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Colaba’s Christians Recall Their ‘Star’ With Nostalgia

Manu Shrivastava spoke with a handful of Colaba’s Christians
who looked back wistfully at a time gone by

If it was Christmas, you had to make a beeline for Colaba. There were the pubs, the restaurants, the glittering Stars, the decorated shopping arcades and the works. Well, that was at least till a decade ago, when Colaba was synonymous with the celebrations associated with Christmas. Now, over the last few decades, Colaba underwent a transformation of sorts. A lot of locals, mostly Christians, moved out into the suburbs to larger even more economical homes, some overseas, selling their Colaba properties to others. And, with the change, changed the character of Colaba. 

Colaba's Third Pasta Lane 71-yr-old resident David Long speaks of all the things he misses today. "Everything has changed... the communities, practices, celebrations and the people. Today, it's nothing like how it was…and I miss the times gone by. 

“There would be a lot of decorations on the streets and more typically 'Christmassy' things. At Crawford Market, they’d sell Chinese-made Christmas home decorations. And, that's where we’d get our decorative glittery ‘chains’ and other Christmas decorations for our homes. Then there were shops selling specially-baked Christmas cakes with little models even the Nativity Scene drawn out. They would go the extra mile earlier. Today, at most, people get a chocolate or plum cake on Christmas.”

Colaba’s Third Pasta Lane was known for its ‘Star’ that stood tall, suspended in the middle of the road, at the end of the lane. Interestingly, it was in the verandah of David's house that the Third Pasta Lane ‘Star’ would be put together. David’s mother, Chitra Long “would provide the rum for the boys and electricity for the preparations” and even “the lane’s children would pitch in to decorate the ‘Star’ complete with the Nativity Scene in the middle.” In the old days, David recalls, the ‘Star’ would be made of cloth and be put up by the weekend before Christmas Eve.

Third Pasta Lane’s David Long speaks at length on the journey of the best ‘Star’ in the area
and points out to where it stood in the lane glittering on Christmas
“There were a lot of Catholics in the area, especially in Burhani Manzil. Now, many have left for the suburbs or gone overseas. For the ‘Star’, funds would be collected from everyone in the lane. It was a Third Pasta Lane affair. My Mum Chitra, Dad Harold and we siblings, Sisters Sandra and Lisa and I would be proud of our lane’s ‘Star’. Why, there would be a competition between the Stars in different localities of Colaba too, this time of the year.

“Eventually the ‘Star’ got smaller and smaller as the initiators started leaving the lane. The original concept of Christmas changed over the years and now more and more parties are organised. The festival is losing its personal touch.

Image for representational purposes only
“There used to be carol-singing on the roads in a big way which I don't see now at all; fancy dress competitions where prizes would be given out and treats for all. There would be get-togethers in churches and at homes. As children, we would get together and go to other people's houses to decorate their trees for them and help ourselves with snacks and Christmas goodies laid out. I just don't see those things around anymore, it's different now.”

So, this year, David says he’ll probably just “roast chicken” and “buy a Christmas cake.” Just of late, the Septuagenarian says, he “read in the papers about someone deciding to make a Christmas tree out of booze bottles. It was disheartening because today people have no idea about the sanctity of the Christmas tree. Other than the fun part such as parties and games which were there earlier also, it's essentially a family occasion where there is deep devotion.”

Goan Russell Pinto, born and bred in Colaba, shuttles to and fro Goa today. He studied at St. Xavier's High School and graduated from HR College of Commerce and Economics before plunging into family business.

A 1995 photograph of Colaba’s Russell Pinto dancing with wife Jacinta
Looking back with nostalgia, he says, "Why, we didn't even have cameras those days…except for the reel ones. But I still remember celebrating Christmas as a child, so vividly. Today, sadly, it's just not the same as it was before."

So, Colaba’s Russell got married in 1995 to Mazgaon’s Jacinta and the couple had three children: Keegan, Klien and Sancia. Even today, he recalls the times when, as a child, he’d celebrate Christmas at his Colaba house with parents Urban and Severine Pinto. 

"Most older Christian members have either passed or moved out of Colaba. The Christmas celebrations in the lane were, sadly, bound to change," he says. What bothers Russell the most is the absence of the ‘Star’ in the lane that he had grown up with and is keen to revive the tradition in some way or the other.

Santacruz-resident Adolf D'Silva is as much a Colaba person as anyone born here. "Since 1993, I've been running my father John Baptiste Silva's shop, Automotive Centre, in Colaba, established back in 1950." Having spent almost thirty years in the zone, he has witnessed the Christmas revelry in Colaba.

Automotive Centre owner Adolf D’Silva with wife Zita and daughters Rachael and Ashley at home in Santacruz
"I distinctly remember how, in those days, right from the beginning of December, all the shops would be lit day and night. At night, when I would shut my shop to go home, I could see establishments lit up all the way till Mantralaya. Now, the lighting is gone, and the fervour toned down drastically over the years."

Attributing the change to the changing demographics of Colaba, Adolf says, "Many Catholic families have either migrated out of India or moved to the suburbs ahead of Andheri.”

This feature is part of the #ChangingColoursOfColaba series initiated by The Draft

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