Sandra at Bandra

March 3, 2011

I met Sandra Monteiro at her stall outside the Mount Mary church a few months ago. It was a chance meeting that summer day since my friend roshan and I hadn’t planned on visiting the church when we reached Bandra on a late afternoon. There, Sandra Monteiro smiled at me when I stepped into her stall. As we got talking, she told me that she hails from Verna, in Goa. I asked her if she manages to visit Goa. She said, "Yes, yes, I do." Then she told me that she would be visiting Saligao (a Goan town) next month, in June. “I visit Goa once a year to meet my relatives,” she added.

It was early evening when we took the turn past the Bandra Bandstand on our way to the Mount Mary church. The monsoon was three weeks away but clouds straggled across the sky from the west, in ones, twos, and threes, sometimes more. In days to come more would follow. The rickshaw laboured up the hill, flanked on either side by residential high-rises and bungalows that sat pretty facing the sea a short distance away. I read Parsi names on a building or two. I like Parsi names. Jeejabhoy, Merchant, Taraporewalla, Daruwalla. As we motored up, every once in a while I saw people gathered on terraces facing the sea, gazing fixedly at the ocean.

Mid-way up the hill, the road narrowed; I cannot quite remember if it was because of a tree, or on account of road repairs. Vehicles coming down the slope showed little consideration for those going up the incline, blocking the way, forcing us into braking and losing momentum. The rickshaw stalled in its attempt to drag us up the incline, it had lost power, eventually I asked the driver to return to the base of the hill and give it another shot up. We turned back and rode down, and waited until there was no vehicle coming down the hill and gave it full power. He left us on the road passing by the Mount Mary church.

Outside the church, stalls selling candles and wax dolls line the compound wall enclosing the church on either side of the narrow entrance leading up to the church. The compound wall has the same feel as the façade of the church, made of stones demarcated by white lines. The church is dedicated to Mother Mary, whose statue Jesuit priests brought from Portugal in the 16th century and constructed the chapel on the mount in 1640 where they housed it.

The church was rebuilt in 1761 after the original Chapel of Mount Mary was destroyed in what is believed to be a Maratha raid in 1738. The church was rebuilt, and the statue of Mother Mary was shifted back to it from St Andrews Church where it had been temporarily installed after fishermen found it in the sea. The original statue was re-adorned with the child in her arms after marauding Arab pirates cut off the hand to get at the gilt-lined figure of the child in her arms.

Sandra Monteiro was alone in her stall. She was dressed in a frock and had a kind face. When I first met her on alighting in front of the church, I had a feeling she was originally from Goa. Time had etched its passage on her face. Hers was a makeshift stall. Candles coloured white, dark blue, light blue, red, and orange, hung from hooks looped around a horizontal bamboo support held up by bamboos fixed to the ground.

In a basket by her side, wax figures shaped as hands, legs, spine, head and other parts of the human body were neatly stacked along the circumference of the rim. Actually, some of them were reclining as if resting easy while enjoying the view of the sun going down. The setting sun opposite lit them up in a translucent white. Devotees who come to Mount Mary to pray for cures for their ailments offer the wax figure that corresponds to their ailment. “Here, this one is for the stomach,” said Sandra Monteiro, showing me a circular plate-like wax figure. “A patient suffering from a stomach ailment will offer it at the church by setting it alight, and saying prayers.”

Then she held out a wax figure shaped like a back and said, “This one is for a back ailment.” As we talked in Konkani, a steady stream of devotees came up to her stall to purchase candles, and the wax figures that she refers to as baulis (bauli is Konkani for doll). Devotees belong to all religions, and their belief in Mother Mary’s powers to affect miracles is absolute, drawing them to the church from long distances.

About then a middle-aged couple steps up to Sandra Monteiro’s stall asking her in Hindi if they should offer the wax bauli at the church now or after they get a house. I listen on for I never get tired of a Goan Catholic attempting Hindi. It does not matter if they’ve lived in Mumbai for years, like Bandra’s Christians with roots in Goa have, their Hindi shows the influence of Konkani, lacing it with an edge that people up north would find a touch arrogant, insulting even. She advises them to offer prayers at the church for the house they hope to own someday, and return to the church to offer the wax bauli after their prayers are answered. “We prepare all these wax items at home,” she told me, “using molds.

“Baba accha sa pass hone ka,” (Baba should pass his exams well) she said to the same couple who mentioned about their son who was appearing for his exams. “You can pray for him at the church now, then offer a wax-book after he does well in his exams,” she told them. On a wooden plank near the front of the stall, she had stacked packets of gram. “My mother-in-law started this business fifty years ago,” she told me, running her hand in an arc indicating the stall she ran on her own. “She supported the entire family from her earnings from this stall. She is originally from this place. After I got married and came to Bombay, I helped her run this stall.”

I ask her how old is she.

“Sixty. To sixty, add three more,” she replied.


“Yes,” she said, smiling.

Sandra Monteiro lives in Bandra. Then she told me of her children and her grandchildren. I listened on, pausing only when customers stopped by her stall to make purchases, watching her treat them kindly and answer their queries patiently. The sun cast golden shafts our way, lighting up the stall in a soft memory.

I purchased candles for five rupees, thanked her and said that I would return to her stall with copies of her photographs. She smiled back, nodding her head.


Robin Almeida - Archives:

by Robin Dyson Almeida
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Comment on this article

  • Aldrin, Bandra

    Sat, Aug 13 2011

    Well Guys there is sentiments and traditions attached to the Bandra fair and i do not think you guys who are miles away will understand, there is absolutely no need for you to even understand, You do not accept the fact is okay but that gives you not right to utter nonsense to hurt someone else's beliefs.

  • premeena menezes, shirva/sharjah

    Tue, Mar 08 2011

    Thank you rob for describing and making me know about such a holy and lovely place. I will definitely visit this place with my husband....

  • Joseph F. Gonsalves, Bannur, Puttur / Mangalore

    Sun, Mar 06 2011

    Dear Mr. Rakesh Sharma, Bajegoli/Karkala I am Quoting from Hindu sources: Kunti bathes in the lake, removing her outer clothes and wearing just her undergarments and after her bath bows to the sun covering herself in a thin shawl. The sun is enamored by her beauty and she is struck by his arrows of rays. The rays enter her belly & Kunti conceives. The pregnancy grows instantly and soon the child comes out breaking open her skull. Kunti takes the baby and kissing him, tells him that she had no right to give birth to him since she is a virgin and now she can’t take him to the dhooni for that will taint the holy place. Unquote.
    If the sun was pleased with the exposed beauty that means the sun god doesn’t know her previously. The sun only knew her beauty after the exposure which shows the sun god is only a limited god & not Almighty God.
    Jesus came down from heaven through a miraculous born naturally to experience sufferings & to sacrifice himself for your sins & for my sins. John 1:29 & Matthew 20:28. Now whatever a human commits a sin has forgiveness. He should whole heartedly repent, restrain from sinning & should live righteously. Read epistle of Saint Paul Hebrews.
    All the prophets & humans have sinned & only Jesus as a human never sinned & never asked forgiveness, not even ones. Those sinner prophets were either commanded by God to ask forgiveness or God cleansed them. Sin only a matter to God. Read John 8:46 Jesus is sinless & faultless.

  • Felix F.,, India/Ksa

    Sun, Mar 06 2011


    Thank you for your wisdom & concern.

    But, instead of making me understand about Bandra fair, it would be good, if some could give some sensible answers to the comments of Mr. Rakesh Sharma, Bajegoli/Karkala.

    Is Bandra fair, no more than Jatra`s near temples..??Thank you.

    Joviel D'cruz, Udupi
    Your comments made me to laugh. The way the majority of Catholics practice the faith, Iam not surpriced, I being called a Nastik.Thank you.

  • heerald/ksa, karkala/ksa

    Sat, Mar 05 2011

    dear brothers and siaters dont argue and dont fight felix made one mistake explain him what is the bandra fair why we should stand in miles in bus stop thats all thanx

  • Patricia, Mangalore/Kuwait

    Sat, Mar 05 2011

    Hey guys respect a persons view and not be biased Robin is right with whatever he had to say dont be so judgmental.

  • Felix F.,, India/Ksa

    Sat, Mar 05 2011

    Mr.Praveen Fernandes, Mangalore.

    I respect and understand your ignorance. Have you heard of the words,

    Bible truths. Have you heard of the following sentance, We believe the basic Bible truths contained in God's word are universal and without limitation as to time, culture, or continent.

    English is not one persons language, to say I am right and he/she is wrong. Learn more about the english language, you will know how less you know.

    Rakesh Sharma, Bajegoli/Karkala.
    I hope readers will understand, the meaning of your comments without bias. You have said it perfectly.Thank you for your courage

  • Praveen Fernandes, Mangalore

    Fri, Mar 04 2011

    Well said Basil! Apart from having problems with every topic, this Felix seems to have problems with every comment as well. For him, the world is wrong and he is perfect. So many grammatical/ spelling mistakes in his comments and yet he justifies his is 'Queens English'. There is no word called 'truths' in English, something like calling plural hair as 'hairs'.

  • Renita, Mumbai

    Fri, Mar 04 2011

    I always heard of this place. I really wish that i get to visit this place in my life.

  • Rakesh Sharma, Bajegoli/Karkala

    Fri, Mar 04 2011

    Ms.Jasmine, Mumbai..How did Mother Mary conceive..if it's true same like 'kunti'of mahabharat..Is it any resembalance christanity with Hinduism... Mount Mary Festival same like people who are doing 'Jatras' near temples..It's intention behind people once again not to go to earlier religion..Mother Mary nothing but a first devotee..Jai Ho..

  • Felix F.,, India/Ksa

    Fri, Mar 04 2011

    When I said truths, it wasnt said as singular or plural. Secondly every persons perception, about what is seen and unseen is differnt. You dont have to get upset about my perception.

    If it were to be the same, then commenting/discussing on a topic wouldnt be necessary.

    You dont have to agree on my thoughts, neither do I, have to on yours. But I will try to convince, why I think so.

    Your two comments are contradictory. I fully agree with you on your second comments, Mary has to be loved and respected.

  • Jasmine, Mumbai

    Fri, Mar 04 2011

    Hi Felix,

    How did Jesus come into the world - just like you through a living Mother. If you don't have any love or respect for your Mother, I can't help it, I love and respect my mother and as I love Jesus, I love and respect the one who gave him to us in human form even more.
    Got the message. Chapter closed.

  • Basil, Mangalore/Mumbai

    Fri, Mar 04 2011

    Plural of truth is truth not truths!!Secondly whatever you think truth may not necessarily be truth.Keep your mind clean and start thinking optimistcally,you will find everything good.Dont keep crying for every silly topic.If you see things positively you will find them clean and green.This is the truth. You have completely missed the point of the beautiful story. I pity you Felix.

  • Joviel D'cruz, Udupi

    Fri, Mar 04 2011

    Felix F.,, India/Ksa, is a "NASTIK" . Ignore his comments please. I doubt, he is a true Christian !!!

  • nelson, valencia/kuwait

    Thu, Mar 03 2011

    Felix, the topic here is not whether the replicas are pleasing to the church or god but of an aged lady who is still standing on her own legs and maintaining a dignified living. Many of her age are seen begging in front of churches, temples and mosques.

  • Felix F.,, India/Ksa

    Thu, Mar 03 2011

    Jasmine Sequeira , Mumbai

    I respect your beliefs, but according to the Catholic holy books, NO ONE - EXCEPT, GOD THE ALMIGHTY, can direct the lives of humans.

    All our worship should be offered only to the almighty God, who sent Jesus and to NO ONE ELSE. Thank you

  • Jasmine Sequeira , Mumbai

    Thu, Mar 03 2011

    Mount Mary's is a very miraculous shrine. Whatever you desire with a sincere heart in Mother Mary's presence is answered. Candles in different shapes are offered by devotees seeking favours or granted favours. I can vouch for it. Don't miss the chance if you get to go to this shrine.

  • Felix F., India/Ksa

    Thu, Mar 03 2011

    Basil,are you scared of knowing the truths.??

  • Basil, Mangalore/Mumbai

    Thu, Mar 03 2011

    This Felix has a problem with every topic.Most passimustic abservation is his.He may be having some problems with himself too.

  • Felix F.,, India/Ksa

    Thu, Mar 03 2011

    Miracles or No Miracles, I am glad at least one family can making a living by selling replica`s of the things, for the God to understand, what exaclty the pleaders want.

    Since the church is silent about it, shows, church also belives in those things.

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