered down with a couple of locally-written history books, a road atlas of the Mumbai area, and the sound of children lighting Diwali-season firecrackers down on the laneway.