By invitation: Author Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan on living in Bandra East, and the East-West debate
Delhi-based author Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan on Bandra East — which she once called homeUpdated: Feb 04, 2016, 16:02 IST
I still remember where I was when I decided to move to Mumbai. It was a cold winter’s evening. We were in a friend’s flat in East Delhi and I was grumbling about how everything was the same — much of a muchness. Sure, I was due to start a new job with a magazine very soon, but I had grown weary of Delhi, the city I had grown up in, and continued, it seemed, to grow old in.
This party was a combination birthday/farewell for our friend, who was moving to Mumbai with a new job. “How lucky,” I sighed, and he said, “Come with me.” I might have laughed disbelievingly — one didn’t just give up house and job and life and move so easily on suggestion. But the idea turned in my mind from a ragged broken piece of bottle to smooth-edged sea glass, and by the next morning, I called him and said, “Ok. If you’re serious, I will come.”
When I joined him, suitcase in hand three months later, I had not only a room, but also a neighbourhood. This was Bandra East, a firmly middle-class residential colony, a seeming hold-out from the already rapidly gentrifying Bandra West. A stroll across the train station, a neighbourhood where Bal Thackeray was our “down the road neighbour”, and the only food delivery option was a Mangalorean sea food restaurant. Our flat was part of a set of buildings called MIG Colony or ‘Middle Income Group’ and apart from our landlord, who had moved to South Bombay ages ago, everyone else there owned their property. These were conservative people who kept to themselves — my friend had told the landlord we were a married couple to save appearances.
In the beginning, Bandra East didn’t mean much to me in terms of where it was located. It was still Bandra. Wasn’t I still in the thick of things, still trendy and cool with a posh address? (Nowhere but in Mumbai — and maybe certain pockets of south Delhi — does your address so quickly become a shorthand for whether or not you can be friends with someone) It took me a while to cotton on to the full extent of exactly how residential we were, how tucked away from everything else. For those not in the know, Bandra East began with a long tree-lined road, with the flats tucked away in side lanes. So quiet, you couldn’t even hear traffic. Even getting a rickshaw at 9pm was impossible, unless you walked all the way to the main road. As a result, our rents were at least 30 per cent cheaper than our neighbours in the west, but the price we paid was living in provincialism, so to speak, while all around us, Mumbai exploded with the cosmopolitan lifestyle I had moved to the city for.
Eventually, I moved to Bandra West after all — and it was everything that it promised to be. From a morning woken up by crows in the coconut trees outside my window, I’d be jolted awake in the middle of the night by kids in their father’s cars, racing down the drag of a sea- facing road. In just five minutes, I could walk to any cuisine I desired, and my friends were suddenly accessible, next door. I didn’t even have to plan my evenings to set out at a time when public transport would be available. It was ideal — and yet, and yet, when I think about Mumbai, I think about MIG, and being ensconced in that world, a slow world that rocked me into the idea of living somewhere else. If my friend had taken a different decision when he picked our shared real estate, I might have been a different person today. But as it was, there we were, and now on my visits back to Mumbai, I feel a stab of fondness for that street when I pass it. Once, it was home.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently a novel called Split. She tweets as @reddymadhavan