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The Bandra Cafe Cross-Section

The Bandra Cafe Cross-Section

November 22, 2011

Bandra West - this north Mumbai neighbourhood has never seen such diversity of wealth, of ideas and of opportunity.

Early afternoon is morning on a Sunday in Mumbai. The neighbourhood café is crowded with a variety of characters, a mix of people that could only ever be found in Bandra west, Mumbai, India. 

A family reunion is taking up a sizeable part of the café. The children run around in shoes that light up and squeak, the teens sit with straightened hair and glossed lips and gossip about their school lives, the adults discuss parenting and upcoming Diwali trips to Malaysia and Singapore.

Young Indian men that have never known an India that is unlike their Mumbai stumble in on their own time. Hair in stylish disarray. Out of the way of the reunion, they recline in soft chairs to drink espresso and nurse their hangovers.

Brazilian girls who have come to try their luck in glamour toss their heads and make an entrance. T
hey wear heels and shorts, endless legs framed between sandal straps and rough jean edges. They sit pouting with their portfolios on their laps, preparing for meetings with legitimate or fake casting agents.

Small expat families are dropped off by drivers. A tired mom clutches at her little boy's hand as he scampers ahead. Her husband lags behind, working on his blackberry. They sit down to enjoy the air conditioning, muffins and coffee and pretend that they're in the place that they came from.

Their driver hovers outside with other employees like himself and they talk about their villages and when they're going home by thirty hour train to visit. To finally have a bit of peace, eat their wives' home food and not have to deal with any ridiculous foreigners and their never-ending demands.

Attending to the never-ending demands are cafe boys: running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to answer to everyone and effectively serving almost no-one. The customer’s speaking tone, not the order in which orders were placed, determines who gets served first.

Each person in the cafe speaks based on their different life experiences which have defined their ideas about how things should work. Every moment a new request:

Ya, get me a water. Not cold haan? Plain, normal only. Get me a sandwich as well.”

Achha bhai-saab? Awaaz kum kar dijiye, volume bahaut zyaada hai.

Um, hi! Could I have a cappucino please? No foam though, and make it really hot. Only one shot. Decaf. Sugar? No, no, that's fine, I'll add it myself. Please make it really hot okay? Last time it wasn’t hot enough. Thank you so much!

Achha beta, mere liye ek chai leke aiye. Kya? Chai nahi hai? Yeh kaise?

Aray please na? How long have we all been waiting here? Even I called before I came, and still you all cannot get it together, kya yaar. Just bring it now fast.

This neighbourhood
has never seen such diversity of wealth, of ideas and of opportunity. Neither has the eldest nani at the family reunion, who didn’t grow up even with the concept of this sort of café. She sits, serene in her crisp Lucknow chikan salwar kameez with her dupatta properly draped and hair properly oiled, not like the nonsense of nowadays. Nani doesn't believe in or approve of the fast changing world, all these practically naked young women, all this technology and ‘outside food’. She prefers the one she knows.

Nani’s children are like the mint chutney in a toast grill veg sandwich: in between. They still attend all of the necessary pujas and Mom still cooks at home a few times a week. Otherwise it's easier to order out: pizza, or chow mein veg manchurian, or heavy buttery curries with naan, and brownies and ice cream for dessert.

Mom’s children with the squeaking shoes don't believe in the world they hear about from their ageing nani. They live in an India that is glittery with malls and western music and clothes; they speak only English and eat microwaved popcorn and watch American cartoons. 

17 Comments

  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    25.11.11 10:47 AM
    Thank you Pallavi! I love when a discussion can arise out of an article: it's great to see what NRIs and non Indians across the globe think about the issues and culture in India today.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    25.11.11 02:47 AM
    I loved not just your article, but your responses to the comments as well!! Very nice!
  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    24.11.11 09:42 AM
    @Vishal: very true! And I love those pockets of authenticity as well :)
  • vishal
    By
    vishal
    23.11.11 11:40 PM
    well then Bronwyn, i suggest try Mulund/Dadar out! :D .... no mixtures, all authentic!
  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    23.11.11 03:03 PM
    @Mary: my feelings exactly! It is incredible how it all manages to live in harmony. I have heard it said that nowhere else in the world can the poor and the rich live so close to one another with so little violence and tension.

    @Vishal: Aspects of Sydney, Dubai and Vancouver do indeed create a part of Bandra, but it's the contrast of those with aspects that are unique to India and to Mumbai that make Bandra what it is. Any neighbourhood in any international city will have representatives from other places: I feel like this adds much more than it takes away. Bandra is a place like nowhere else, and I appreciate it for that.
  • vishal
    By
    vishal
    22.11.11 11:42 PM
    why do i need to be in bandra if all i get out there is a sydney or a dubai or a vancouver.....
  • Mary
    By
    Mary
    22.11.11 07:47 PM
    Really good reads...oils my nostalgia.... Oh do I miss Bandra.... the aura and the ambience.... the scents and sights, the plush and the poor.... wow all in harmony!
  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    22.11.11 07:16 PM
    @Maeve: reminds me of some Bandra girls that I know! ;)Maybe in too much detail. Hmm.

    @Noel: It is hilarious when that happens. I've also seen the reverse, in the case of an aunty that I quoted above. She was shocked that a cafe that seemed to have everything actually didn't have plain chai. What is the world coming to?
  • Noel
    By
    Noel
    22.11.11 06:23 PM
    Its hilarious to see the above mentioned people when they go into any local coffee shop or 'chaaya-kada' (a Kerala based tea serving version of a cafe ;) ) in any other part of India and try to order a cappuccino and soil themselves when they hear that the people in the shop haven't heard of cappuccinos (or an other type of fancy coffee) let alone serve them :P

    (I'm sorry but I couldn't help posting this... but I've seen loads of city dwellers who've been to rural India in this predicament and it never gets old!)
  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    22.11.11 02:43 PM
    @Sandeep: You are right, Bandra is one of the most expensive areas in the city. The cost of renting a flat is easily comparable to prices in New York!

    @Rahul: It's a fabulous neighbourhood. Hopefully you can visit someday!
  • rahul aggarwal
    By
    rahul aggarwal
    22.11.11 02:14 PM
    i would love to go to bandra one day... a resident place of most indian movie stars...

    regards
    rahul
  • Maeve
    By
    Maeve
    22.11.11 09:41 AM
    Bandra girls, new and 'from here only' wander in, wondering who's overhearing and judging their weekend recaps. After half a cappuccino, they decide not to care and openly discuss real life.
  • sandeep
    By
    sandeep
    22.11.11 09:20 AM
    it was pleasant read.Bandra is an awesome place but only thing is that the real estate prices are so hig that only few can afford,if i am not wrong many expats prefer to stay in Bandra ..
  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    22.11.11 08:51 AM
    @Barnaby: it is every expat girl.

    The tone is hilarious- a cross between 'I'm trying to be patient because I'm in India, things aren't the same/I don't know how hard it is to make a flippin cappucino/I'm starting to get impatient/I should still be polite/ahhh!'
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    22.11.11 08:44 AM
    The "Um, hi!" one is pitch-perfect accurate expat in India. It's probably you! It was definitely me for at least my first year over there.
  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    22.11.11 07:47 AM
    @Umesh: thanks for being the first to comment! I'm glad you liked the piece. Bandra is a world of its own.
  • umesh derebail
    By
    umesh derebail
    22.11.11 07:40 AM
    Good recap of your Bandra cafe experience, you have achieved proficiency in Hindi too Kudos

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