They always had tables reserved for them at their regular bars. Though they had no ownership at these joints, they got special treatment — that’s why they were often the last ones to leave every night; also because they’d be busy entertaining everyone with their bad jokes, but that’s a different matter.
The fact is that Bandra uncles used to be an integral part of this suburb’s charm. And now, their kind is nowhere to be spotted. These retired gentlemen, often in their fifties and sporting Bermuda shorts, were the ones who discovered bars like Gazebo, Temptations, Cloud 9 and my favourite, Bounce, long before we even heard of them. Then, a few years ago, ‘being seen’ at the most unglamorous bars in town became the hip-thing-to-do for all young drinkers.
These uncles slowly and steadily found themselves being ousted from their own territory, feeling like the last few dinosaurs left on the planet — out of place and just generally bigger (in this case, older) than everyone else around them. Temptations was one of the last bastions that recently sold out to an international chain of fried chicken popcorn producers for what is, presumably, not an emotional reason.
If you’re lucky, you may still spot one or two of these uncles at Janata Bar. They usually sit on the ground floor, at the middle table that fits six, surrounded by backpacking foreigners and really loud kids, for lack of options.
My last sighting was a few weeks ago, when one sat quietly, literally sunken, in the cacophony of drunken banter spilling over from other tables. “Oye, cotton wool hai?” he asked the waiter, pointing to his ears painfully. He may not return for some time, just like many of his counterparts haven’t.
But have they given up the life of bad jokes and Old Monk? Or have they found the next Bounce or Gazebo that we’re yet to develop a taste for? Considering they’re the ones who discovered and made these bars home long before we did, could their presently-unknown-hangouts be the next big dives? And once these hideouts do become known, will the uncles be displaced again?
There’s just one question to answer all these questions: where have all the Bandra uncles gone?