Bombay Balchao, journalist Jane Borges’ debut work of fiction, is a walk through the lives of the inhabitants of Cavel, a small Catholic community in South Mumbai. While it is through protagonist Michael Coutino that the author chooses to drive her narrative, there are several others with their own quirks that make them just as or perhaps even more memorable.
The Mumbai-based journalist author who works with mid-day has woven in true incidents from the city’s past, the characters having developed from her own identity as someone who grew up in a Catholic community in the city. The narrative swings between several years of the characters’ lives as they evolve, or in some cases, simply fail to grow up at all.
Poor Michael Coutino is driven up the wall by the antics of his self-centred, loopy sister Annette and his sweet wife Merlyn, while his brotherly affection for the loner Mario and intolerance for the strong-headed Ellena take their own turns like all relationships where small communities are like family. It shines a light on the highs and lows of life as it affects ordinary mortals like the inhabitants of Cavel, but more so in how the residents of this neighbourhood react rather than respond to them.
It is, in parts, the pettiness from our everyday existences that Borges holds a mirror to, making it a hilarious read. ‘Adulting’ is hard, as the residents of Cavel show us, also offering a peek into the Goan, Mangalorean and East Indian communities that jostle to make their presence felt in the city while keeping their traditions alive.
Bombay Balchao is also a helpful guide to understanding the cultural roots of these communities without generalising to broadly term all Catholic English speaking Indians as Goans. Borges succeeds in bringing to life characters with dialects that are distinct to their communities, often a mishmash of English, Konkani and Hindi.
The pretentious, the arrogant, the frustrated, the timid, the lovelorn, Cavel is no different in that sense, while also making the reader want to laugh, cry or even whack some of the characters on the head for their impossible ways.
Bombay Balchao is in complete contrast to Mafia Queens of Mumbai, the non-fiction novel Borges co-wrote with Hussain Zaidi based on true crime stories of women from Mumbai’s underbelly.
The premise of Borges’ book is befitting of its enticing title, as, like the Balchao (a Goan preserve with a tomato-chilli sauce serving as the base for marinated choice of pork, seafood or even vegetables), the inhabitants of Bosco and Lobo mansions are a fiery lot. This endearing, breezy read is guaranteed to leave the reader smiling and decided on his/her favourite character.