Goan Rhapsody

It’s faith,not profits that has prompted Goan families to sell sweets at the Bandra Fair for generations.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published:September 14, 2012 3:35 am

It’s faith,not profits that has prompted Goan families to sell sweets at the Bandra Fair for generations.

Bandra wears a festive air all year round. However,every year,starting the first Sunday that follows September 8,Bandra — home to Mount Mary Church — becomes the hub for week-long celebrations that mark Mother Mary’s feast. Referred to as Bandra Fair,it is believed to be a 300-year-old tradition,which attracts thousands of devotees from across Mumbai and outside. As a result,a thick rope has partitioned the busy Chapel Road,Bandra,into two halves. While the evening traffic flows as usual on one side,the other is packed with people crowding the roadside stalls and stopping at makeshift eateries selling candyfloss and kebabs.

The revelry continues into the rear entrance of the church premises where a series of steps leads up to the chapel. On either side are stalls selling knickknacks. Up ahead is a section of stalls located in the midst of the pathway. An old attraction of the fair,these stalls — once run exclusively by people who made an annual pilgrimage from Goa during the fair — for decades have been selling popular homemade Goan sweets such as perad,doce,pinac,dodol,and mango and jackfruit papad.

She has no memory of it,but Shweta Shet knows that her first visit to Bandra Fair was when she was six months old. “My mother tells me that I was unwell that year,but two days before the fair,my parents boarded a bus to Mumbai. There was no way the family was going to break the annual ritual. The Shets have been selling Goan sweets at the fair since my grandfather’s early years,” says the 28-year-old.

While over a dozen such families from Goa used to set up shop at the fair until a decade ago,only a handful continue to do so today — the others have sold off their stalls to local Goan families. Like the Shets,Carvalho Sweets,owned by John Carvalho,is a familiar name to the fair regulars. The 58-year-old took over the business only 18 years ago,but his family has been running the stall since his grandmother’s time,for over a hundred years ago. Similarly,36-year-old Maria Barreto recollects how her mother would start preparing the sweets in April,four months ahead of the fair,a tradition that she continues. “We would bring over 50 kilos of cashews and sweets,so the purchasing of ingredients needed to start early,” she reminisces.

The sale is good but the business is not as good as it used to be 30 years ago. “There were no malls or sales and Bandra Fair was the biggest social event. People also used to buy a yearly quota of household items at discounts,” says Carvalho. He,however,adds that it isn’t for business that they continue to visit the fair every year but “for the love of Mother Mary”. The business back home for Shets is good,who own four lorries that they rent out to make a living. But every year,they close the business for these 10 days to “serve Mother Mary”. “We are Kolis and don’t follow the faith,but my father-in-law believed that if we don’t sell sweets at the feet of Mother Mary,our regular business will crash,” explains Sunita.

Faith,indeed,is a unifying factor at the fair. As a boy,Anil Salgaonkar started visiting a stall his family friend ran at the fair. Now,the 33-year-old Maharastrian continues to man the stall in the evenings. Ali Merchant,22, went to a Jesuit school in Thane and started visiting the fair with his Catholic friends when he was 14. “My friend Mark would spend the day manning his aunt’s stall and I would give him company. Now,I make it a point to spend few hours of the evening at a stall helping the owner. I enjoy the festive mood and it brings me peace of mind,” he says.

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