COLABA AGIARY LIGHTS UP LIKE FAIRYLAND AT CELEBRATIONS
WORDS BY MEHER MIRZA AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
Step into a quiet little Agiary that turns into a sparkling jewel-box by night.
There's no point visiting the Colaba Agiary and its attendant baug in the strangling heat of summer – it is flat and empty and utterly unremarkable. It sits quietly, waiting for its moment of glory. It is perhaps more than 180 years old and, when it was first built in 1836, it was not even a part of Bombay. Genteel ladies and gentlemen used to travel there with a platoon of staff to ward off the inevitable dacoits who pockmarked the area. But greedy Bombay wouldn't let it be. Its belly swelled and distended until it consumed the southern-most tip of the land, Navy Nagar, and took the little Agiary baug with it. Today, the Colaba Agiary is wildly popular for weddings, navjotes and even film shoots.
Come Saturday evening and it springs to life. Fairy lights twined around palm trees and window frames glint and glitter in the twilight gloom. A gentle wind from the nearby seashore ripples the leaves. The flowers stretch across the baug walls and hang down from its tiled roof in vast aromatic panes. The bride is swathed in a white sari that floats gently in the evening breeze before settling into the shape of a fragile lily. The place rings with music and laughter. It is as close to Fairyland as Bombay ever gets.
As dusk settles into night, the party grows more and more lively. But this is all a prelude; everybody is waiting for dinner and time is finely diced into the minutes until it will be served.
But Parsis have earthier concerns. The otlo (verandah) running alongside the baug is thick with people anxious for a Parsi peg and a handful of potato wafers. Impeccably attired ladies and gentlemen sit around the tables facing the stage, sipping their drinks and dipping into snacks brought around by dapper waiters. An astringent aunt, uneasy with life's constant changes, casts a stern eye over her niece's dangerously dipping sari blouse. A corpulent uncle discusses anxiously whether the catering will be by Godiwala or not. His wife looks exasperated; it is a well-known fact that the Colaba Agiary is the first choice for Godiwala. A grandmother, whose eyes are permanently calibrated at the nostalgia setting, will bring up her childhood when Bhoot nu bhonu and Khodaiji nu band* were considered de rigueur at fancy functions such as these. Friends and relatives stop by to gossip, drink wine and whisky and show off their garas. Meanwhile, a DJ stationed beside the stage revives the fusty playlist with abominations such as Bieber's Baby. As dusk settles into night, the party grows more and more lively. But this is all a prelude; everybody is waiting for dinner and time is finely diced into the minutes until it will be served.
Soon, the main event. A man takes the stage to announce it. "Jamva chalo ji." The long dinner tables are cloaked in white tablecloths and settled behind the stage, facing the sea. A tidal wave of people immediately engulfs them, and the pehli paanth, or the first seating, is filled within minutes of the announcement. By the kitchen on the left, the guests spot a sturdy lady marshalling the waiters. Word spreads immediately that the food is indeed catered by Godiwala; there is a collective sigh of relief. Fretful cheeks cool at the sight of the salty globes of topli na paneer and the lagan nu achar. Waiters decant raspberry and ginger sodas onto thirstily waiting tables. From the kitchen spills out fat slices of pomfret soaked in a tangy white sauce, sali marghi, akuri and mutton pulao dar.
After the final plates of custard and kulfi have gone around, there is no longer any reason to tarry. The guests depart in a flurry of hugs and waves, making pie crust promises to meet each other soon. Their cars pull away, their headlamps spilling yellow light onto the road outside. The baug empties, the music is silenced, the stage darkened. The little Agiary waits softly, quietly, for the next weekend.
*Bhoot nu bhonu – catering done by an unfortunately-named man called Bhoot. Khodaiji nu band – Khodaiji means God. The two have long departed for their heavenly abode.
Colaba Agiary, Off Pilot Bunder Road, Near Afghan Church, Navy Nagar, Colaba, Mumbai 400 005.