Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bhaji gali

Living outside, especially in countries where domestic help is either unavailable or prohibitively expensive, you tend to get used to simple conveniences like pre-cut, neat and clean packaged vegetables. And in the last 5 years, Mumbai seems to have sprouted tons of supermarkets that do exactly that! Must admit, they were an absolute blessing when I first came back and was struggling with finding a domestic help.

While the convenience of pre-packaged vegetables can’t be overstressed, there is a different charm to braving the wet markets and buying fresh produce. Each suburb, sometimes even each locality will have its own little wet market with fresh greens being displayed in aged wicker baskets and the produce sprinkled with water to keep it fresh under the hot sun.

South Bombay has its own bhaji gali (vegetable street) just off Tardeo near the Grant Road station. A long lane extending at least half a km, or so it seems to me, fresh produce lines both sides of the street. Sounds of bhabhi (sis-in-law), madam ring out as the bhaji walas (vegetable sellers) call out for your attention hoping to flog their wares. Exotic vegetables like pak choy, broccoli and pimientos (not to so exotic anymore!), zucchini, lemon grass leaves, baby corn, avocados jostle with local stuff like bottle gourd, bitter gourd, suran, kathal etc.

For me one of the most charming sights is the Marathi aai (Marathi for mother) with her nauvari (9 yards saree that the Marathi women wear. The saree is worn with the hind pleats tucked into the waist at the center back), the nose ring and the myriad wrinkles on her leathered face that breaks into a smile when you call her aai!

There’s a charm in rummaging through piles of bottle gourds trying to find one which has no spots or bargaining for a bunch of spinach that you think is horrendously overpriced but can’t help eyeing because it looks SO fresh!

This was a new one for me.. they looked like water chestnuts, but since the blak cover semed like charcoal and kept rubbing off my hand I was a tad reluctant but it was juicy and quite nice!

It’s not as if bhaji gali is significantly cheaper than the packaged foods, in fact for some stuff, I suspect it’s more expensive, but the visit is worth the experience. Go on a weekday, the weekend is madness! Take the driver, parking is a nightmare! Wear comfortable shoes, and stock up for the week!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The BMC's Wall Project

I dunno how I missed this when it happened.. would have loved to be a part of it! On my way back from Phoenix Mills, the sidewalk just had me fascinated. Its incredible how different people's creativity has found expression on the wall!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Festivals of India, Kalaghoda

The one thing about Mumbai that I have missed in these years that I have been away, has been the Kala Ghoda festival. It's like Mumbai's attempt to

There is something very appealing about watching street performances, hearing / watching great artists perform on an open stage set up in the middle of the road at Kala Ghoda or walking along the pavement browsing through the quixotic wares that tempt you, jostling with the crowds that throng the area....

But what I was not aware of was there is a mini festival around this time, prior to the big one in February. In fact, when we came back in Feb this year, my biggest regret was having missed the Kala Ghoda festival. So the advertisement in the paper was a really pleasant surprise.

Now I know how I am going to spend some part of my weekend!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cafe Leopold

The first thing that strikes you when you walk into this venerable old lady of the Causeway is that she hasn't changed much over the years and that it appears to be a backpacker's haven! Only the colours appear to have changed, but the checked table cloths, a trademark of all Irani restaurants, remain.

A Cafe on Colaba Causeway, Leopold had evolved from being an oil store to a restaurant to a pharmacy and finally having found its true calling in the feeding people, has donned the avatar of a Cafe! The cafe, as an old Coca Cola Board at the entrance proclaims, been running since 1870s.. and it’s gained its share of fame (notoriety?) courtesy the novel Shantaram. I believe Gregory David Robert used to spend a lot of time here.

I remember when I first came to Bombay (apologies Mr Thackeray but that’s what it used to be in those good ‘ol days!), Cafe Leopold was one of the must dos on my list. A chequered reputation especially after dusk, added to the dubious charm of the place to an awestruck Delhite, first time in Bombay! Plus it was open and served food right up to midnight! But I must admit to being a tad disappointed when I first saw it. This is what everyone was raving about? But then you get used to Leopold, and it’s never changing decor and its laid back redolent atmosphere and the countless afternoons you can spend drinking beer, reading a book and munching its wonderfully oily snacks!

So it was not surprising that a walk on Colaba Causeway saw me heading to Leopold even though it was only 12 o’clock, a far cry from lunch time. Nothing much has changed – not the fresco on the wall, or the posters, nor the tables or chairs - only the colour of the table cloths, for I seemed to remember them being red. There is a very interesting poster with Presley and his ilk, which I suspect has been around for years as has the coke sign at the entrance.

The high ceiling adds to the old world charm of the place as do the long pillars. The slightly faded fresco on the drinks counter, the faded posters on the wall, the by and large Caucasian clientele (most of them backpackers) reinforce the sense of déjà vu! In fact, it is quite commonplace to walk in and find only foreigners / westerners thronging the place, some reading the paper while they enjoy their hot cuppa while others carry on animated discussions with local guides/ friends or simply enjoy their beer.

The bar and cafe has an air conditioned first floor which technically is the bar and a prominent sign that declares that you need to be a permit holder (Khayyam’s followers' contribution to the local exchequer) to be able to partake beer or even mild alcohol. But faith, the two lasses occupying the table next to me seemed too young to be holding a permit, but this is Mumbai!

Amongst its many other claims to fame, Leopold just added another albeit unhappy one last year. The Mumbai 26/11 massacre started at Leopold. If you glance up at the wooden partition that walls the first floor, you can see the telltale signs of the bullets shattering the glass, which have been preserved. It’s not the most comfortable feeling to know that you are sitting at the very place where it all started and where the floor was awash with red. I am not sure whether the management has preserved it as an attraction but they do say “those who forget history are condemned to repeat it”...a solemn remembrance of a lesson violently learned...

Since I wasn’t really hungry, just ordered a watermelon juice and a plate of chilly potatoes. They were not kidding when they said “chilly potatoes”! The dish had as many red chillies as potatoes and my mouth was on fire! Now I know why beer is the fastest moving beverage here, but for now the watermelon juice did fine. The Cafe has a Chinese and a Continental/ Indian menu offering a cross section of oily food which you thoroughly enjoy tucking into. A pitcher of draught beer will put you back by Rs 400 while a glass by Rs 110 which ain’t too bad. My chilly potatoes cost me Rs 175 and the juice Rs 80. Most entrees are around Rs 250 which doesn’t exactly make it cheap, but when you compare to how your salary has moved in the last 15 years, you can’t complain.

I have often wondered why Leopold is such a hit with its customers especially the Westerners since the food is decent but not exceptional. Be as that may, a trip to Mumbai is incomplete without visiting the Grand dame of the Causeway! Leopold is like your grand mom; she’s been around long enough to have seen any and everything and yet offer you the comfort of easy hospitality and non-intrusive familiarity.

Shop Number 5
Colaba Causeway
Shahid Bhagat Singh Road
Mumbai 400 039
Tel: 22828185

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Landlord's house, marbled corridors, this was the max that I could do!! Not too bad, even if I say so!! Its a different story that the next day I had to order maida, chillies, corriander powder etc since I had used all of mine in this major artistic effort, lol!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Its festival time again and the ubiquitous Toran is back in action. It’s incredible how it makes it appearance at every festive occasion in Bombay. Now I am not exactly a "toran" fan but my next door neighbours have this really gorgeous one made from banana leafs that’s tempting even me. Here it is...

It intrigued me enough to look up toran on the internet - my instant guru for most queries, which I must admit was not too helpful. I am still clueless about the origins of a Toran. Must make it a point to ask my Gujarati landlord about it. They are quite religious and well versed with traditions and culture.

A Toran is essentially a decorative door hanging, usually decorated with marigolds and mango leaves or a string that is tied on the door with the flower on it as a part of traditional Hindu culture on the occasion of pooja. Regular torans esp in Saurashtra are made of cloth while the ones adorned on doorways during festivals tend to be made from fresh flowers.

The Toran technically is the first thing that someone sees when they come to see your house and is therefore reflective of you. So expect to see Torans ranging from the basic to the exquisite to the just simply overdone! It is always string across the doorway in welcome for all guests that step into the house. As someone explained to me, in earlier times, a typical Indian house would have the door opening into a courtyard with rooms surrounding it. I can understand that – the haveli at my ancestral home in Rishikesh is still like that no matter how modern the interiors.

But I am detracting! Given that the door led into a large impersonal courtyard, the Toran was supposed to make the guest feel welcome and Indians are famed for their hospitality. “ Atithi Devo Bhava” - a Sanskrit verse, from ancient Indian scriptures, that mandates hospitality akin to God’s worship, it’s the cornerstone of Indian hospitality.

Interestingly enough, Toran is also an old English family name with its own crest! An Anglo-Saxon name, it comes from an Old Norse word which means “thorn’. So technically, Toran refers to people who lived near thorns /bushes. Strangely enough a connection of sort, however tenuous between something made of plants / flowers / leaves from a bush and people who lived near a bush? Far fetched but who cares? Food for some speculation or imagination.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan!

Mumbai has a new four letter word, or so the MNS would have us believe.

Denizens of Bombay better revamp their vocabulary, lest the brain dead followers of a desperate-for-attention chief of an increasingly redundant-facing-obscurity party decide to make you revisit it.

Does anyone in their right mind actually believe that calling Mumbai Bombay is an insult and offensive to the Marathi sentiment? I know of at least 3-4 Marathi families where the kids routinely call the city Bombay cos thats what they have grown up with! Maybe he needs to ask the average sensible Marathi if his sentiment is so shallow that it takes a word uttered by a fictional character in a Hindi movie to shake it.

Well, probably to Thackerey and his brand of vigilantes it does, cos face it, other than being jhingoistic, does MNS or he have a platform to stand on? From prince-in-waiting to a wannabe, the ignominous journey has clearly prompted delusions of grandeur with Raj Thackerey donning the mantle of a self-appointed champion of the Maratha pride. What better way to ger air time just before elections?

In fact my recollections, what little I do have, of the man are blinkered, conniving but always opportunistic - no North Indians in Mumbai, Kini murder case, Kohinoor Mill controversy, pledge to plant 76 lakh trees across Maharashtra, a project that started, but never completed etc... I could understand and pity the guy if he suffered from parochial attitudes but this is naked, shameless political opportunism.

Are Thackerey and his goons blind, deaf and mute or have they deliberately missed Bombay Central Terminus, Bombay Brassiere, Bombay Suburban Electricity and Transport Corporation, Bombay Blues etc..the list is quite long! After all, it's easier to take on Bollywood when they are dependent on your goodwill to ensure that your goons don’t destroy their initials?

Inane stands taken by an aging inconsequential politician are not a cause for cynicism as is the obvious opportunism of the ruling party to take advantage of this man's inherent stupidity. Clearly his brand of jingoism, appeals as it does to a minority, cuts the Shiv Sena vote bank benefitting the ruling coalition. So the defenders of our constitutional right of freedom of speech and expression choose to turn a blind eye and allow Thackeray to remain unreprimanded.

Should Karan Johar have not caved in? Maybe, but he is a business man and he'll do what it takes to protect his business plus he didn’t volunteer to be the safekeeper of our rights. We entrusted that right to our elected representatives who are so mired in their greed for power that they forget why they were elected in the first place.

So finally it boils down to whether each one of us is willing to allow a Thackerey to dictate what we can say and do, even a simple thing like calling Mumbai Bombay! History is witness that India is a civilisation that is very tolerent and has welcomed and embraced every intruder that crossed her borders and invaded her and has made them her own whether it was the Aryans, the Moghuls or the Persians...and anyone who did not get absorbed had to retreat (the English, Portugese etc). So Mr Thackerey be warned, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it!