Sarah-Jane Dias — actor, singer, Bandra girl — walks us through quaint alleys, past old churches, even introduces us to the locals
It’s 7.30am on a Friday morning. Hill Road is yet to see another busy day. The sun hasn’t shown its true colours either. Shutters down, rickshaws parked at the corner of the street, old couples strolling around St Andrew’s Church. It’s a respite from the usual, ceaseless honking on this stretch. In this part of the city, the old has embraced the new — there’s a new café and graffiti coming up every other day. Yet the locals have not moved away from their glorious past — century-old churches and schools, bakeries and an overpowering laid-back attitude that you cannot escape.
We are waiting for our guide — model-turned-actor-singer Sarah-Jane Dias (33) — to take us around the neighbourhood. She has spent over 22 years of her life here. We meet her outside Apostolic Carmel High School and Junior College, where she studied till the third grade, before moving to Muscat, Oman (she returned to the city in 2000). We walk towards St Andrew’s College (also where she studied), and on the way, she pointed out that where Salsette Gym now stands, Lion’s Club once stood. “They used to have swings and slides then. I would play there,” she said.
Thirty minutes into the tour, she sums it up: “I don’t live in Mumbai, I live in Bandra; you don’t need to step out of Bandra for anything.” Over the next couple of hours, she maps a shortcut to Bandstand via the St Andrew’s Church graveyard, takes us to music composer-producer Mikey McCleary’s recording studio at Wilfred Apartments on St Leo Road, for an impromptu performance, and shows us her favourite graffiti on Chapel Road.
If there’s something that sets the bustling Chapel Road and Waroda Road apart from the rest of Bandra, it is the larger-than-life Bollywood murals adorning the facades of houses and stores. Bollywood Art Project, artist Ranjit Dahiya’s brainchild, has given it a vibrant makeover. Down narrow lanes and amidst Portuguese-styled houses, you will pleasantly bump into the Golden Era of Bollywood. A mural of Anarkali and a portrait of Madhubala stand tall in the heart of Chapel Road. You will also find Amitabh Bachchan’s portraits from Deewar and Amar Akbar Anthony down the lane.
In the 18th century, bands would perform in this open-air setting. However, over the centuries, the seafront turned out to be a dumping ground. Only recently, in the late 1990s, the residents of Bandra proposed a plan to the local bodies, demanding the renovation of the seafront. With a tiny jogger’s park and open-air gym, Bandra Bandstand today is one of the most popular hangout spots in the city.
St Andrew’s Church:
The first church to be built in Bandra was St Anne’s Church in the late 1500s. St Andrew’s Church was erected a couple of decades later. However, after the British demolished the former, St Andrew’s Church now stands as the oldest parish in Bandra. In the 18th century, during the Maratha invasion, the shrine was attacked, and the roof was burnt. While the Portuguese-styled façade remains intact, in 1965, the Roman Catholic Church was extensively renovated, and a statue of St Andrew was also constructed at the entrance. Look closely, and you can find the Portuguese name of the suburb — Bandora — in some of the old gravestones in the compound. This year, the church turns 400.
St Stanislaus High School:
This 153-year-old boys’ school is one of the oldest education institutions in the city. However, it was only last year that the school got its first woman principal in Anne Correa. Spread across seven acres, this is the largest school in Mumbai. The massive pastel green building is the most prominent landmark on Hill Road. On our visit, we also met 50-year-old Joe Vesoka, an alumni of the school. The musician was practising trumpet in the premises. Dias and Vesoka bonded over Blue Moon and Take 5, and found several mutual acquaintances. And they said in unison, “Everybody knows everybody in Bandra.”
St Peter’s Church:
One can’t help but pause and admire the Romanesque façade of this church. St Peter’s Church has been named a Grade A heritage structure by the Heritage Society of India. One of the peculiar features of this shrine is its square hall, which can house 1,000 people at a time. At the altar, one can also spot a relief sculpture of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Built in 1853, it’s the only Anglican church in Bandra.
Did you know?
>> The American Express Bakery on Hill Road still uses baking machines which were imported from England in 1940 and 1965. Some of the outlet’s old posters and advertisements still adorn the walls of the bakery.
>> There are over 150 crosses across Bandra. Most of them were built to keep the plague epidemic (1896-1906) away. The oldest one stands tall in the premises of St Andrew’s Church. It’s 17ft high, and is carved out of a single stone.
Also read: Insider’s guide to... Sophia College
>> Under the rule of the Portuguese in the 16th century, Bandra — a collection of 24 villages — was known as Bandura, Bandara and Vandre. Eventually, in the late 19th century, the British renamed the town as Bandra. Back in the day, several pockets of the area were inhabited by fishermen, and to date, neighbourhoods like Chuim, Kantavari (Old Kantwadi), Waroda and Pali continue to be populated by them.
>> The first Indian counterpart of Little Free Library, the popular American reading concept, was established in D’Monte Park. A three-feet-high box packed with books, has been placed in the premises to encourage the habit of reading among kids and youngsters. The concept is simple — you get to keep a title, only if you add one to the box from your collection.
A foodie’s guide to Bandra
>> The Fatty Bao for some casual dinner.
Where: Summerville, junction of 14th and 33rd Road, Linking Road
>> La Folie Lab is an ideal place to catch up over a brunch.
Where: Libra Towers, opposite St. Peter’s Church, Hill Road
>> Good Luck Café is the best place for some bun maska.
Where: Opposite Mehboob Studios, Bandstand
>> Jai Hind Lunch Home serves the best fish curry and rice in town.
Where: Dr Ambedkar Road, Pali Naka, Pali Hill
>> BAD offers the best coffee ever.
Where: Kapadia House, New Kantwadi Road, off Perry Cross Road, Pali Hill
— By Sarah-Jane Dias