Bombay Balchao – Jane Borges

Bombay Balchao was one of the first few books I read at the beginning of 2020, yet it has taken me nearly a year to bring together my words and feelings to do some semblance of justice to the book. The book brought to forefront nostalgia and questions about home, and community. Both so ephemeral in their existence, that to explain it is nearly a feat.  

The Konkani speaking, Goan-Portuguese, catholic community is a fascination to many but experienced extensively only by a few. Even as I gifted this book to friends and watched them fall in love with the world, there was also a fascination that coloured it, while it was nostalgia that coloured my experience. 

Bombay Balchao brought back memories of one of the best periods of my vagabond childhood. I spent 6 years of my life in Mangalore, 3 of which in an apartment that was filled with a great feeling of community – between varied cultures, dominant amongst them being the catholic, Konkani speaking families. 

It seems like an era has passed by when I reminisce now. The kids’ gang was made of 3-year olds, a bunch of us in primary school and even people in college. Somehow it made sense, and there was no disconnect in the evenings we spent playing lagori, badminton, cards and traded WWE collectibles. Since the kids were tight knit, so was the community – I had a standing weekend invitation for lunch at my neighbours – The Lobo’s, Christmas invites that kept me out for all meals for two days, all the ladies gathering to communally cook chicken for chicken party with leftover society funds. Back to School parties for us all, and birthdays… birthdays with endless cake, friends and performances.  

When you live in an apartment with 9+ floors lacking an elevator, and the terrace was your playground – my house on the topmost floor was an open-door policy that housed snacks on the table and water for whenever a tired kid walked in to take a break. My mother’s dosa days brought in a line of kids into our balcony/dining room and my neighbour’s pork baffat had me twitching my nose and ringing the bell until I was let in.  

These memories were what came back to me, stronger than ever as I read about these intertwined, boisterous, witty lives of Michael Coutinho, Annette Coutinho, Joe Castro, Benjamin da Cunha, Merlyn, Mario Lawrence, Ellena Gomes and this beautiful place called Cavel. I found myself in the midnight mass, having attended it extensively as a child, when Michael talks of his first love. I knew their eccentricities, their language, the warmth and love.   

Michael being a big brother figure to Mario, Merlyn imagining that her mother-in-law is taunting her by possessing her husband, Annette and Michael playing out their sibling rivalry as adults, love triangles, neighbours endless fight over water supply, weddings filled with homemade wine, squabbling aunties and blissfully dancing at wedding uncles. They all find their moments to engross you. Most of the humour sneaks in, and packs a punch in conversation, truly bringing the colloquial wit of the culture to the fore. 

A lot of what I will say about this book will seem heavily biased, but consider this, any book that is expertly written should induce feelings in the reader. Bombay Balchao has done that, right from the cover design to every story, carefully written. Each story is unique, alive and filled with details. While the form of writing them as short stories might seem unusual, it is that form which is able to bring the depth of interconnections from varied perspectives, making this few paged book, a heavy dose of culture and stories.  

Jane Borges, is a precise writer, knowing exactly how she will encapsulate a world in her words. The whole time I read this, I dreamed of Goan, Mangalorean food, and a steady track of, “Ya ya maya ya”, running in the background. I can’t gift my experience to anyone, but pick up this book and experience lives like you otherwise don’t.