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Bombay through nostalgia's prism

Malavika Sangghvi 

Malavika Sangghvi

Now that Bombay Velvet, Anurag Kashyap's paean to the Bombay of the '60s, has captured the imagination of the public comprising many who were not even a gleam in their parents' eye till many decades later, let me tell you what Bombay in the '60s was really like.

I do not recall it being the highly stylised and peerlessly voguish era that nostalgia and an unabashed crush on Martin Scorsese makes it out to be. Yes, there were Dodges and Chevrolets but the leitmotif on the tree-lined roads was Ambassadors and Fiats as comfortably rounded as their passengers who were yet to discover fad diets, gymming and the demands of looking at their best all the time.

We got our fashion news from the two reigning women's magazines of the time, Femina and Eve's Weekly, through the sketches of their resident fashion gurus, whose mindboggling versions of churidar-kameez and sari blouses never failed to impress.

Our mothers would meticulously collect these as inspiration when we visited the tailors who would translate them into our sartorial splendour.

Yes, we had tailors in those days who made everything we wore to particular sizes and tastes. If there was a flourishing ready-made business around at that time, it was a well kept secret and, believe me, our few and fleeting glimpses of western fashion through old issues of Vogue at the kabaadiwalas, only brought forth mirth and incredulity.

So much for the clothes and cars, which were decidedly unfashionable by today's post-liberalisation standards.

Our gadgets and gizmos were no better. Our TVs, for instance, were boxy and given pride of place in our living rooms, along with the household stereo: a spacious cabinet housing a vintage turntable.

Of course, there was only one government-run channel and a handful of programmes for which we'd wait patiently the entire week to watch along with parents, grandparents, neighbours, servants and assorted TV-watching friends.

When the starting notes of these few precious shows revved up, you cannot imagine the excitement in our homes.

We wrote our letters on Inland Post and no self-respecting young person of that era did not have a few significant pen-pals who we would exchange stamps, currency notes and other memorabilia of our lives with. I guess you could call this the social media of our decade.

Eating out was a rare and wondrous thing in the '60s and undertaken a few times in the year, mainly to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.

In Juhu, where my parents had settled in a cozy conclave of film folk, the eating out options were mainly divided between the two hotels of the era -the Juhu Hotel and the Sun n Sand.

I guess recounting all this makes Bombay out to be a far cry from the flash and dash of films like Bombay Velvet where fighters like Johnny Balraj cut a swathe through Art Deco splendour.

Nostalgia is a seductive prism and it makes us see life through rose-tinted glasses, especially when multi-million dollar films are predicated on it.

Which is not to say that Bombay Velvet does my city a disservice or is unwelcome. It's just that for me, the notes of the itinerant old man who sang "Daisy Daisy" each Sunday morning at our window was much more typical than a nightclub singer called Rosie Noronha belting out Fifi!

Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer

First Published: Sat, May 16 2015. 00:09 IST