Land disputes can be nasty, especially if they are in one of the country’s highly priced prime locales. NT BUZZ speaks to Brenda Rodrigues who was chronicled her family’s fight for their ancestral home
Janice Savina Rodrigues | NT BUZZ
What is the first thing that pops up when you hear Bandra or Hill Road? ‘Shopping?’, ‘branded stores’ or affluent societies are definitely the closest words to describe this prime location in India’s commercial capital. With the current scenario in this locale, it could be difficult to assume that the area once had only a few bungalows and relatively barren streets. The landscape and its inhabitants have changed. With people from film stars to top level managers and other professionals eyeing one of the most expensive places in the country, Bandra has had its fair share of nightmares in the real estate battlefield.
One such long enduring nightmare was the Rodrigues family’s reality. And Brenda, with her husband Joe Rodrigues, long-time Bandra residents, have now penned down their trials and tribulations in the form of a non-fiction book ‘The House at 43, Hill Road’. The name might resonate that of a horror movie, but the plight the family was put through is nothing short of a dramatic thriller.
The book follows the fight of a family trying to save their ancestral property built in the mid 1800’s by Joe’s great grandfather Braz Rodrigues. “We fought 71 cases in six years 1989 to 1994,” says Joe highlighting the tussle they had to go through trying to save their building from being walloped up by the land sharks. “We had heard of people being forced out of their homes, but until it happened to us, we were relatively unaware of the troubles; if someone had told us what we were up for, we would have packed our bags and left the country at the beginning itself,” adds Brenda.
Brenda first began writing down the happenings of the time as a form of catharsis, but found it difficult to follow through, often breaking down. “I started writing in 1992, at the peak of the fight, as a means to vent out what we were going through. It was a trauma and often got frustrated, I just wrote, not thinking that I would publish the book,” says Brenda.
It is said that trials bring out the best in you and this is what happened to Brenda, she never thought she would be a writer but here she is now, author of three books. “I never had the education to be a writer, my father passed on when I was four months old and my mother got us educated as much as she could afford. But my love for reading was so much that I felt I didn’t lack anything, and that’s what got me to write,” she says.
After showing her half written manuscript to a few friends and getting feedback, she decided to keep that book aside and began work on two others. “I started writing the book ‘My Journey Through Wonderlands’, and then worked on a coffee table book ‘Lydia Brides’ about Joe’s mother who was 90 then and thus we published it first. Lydia was a dressmaker and had done over 3000 dresses for brides,” says Brenda.
When asked what compelled her to complete the book ‘The House at 43, Hill Road’ she looks at Joe, and he gets animated. “In 2015, I had dropped in to check on an old Parsi client, when I went to his office, his son was there. And in the course of conversation I handed over Brenda’s book about the journeys, and incidentally he had just started up a publishing company, when I gave him a draft of ‘The House’ he immediately said ‘I want to publish it’,” says Joe. “But, adds Brenda, “He gave us a deadline said that I would need to hand over the documents as proof. That was a very daunting thought, They were all covered in dust, stored in the godown, I was so repelled at the idea of going through the mess, that I thought of saying no to his offer!” says Brenda. But then the publisher prevailed and after a month’s hard work of sorting scanning the documents, Ishan, the publisher, told Brenda to use the real names, but Brenda reluctantly left some names unchanged, “especially the BMC and police officers are all named here; people are now aware of these miscreants and are wary when dealing with them,” she says.
Going forward, though they have given up the property in Bandra (the reasons for this is revealed at the end of the book) and moved to the quaint village of Chorao, Joe is hoping something constructive comes out of the book. He hopes that an NGO can take note of this and compile a database of the list of cases that have been slapped and the orders passed by bureaucrats that have led people to lose their land and property. “My mother had a licensed basement of ten feet height and to pressurise her they cancelled her license and they slapped a memo saying that the use of an electric iron is a fire hazard!” says Joe; this and several such instances are narrated in the chapter ‘Of vengeance and venom’.
And as far as the writing is concerned, Brenda is working on the second edition of the book, “In the second edition that we are working on, the publisher wants me to add some photographs as several people want to know how things looked like back in time. There is an appendix at the end of this edition with a scan code that can take you to the pictures and photographs associated with the story,” says Brenda.
Ask them about the lessons Goa can learn from this, they say very dejectedly, “Goa is already halfway to the plight of Bandra. The political and builder classes have gotten together. The damage is being caused by greed and children are growing up with pollution. Is it too late for Goa? Well I have to say that the activists are trying their best but the people are scared to participate. If Goa needs to fight against such evils, it should do now, or else it may be too late,” concludes Joe.
(Brenda Rodrigues, the author of ‘The House at 43, Hill Road’ will be in discussion at the Goa Book Club’s next meeting, on September 20, 5 p.m. at the Broadway Book Centre, Panaji)