Comfortably Numb

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Book review: Bombay Balchao by Jane Borges


Bombay Balchao is rather akin to that tangy relish Goans are so justifiably proud of, the balchao. The interlinked shorts in the book are  slice- of- life stories of a section of society with surnames like D`Lima, da Cunha, Crasto, Ferreira, Coutinho, Mascarenhas, Pinto, Gomes;  a mix of early East Indian settlers, the Goan Catholics who came to Bombay/Mumbai later and the Mangalorean Catholics who intermarried with the first two.

The first few stories are quite shaky in the writing,  with a fair sprinkling of awkwardly constructed sentences (I guided my ears to listen to him; Bombay was diseased with the plague; her ears were singeing) and equally awkward terms (taken ill due to dementia; a floaty victim; leering young girls) even though the stories themselves were piquing my interest.

However, the second part of the book seemed to be on surer ground, with one titled `Dearest Butterfly, With Love,`  quite worth the price of the ticket, as it were.

We read of sweet romances, not-so-sweet romances, what goes into the making of balchao, how Father Augustine Fernandez experiences a miracle by fire in the Our Lady of Hope church, how Annette Coutinho learned to live with the constant noisy presence of her late husband and her equally late admirer; how the residents of Bosco Mansion clung on wistfully to the past in a rapidly changing Mumbai.

In the end, the glimpse into these lives is so engaging, so filled with heart, the book rises above the editing glitches.

Read it if your surname is Pereira, de Nazareth, Cardoza, D`Sa, Noronha.

Read it if your surname isn`t one of these names.

Either way, you`ll enjoy it.

Bombay balchaobook reviewEast Indians of MumbaifictionGoan CatholicsJane BorgesMangalorean Christians

Sheila Kumar • August 27, 2020

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