January 2015
#Bandra , 87 Views
Signs From God

Byline: Gustavo Bechtold
Photographs: Grant Davis

Messages from heaven, via Bandra.

According to the city’s Catholic directory, the Bandra landscape is dotted with eight Catholic parishes and one Protestant church. These churches are distributed across the neighbourhood, their locations reflecting the historical distribution of Mumbai’s Christian population in what is popularly known as the city’s “Catholic place”. Eight of these churches are in the west side of the neighbourhood, while Saint Joseph The Worker sits alone in the east side, right on the Western Express Highway.

If Bandra is Mumbai’s “Catholic place”, Hill Road is its sacred heart. Walk down the road and you’ll cross Saint Peter’s Church, the Holy Family hospital and its chapel, Saint Andrew’s Church, and end at the footsteps of Mount Mary, probably the most popular destination in the city for people of all religious backgrounds on Christmas Eve. Along this stretch it is impossible not to notice church signboards strategically positioned at some of the busiest traffic signals. Their messages range from passages and verses from the Bible (colloquially called ‘Bible gems’ by the church councils) to clever quips which Bandra’s hip crowd readily Tweets.

Not all churches in Bandra have signboards; out of nine churches, six update their passersby with quotes. There is the minor issue of a shortage of alphabet letters: “A’s, U’s, all the vowels and N’s, S’s are the most popular,” said Mr Hansel, one of the gentleman responsible for the Biblical signs at Saint Peter’s Church on Hill Road. “We are in touch with the vendor to provide us more.”

At neighbouring Saint Andrew’s church, the Centre for Community Organization (CCO) is responsible for some of the city’s most talked- about signboards. In this parish, the creative effort behind the boards is a collective one, and the messages can come from a variety of sources: an upcoming sermon at the church, a nearing holiday, or a current news event. “The goal is to connect with people,” said Mr Mohan, a member of the committee. Once the weekly theme is decided upon, the committee either comes up with their own quotes as a group, or sources them online, as, Mr Mohan admitted, “the Internet helps us stay up to date.” Previous messages from St Andrew’s have included: “Why pay for GPS when God gives directions for free?” and “Oldest form of wireless communication: prayer.”