Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

There are some places in the city which remain obscured from public view. There are various reasons for this, but mainly because they are under government owned land. One such place is the Church of St John The Baptist at Andheri east near Kondivita or Condita. Kondivite is also home to the famous Mahakali Caves located a kilometer away from here. 

The church was built in 1579 but was later abandoned due to an epidemic in1840. The new church came up near Marol. So the current structure fell into disuse. In the 1970s, when the MIDC acquired the land, it went under lock and key of the government. However, in 2003, it was handed back to the local parish to be accessed once every year. 

This year the church was to be opened on the 5th of May. After many years I was going to be around so I decided to visit, just in time to witness the beautiful service. The ruins of the church had come alive. The faithful had assembled in their Sunday best to participate in this annual event. The soulful choir added to the charm and the ruins which otherwise stand forlorn seemed lively. I have been to many abandoned churches but I have never witnessed a service. So to be a part of this ceremony was a special feeling. 

The altar was decorated and a statue of St John, which had been carried by a procession from the Marol church, stood in the corner. All of us sat under the open skies as the service proceeded. At the end the priest thanked all the authorities, especially members of MIDC, SEEPZ and Mumbai Police for their cooperation. Plum cake was served to all and also cold drinks were available. 

I walked around the periphery and entered through one of the gates. Only to spot a familiar face in the congregation. My friend S who waved at me. I met her two years ago, at Goa during the Easter weekend of ’22 when she was visiting with her cousing V. I waited for the veneration to finish before catching up with her.

Meanwhile, apart from the faithfuls there were other history and biodiversity buffs present too. You see, most Portuguese structures have a unique feature. Most of them are sites having baobabs in their vicinity. The baobab tree came to India with the Portuguese, who in turn brought them from Madagascar. Back during Breakfree times, I used to be an active member of the Baobabs of India group run by Nelson OJ & Nikhil Purov. We would plot these trees on google maps. Even now, there is an Instagram page which is quite active – baobabs_of_Bombay. One such fan of Baobabs was Reagan from Versova who had come for the service as well as the baobabs. It was good to catch up with him and explore the ruins a bit, he pointed me to the talao next door which is not accessible to the public. 

The congregation then formed a line for the veneration and after that a band started playing on cue. Many of the attendees broke into dance to the tune of the sound. While everyone wished each other a Happy Feast.

I met S and her family and we spoke about Goa and the times that had been. I often remember that trip very fondly so it made me quite nostalgic. We even took a selfie to commemorate this co-incidental bumping in and promised to meet again. Sometimes paths do cross. 

I walked around a bit more, took some pictures and just felt grateful that I had got an opportunity to attend this special occasion. I booked a cab for my next destination and when I boarded, the driver was curious about the congregation. When I explained to him about the feast, I sensed that he wanted to visit, I suggested that he runs in and pays respect. There was no parking available so I offered to wait in the cab while he went in. Later he told me that he had grown up in Marol and also worked inside SEEPZ but he had never got a chance to visit. He was quite thrilled after that and couldn’t stop marvelling about the church. 

Looking back, it was a good day. Visiting any historical site is a thrill in itself. But moreover, to see people interact with a site like this is even more heartening. And to be welcomed into the community makes you feel at home. The smiling faces, the warmth of the people and the power of togetherness reverberated throughout these ruins today and made my day. Happy Feast, everyone!