Crosses
Crosses breach Bandra’s paths. As signs of the large Catholic population
in this Mumbai neighborhood, the crosses stand up to ten feet tall. They
secure houses, garden grottoes, and alleyways. Some commemorate com-
munity leaders, on side streets and on main streets that used to be side
streets. Many others are known as plague crosses. They were erected to
ward off the plague during Bombay’s 1896 epidemic, a mass mortality
that ultimately killed over 12 million people throughout India.1 I counted
six plague crosses within a one- block radius of my apartment building in
Bandra. Changes in the city surrounding the crosses must accommodate
them: men would de- and reconstitute them brick by brick when municipal
crews widened the streets by a few meters. The crosses accommodate city
life: a quick prayer, a kiss on the way to work, or a smoky stick of incense.
On one of Bandra’s main seaside roads, Car ter Road, stands a cross simply
marked “1896” at its base. Painted with a thorny, flaming heart dripping
blood into a chalice, it displays a stark red against the orange of its mari-
gold garland necklace, which someone refreshed daily. The crosses take on
gifts of fresh flowers even as the winds coming off the Arabian Sea fade
their paint.
One morning, I noticed on my daily walk that the plague crosses had
new across- the-street neighbors: metal signs, bright yellow and reflect-
ing the sun, stuck into the ground every ten feet. The signs advertised
INTRODUCTION
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