The Lost City in Vasai.

The Lost City of Vasai
[The interiors of one the many ruined churches in Bassein - shot as megan takes a picture - probably of me]

The silence rings through the waist high weeds-green, dense and prickly. As you walk through the ruined remains of fortress city encapsulated from the world under a umbrella of creepers, weeds and overgrown banyans. A bulbul watches us from her ivory tower in the mango tree laughing at our endeavor to fight nature’s wall of green

Lost City of Vasai - Mumbai - India.

The first Europeans to discover a sea-route to India as your history text-books will rightfully point out was the Portuguese Vasco de Gama, but his ambition for the subcontinent apparently extended no further than his avowed aim, buscar Christaos e especiaria – to seek Christian and spices. The first Portuguese landing in Bombay in 1509, was a rapacious foray, not untypical – they used the elephanta caves as target practice for their canons, captured cows and behaved like their conquistador counterparts in the Americas. Bombay was at the time the property of then king of Gujarat Sultan Muhamed Shah Begada, who initially repulsed the foreign invaders; then gradually worn-out by the repeated assaults he was forced to consolidate his holdings in western India.

Lost City of Vasai - Mumbai - India.

By the year 1534 the King of Portugal held the seven islands plus Bassein, which was a chunk of mainland territory north of Bombay also known as Salsette but now as Vasai. Here at Bassein the Portuguese built themselves a walled city overlooking the sea, which remains to this day. Its chancels, creepers smother the gravestones of the some Bombay’s earliest colonialists; it seems to have remained untouched, like Sleeping Beauty’s citadel, since the day the Portuguese were forced to vacate hastily by a local Mahratha army. It is a poignant reminder of what was, and of what Bombay itself might have been today had history taken another turn.

Lost City of Vasai - Mumbai - India.
[Pieces of Portuguese pottery at Bassein, Vasai]

Trees and bushes block every trail. The ruins you can see are draped in moss and creepers, their walls dangerously pregnant with pepal shoots. There are other ruins the forest has swallowed whole. The state transport bus from Vasai Road station dropped me close to a ruin where fishermen were mending nets. Only the walls and a vaulted roof, at the far end of the building, remain. Two raised platforms under the vaulted portion suggest this was a church. The walls have slits like windows that make you imagine them as stained glass windows.

As you walk through the ruins the columns, arches and stairways nonetheless speak of a grand assembly hall or possibly a monastery . Walking around it, you can hear the drone of an organ, the rustle of skirts and polite clinks of glass. A hand catches me around the shoulder. A fisher boy, about 15, had joined me. He wanted to show me a mandir further inside. "It is modelled on Goye ka Safri," he offered by way of inducement. It took a while, but I finally figured out he meant St Francis Xavier's church in Goa. My guide said parts of Josh and Kambakht Ishq were shot in this church. The past and present coalesce.

Children at Naigaon - the fishing village at Bassein's north gate.

The Blue Checkered Shirts Three

It must be summer

Summer Yellow

Getting there -
Bassein or Vasai is a suburb of Mumbai and getting there is easy.Its connected by the western line - a Vihar Fast will get you there from all stations on the line. You can take an auto or a state transport bus from the station to the fort.

Calcutta Coffee House

Calcutta Coffee House -  5

In the beginning, before CafĂ© Coffee Day, Cafe Barista and their likes there stood Calcutta Coffee House, ''a village in the center of the metropolis, steaming with gossip, curiosity, political intrigue and slander.”

Situated in the heart of Calcutta, opposite the Presidency College, commissioned in 1942 by The Indian Coffee Workers' Co-operative Society, the coffee house quickly developed on the lines of a student Literaten Kaffeehaus. Satyajit Ray would dream up films here, while many a writer consumed coffee beneath its the vaulted arches. Noise, gossip and cup-carrying waiters seethed between the writers and their subjects.

A Monument to Calcutta's Glory

Calcutta Coffee House -  4

Here under the high whistling ceiling fans and in the environs of these fading mildew covered brown walls sat tragic young writers with puff-pastry egos; the air was thick with philosophical rantings as dense as the number on their glasses. More than any other coffeehouse, perhaps, the Calcutta Coffee House exemplified this Antelle attitude, a monument to the glory of Calcutta and its uplifting elixir, caffeine and the rich conversation it spewed.

The coffee house has been impervious to change since its inception and has slowly trotted along for more than 50 years of its existence. Albert Hall, as the place was known before the present sobriquet was bestowed by the Central Government, was already a favourite with Rabindranath Tagore and Subhash Chandra Bose and could boast of a legacy of swadeshi meetings. A place that had carved out a niche for itself as the most popular adda was thus the easiest choice for the promotion of coffee in a city till then an excellent market for tea.

Although its presence once burned like a supernova, the coffee house has been rocked by numerous upheavals that have threatened to close it down and close it did on at least one occasion only to reopen after much uproar the Calcuttans created, at the loss of their most beloved adda.

Smoke from an entire barrage of cigarettes spirals up to the ceiling as people drink their coffee with an accompanying glass of cold water, reading newspapers while eating samosas or Chicken Afghani (only twenty-three rupees). Elderly turbaned waiters in faded white uniforms drift from table to table. Everyone knows about Calcutta’s love for talk especially about exalted topics from Dosteovsky to the vagaries of Indian cricket. It usually involves some amount of talk about cricket, politics, football, food and always with a footnote about the songs of Tagore. The Coffee House permeates this talk, a bright hum insulated by its high vaulted ceilings from the noise of the street outside.

Calcutta Coffee House -  3

Calcutta Coffee House -  2

'All the literary giants came here,'' said Aparna Sengupta, who was drinking coffee and pointing to the picture of Tagore on the wall. ''It's a special Calcutta place.'' She was seated with a group of six girls probably her classmates who were attempting to learn German from a old copy of a textbook. ''I like the atmosphere,'' said 23-year-old Amal Basu, who was alternately reading a novel and the newspaper-The Statesman. “But they still need to stop this place from falling apart,”he said, pointing to the walls.

Mr. Basu, a regular, was smoking Goldflake cigarettes. ''The coffee is terrible here,'' he said, ''but atleast I can afford it.''

Calcutta Coffee House -  1

Indeed, there is a general feeling that the days of intellectual revelry have passed it by for a blander experience. Those days have definitely gone but the Calcutta Coffee House has desperately held onto the atmosphere of an era gone by: the dark-brown walls; the stark wooden chairs and tables; white porcelain and steel cutlery.

“There are too many shirts and ties in the crowd”, complains Mr Das, a wizened patron, musing on the changes, while eating his bread-butter. ''I doubt it will again become a cafe for literary people or philosophers,'' he said. ''These kind of people do not exist anymore. They are working mainly in IT.''