Real estate in prime Parsi colonies seem to rake in more than current market rates of swanky apartments anywhere else! Fascinating, isn’t it? Born, bred and ‘buttered’ a true colony Bawi, I’ve indeed experienced the appeal of living in one, for the better part of my life. I view my lifestyle in and amongst the precincts of these bounded enclaves almost idealistic. But then, my eyes have never been bereft of those rose-tinted glasses. So, what, pray tell me, is the differences between living in these old, pre-independence structures or in some fancy high-rise with commanding views of the Arabian Sea? Frankly, there’s really no comparison – it’s as different as chalk and cheese.
While Mumbai gradually disintegrates into glass-fronted spectacles of modern day living, colonies have stood the test of time retaining their archetypal heritage and charm… a sense of timeless-displaying grandeur, almost a reflection of an era long lost. These tiny pockets of serenity have escaped the flare-up of urbanization. Most colonies, built pre-Independence, retain a colonial architectural beauty of infectious agelessness, viewed as ‘isolated pockets of quintessential Parsi-style living’, favouring an eccentric community displaying yesteryear-living.
Colony life is about anomalous community living – you belong to an essence beyond the individual. If you prioritize privacy, then a colony is not for you, coz every other person here is like a private investigator! Colony residents know more about your business than you could imagine. Talk, chatter and chitchat are the order of the day and news is relayed faster than a news flash. They babble, blather, meddle and prattle and news reaching you through the grapevine, is chronicled – all distorted. So, let’s just say, if the Dubash’s car refused to start in the morning, by afternoon the news flash would probably be the car needed a complete overhaul. And by evening you may hear ‘The Dubash’s are buying a new car, the old one is a complete write-off’.
Colonies are like large chicken coops – the populace of parents here all hopeful that their brood have a higher probability of: (1) ensuring the right sort of dalliance; followed by (2) A perfectly suitable alliance, while finding the right sort of ‘Parsee Soul Mate.’ To our sanctimonious community, there are obviously no other kinds. Relationships and friendships here are sustained over decades and your darling son’s wife-to-be, could well be your friend’s little girl – the one who squealed, screamed, and peed on your lap every opportunity she got as a tot, while you rocked her to sleep. Guess you couldn’t ask for a better candidate even if you tried! She managed to irritate you all those years back, she may as well continue now!
On the other hand, seems like your daughter’s fallen madly for Rusi-the-Romeo of Rustom Baug – already a promising young attorney at his father’s legal firm, hoping to have an illustrious track record someday of winning, as many legal cases, as he had tender hearts in his colourful days. Doctors, lawyers, pilots or engineer, none of that matters as long as his address reads ‘Cusrow Baug’, ‘Rustom Baug’ or any other half-decent colony.
While outsiders (termed NRCs or Non-Resident Colony-ites) pay astronomical sums to seek memberships at exclusive clubs – to entertain and socialize, we have our very own club houses called Pavilions and Gymkhanas, where generations have mingled, gorging on titbits of daily gossip along with death-defying snacks, betwixt mouthfuls of samosas or piping hot batata wadas, to catch up on the latest Colony buzz. The congregation of various groups from young to old takes place twice a day, so between the morning news flash and the evening report, a lot does happen. It’s a colony after all! And with so many residents, there’s never shortage of high-strung drama to keep you entertained all day, every day!
While the old congregate every evening on benches discussing recipes of age-tested Parsi cuisine, their rheumatics, the latest in knee replacements and cataracts, the young simply assemble in the gardens joining forces for their boot camps, athletics, walks or runs. Most colonies organise regular football, volley ball and throw ball matches. Some with turn-key courts host badminton tournaments as well. Immaterial of your participation the colony is abuzz with activity with food stalls and chatter, in and around the playing lines. Folks come together to cheer their favourite teams or players, irrespective of whether you know jack-all about that game!
Colony lives are little ecosystems that epitomise what it means to maintain a communal feel. Growing up, we were still not quite acquainted with the term ‘car-pool’, but long before it became a thing, we had mothers who regularly rocked a car full of eight to ten little Parsi girls, all crammed to capacity, leaving the main gate every morning… having veteran taxi-walas darting out of the way while it moved and chugged, stopped to pick up, even more of the little ones in school uniforms, standing and moping alongside their nannies, all disgruntled at either having missed the school bus or just waiting to hoist an available cab.
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to imagine the ethos of colony life. Growing up, annual vacations to Matheran , Mahableshwar or Punchgani to seek the bracing air of those pristine hills, were dreaded because it meant sacrificing a week or two of summer holidays with friends in the colony – cycling, trekking, funning in and around Mumbai. We did things together, like bands of thieves – playing games that have now lost their allure, like Chor-Police, Hide and Seek and Kho-Kho. We breakfasted, lunched and dined together, had sleep-overs.
We were a generation that grew up on blue skies and midnight moons. We bloomed with the outdoors, picking caterpillars from leaves and flitting around with pretty butterflies. We climbed trees, plucked off mangoes, stole bird’s eggs… we grew up boisterous and loud, girls in pigtails outrunning boys, we camped in our backyards or gardens cooking over firewood and while the food was burnt, scorched, raw and messy, no flavour or treat so far, has ever compared. We were outdoorsy, rowdy and in those summer months our lives vaguely resembled characters from our favourite Enid Blyton books.
There were no distinctions, friendships forged not out of convenience, but because our diapers and rattles were in the same room growing up, as our mothers discussed the Sunday Pot-luck arrangements. Catcalls and whistles were how our bands of friends, were summoned and distinguished. Each group had its own distinct whistle call. We had nicknames and inner jokes, we fought for and against each other! We had movie nights in our club houses long before DVDs were invented and eons before Netflix was even conceptualised. We could ill- afford tickets to theatres and movie halls, but we had a projector that enabled us to laugh till we rolled on the odd antics of Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. We had jam sessions and dance-nights long before the hip concept of Friday Night Clubbing was invented. The Art of Living courses doing the rounds and ever so popular these days should take a page out from what we’ve been living and enjoying all our life – a fantastical utopian existence indeed!
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