Before there was a megacity called Mumbai, with mushrooming tower blocks and speeding highways, there was a place called Bombay, historically, a series of fishing villages, sea-encircled, each with its distinctive character. Saloni adds that Bombay has long been “a city of dreams” with a palimpsest of influences spread out across the buildings and neighbourhoods like annotations on an ancient manuscript.
Nowhere is Bombay’s dream-like quality and age of innocence still more evident than in Bandra, a pocket of leafy suburbs, where salt sea air mixes with the scent of spicy bhel puri and rose-scented ice lollies. Here, inhabitants like Beatrice ‘Betty’ Clifford, now in her late seventies and affectionally known as ‘Aunty Betty’, continue to live in bungalows where, as Saloni reflects “Feels like time has stopped still.”
Betty’s chalk-blue house is called Peace-Haven, a charming two-story English style villa surrounded by verandas where dappled light provides relief from the scorching summer heat. Built by Betty’s father Valentine in 1930 as a wedding gift for her mother, the house is wildly atmospheric. Its charm is unique to Bombay’s heritage buildings which mixed Indian vernacular with global styles in unmatched panache.
Betty herself is part of what in today’s terms we might call a sub-cultural movement: the “Bandra Aunties” with their unique style, genteel and elegance. They are inseparable from the Catholic community of which they’re a part and closely linked to nearby Goa, both areas were once ruled by the Portuguese. The Catholic communities have a strong presence in Bandra, evident in its churches, Stations of the Cross prayers and holy shrines where brightly painted statues of Jesus find shade under swaying palm trees.
The Christian influence has always meant that dresses, rather than saris, have been inherent to the Bandra Aunties’ style. In mid-twentieth-century Bombay, the Bandra Catholic women were some of the first in Indian society to enter the workplace, standing out for their dresses and boldness.
It was this that creative director Nikhil Mansata felt so relevant to SALONI. It’s a cosmopolitan attitude that is simultaneously rooted, global and inherently elegant.
The shoot lensed by Bikramjit Bose featured model Dipti Sharma who was given a 1940s style hairdo to complement the retro furniture and interiors of Betty’s house.
Dipti says, “I always have this fantasy where I wanttravel back in time and live that life when everything was so simple yet very artistic. Portraying it on camera was fun.”
In sumptuous SALONI silk dresses, Deepti chats with Betty who is always a wonderful host as all Bandra Aunties always are. Dipti adds, “Betty worked all her life and she used to live with her husband…her house has so many good memories and moments for her. Being an independent strong and confident woman is what I saw in her and that resonates with me.”
Not too far away Mumbai is roaring but this particular afternoon in Bandra two generations laugh and share stories. Time stops still a little longer.