Chuck Dior, try Dharavi!

I don’t possess very many handbags. And ironically, the one I use the most is also the least expensive one. It is a small, black, sling bag, which I wear across my body, when I go for my evening walks, or to the nearby ATM, or to fetch my son from the bus. I carry in it the essentials – keys, phone, some cash, sometimes, my credit card.

But the truth is, the bag is never confined only to these items. Over several days, it ends up accumulating much, much, more. At any point, I can put my hand in and find things which I don’t really recall putting in. So today I found some Vicks ki goli, a small piece of smooth, glittering, white stone gifted by my son, and Rs.500 in cash (which is a large amount for this unpretentious bag). On previous occasions I have found a tube of my favourite lipstick for which I had been hunting high and low, a tiny notepad in which I had scribbled some ideas as they occurred and then forgotten promptly about, and of all things, a lemon! For the life of me I can’t remember why I would have a lemon in my bag. And almost always, a pack of tissues.

Every few weeks, when I find I can no longer absent-mindedly slide my phone into the bag, I empty it. And these little ‘treasures’ roll out. And I am bemused at what I find.

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This sling is almost my identity now!

This bag is no Gucci or Kors. Oh, far from it. Can you even begin to guess where it was sourced from? It proudly dons the moniker of ‘Dharavi’. When my niece was visiting from Singapore, the enterprising girl, who loves India with a passion I sometimes can’t fathom, insisted on doing the ‘Slum Tour’ of Dharavi. She wanted to write about it for the magazine she was interning with. So we booked the tour conducted by the ‘Slum Gods’, which turned out to be three hours of pure, unadulterated, education.

Dharavi, if you look at it purely as an outsider, is a hellhole. There is no other word to describe it. There are open, stinking, stagnant, sewers, highest density of population in so small a space, and an absence of civic amenities which doesn’t point to a derelict municipality, but an absentee municipality. When you enter Dharavi and take the tour, your opinion does change. Not about the government, and not about the living conditions, but about its inhabitants. Dharavi teaches the abject lesson of survival at any cost. We were stunned by the enterprise of the small entrepreneurs there, (from leather processing units, to housewives rolling out papads in a central courtyard), and the will to live and survive amid dire poverty and squalor. Our ‘Slum Gods’ tour guide was a homegrown boy, who not only held his own in speaking English (he conducts these tours for firangs too), but was so very proud of the enterprise of his neighbours, and spoke with justifiable pride about the hip-hop band his friends and he had formed. I checked it to out on Youtube later, and it was quite creditable.

As part of the tour, he took us to a leather outlet, where on display were bags of various hues and sizes. Among them, the ‘Dharavi’ brand too. This particular bag called out to me as the perfect go-to bag for the many errands I have to run every day. It’s just big enough for me to carry the essentials, and small enough to ensure I don’t fill it up with rubbish. Notwithstanding the odd lemon and lipstick, of course! The very ease of wearing it, has endeared this bag to me. Now, you may scoff at the look of my bag. It perhaps lacks the design sensibilities that the Europeans so easily impart to bags. But there can’t be an iota of doubt that the quality of leather is among the best. Dharavi is known for its outlets selling quality leather products, if you are adventurous enough to venture there. So I was most happy to buy my  sling on this tour. I loved the fact that the manufacturer had decided to launch brand ‘Dharavi’. It spoke of a certain amount of pride, and self-assurance, which I found oddly touching, and very impressive.

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When the black sling was new and shiny!

I am glad my little sling isn’t a high-value one. I would then be most reluctant to haul it everywhere. The Dharavi sling has been carried to all places and put to much rough use, and it’s weathered all the ill-usage with smooth equanimity. The leather has just got more soft with time, and I have no doubt it will last me for many, many, more moons to come.

Yet, I have to confess, I am getting a bit tired of its colour. I crave a change. Is it time to go back and find a twin of this bag, maybe in tan, or green, or blue, perhaps? I will keep you posted…Meanwhile, if you find the brand Dharavi anywhere, do patronise it:-)

An ode to Paradise

The Paradise restaurant in Colaba has shut down. We woke up to this  news on Sunday morning. It was inevitable. We had been meaning to visit it one last time these past few months. But couldn’t. Now, Paradise has downed shutters, and we will miss it.

My entry into Mumbai fourteen years ago, was through Colaba. We rented a spacious apartment in the rather run-down Geetanjali building, behind Radio Club. And one of the first restaurants, Sachin, a Mumbai boy took me to, was Paradise on Colaba Causeway, which served mainly Parsi food. Parsi cuisine was alien to me and I was intrigued at his description of the food.  When we arrived at Paradise, I wasn’t very impressed. It was a narrow space, though the decor was quirky. I found Jimmy, the owner, slightly testy and irascible. He barely looked up when we entered, though just another table was occupied at that time.  We ordered the food. When the signature Scotch Broth arrived, I tasted it and found it slightly underwhelming after the eulogy I had just heard. But I instantly fell in love with the salli murghi and salli boti. That was enough, and it signalled the beginning of my love affair with Paradise and Parsi food.

Till we lived in Colaba, which was for a little more than two years, we visited Paradise every week, sometimes even twice a week. We were footloose and fancy-free and fancied Paradise food all the time! I not only started liking Scotch Broth, but started craving it, especially during my pregnancy. In fact the waiters would see us walking in and disappear inside to emerge with two bowls of the broth. It was a thick, mutton broth, with slivers of chicken, accompanied by a quarter plate of crisp, butter-soaked croutons. Yum! Paradise’s chicken rolls, salli boti and salli murgh with thin chapatis, the dhansak and rice, and a cutlet called Temptation, were our top of the charts dishes. Of course, we experimented with almost everything else on their menu, including some of the continental and Chinese dishes on offer.

Paradise 1
Happy times at Paradise!

We had become regulars. Jimmy, whom I soon discovered to be a warm person, would always do a pit stop at our table and chat away, wishing me well for my delivery, describing the visits abroad to his kids. Jimmy didn’t have a liquor licence, in fact, never got it, which kept the foreigners away, who preferred Leopold and Cafe Mondeagar at the other end of Colaba Causeway. But we didn’t mind, and Paradise became our ritual.

After Ishaan was born, we didn’t waste much time in visiting Paradise, with the baby in tow. Though he couldn’t taste the Scotch Broth yet, Sachin felt it imperative that he breathe in the air of Paradise! Jimmy was pleased, and responded by gifting the baby ₹ 51. I was very touched. Before Ishaan turned two, we took him to Paradise for his first taste of Scotch Broth. He absolutely loved it! Till two years ago, even after we shifted residences several times, and out of Colaba too, we often made it to Paradise.

Paradise 3
This was more than a year ago, and now we will miss Paradise and its Scotch Broth (in photo) always!

I tried to take my love of Parsi food beyond Paradise. We visited Jimmy Boy and Ideal in Fort, and a few other places. But nothing could match Paradise for us. Jimmy’s wife Mehrooo was the brain in the kitchen. We hardly met her, as we tended to visit the restaurant mostly for dinners. On the rare occasions we went in the day, she would be presiding over the kitchen and the cash counter with much dexterity. We learnt that she fussed and supervised over everything, including the cleaning of the meat. No wonder the food tasted and smelled so good.

About two years ago, we noticed some changes. One or two of the familiar waiters were missing. The new, young waiters didn’t know us and we felt it strange to have to ask for our staples. There was some small, but noticeable decline in things like the chapatis, which didn’t seem like they were freshly made, anymore. Jimmy too looked tired, more detached.

Our visits slowly wound up. Caught up as we were in the rigmarole of daily life, Colaba and Paradise seemed too far from Lower Parel, where we now lived. Restaurants like SodaBottleOpenerWallah opened up a new wave of Parsi food for us. We had replaced Paradise.

And now, Paradise has downed shutters. But the taste of that Scotch Broth will linger in my mouth forever, and I wish, I could taste it just once more…for old times’ sake!

 

A place like no other

There are only a few places in Mumbai which I am willing to visit any time of the day or night, any time of the year. The second hand, old furniture market at Oshiwara is one of them. Actually, the Oshiwara market is not just a furniture market. It’s a veritable treasure trove of brass lamps, statues, clocks, ceramic door knobs, candelabras, remains of a once-elaborate silver service, delicate English crockery, pretty little tea pots, mother-of-pearl-inlaid tables…the list is endless – all sourced from the vanishing lifestyles of people who once presided over spacious, genteel homes. And all now kept in the narrow and dusty confines of shops, in a higgledy-piggledy, enthralling mess!

Osh

My heart swells, my soul exults, when I am in its musty,  dusty environs. I can spend an entire day breathing in this air, going from shop to shop, never knowing when I might just happen upon a little treasure.

This is one topic on which Sachin and I have agreed to disagree. He comes from a land of  modern, contemporary designs, which has no use for space consuming and heavy Burma teak cupboards or chaise lounges. Clutter-free is his catch phrase. I come from a land of wooden staircases, teak and rosewood furniture, planter’s chairs, brass artefacts, a cluttered place where old world charm rules supreme. My head inhabits a space where the smell of old Burma teak blends riotously and happily with the slightly sour smell of that ancient brass Nataraja statue. Where the Parsi wardrobes, with their painted doors and history of use by many generations, makes me wonder who last beheld it, used it, and then eventually (and tearfully?), sold it.

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Oshi 14

Oshi 15

Over the years, and despite Sachin’s protests, I have acquired for our home, a few pieces from Oshiwara and Chor Bazaar, the other favourite place of mine. The speciality of Chor Bazaar is that it is in town, and blends the old with the contemporary. Here’s where you must head to if you need apart from old furniture and brass, Hindi cinema posters (if you are lucky, maybe even an original poster) of yore, wrought iron garden benches…English friends of ours once picked up a brass car horn for their vintage car, and were so thrilled!

Oshiii

I find the Oshiwara vendors, gentle and accommodating. They just don’t do hard sell. Theirs is a row of narrow shops on the main road and they themselves sit on chairs right outside their shops. You wonder how on earth you are supposed to review heavy wardrobes inside, when you can barely squeeze in sideways. But you somehow manage to not just squeeze in, but review elaborate wardrobes, negotiate the price, and arrange transport! But if you leave without a commitment to buy, the vendor gives a shrug, and goes back to his chair, with no rancour, and no reproachful looks directed at you. Utter fatalism, seems their creed.

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I wonder what keeps pulling me back to Oshiwara. It’s primarily a no-fuss place. You look, you wander around, you buy or not, it just doesn’t matter. Even just window shopping here gives one a great sense of satisfaction. And a whiff of a world that once existed, but is now on the decline…A world when women pulled out gorgeous saris out of their deep wardrobes, reclined on chaise lounges while preparing their paan taken out of a brass box with claw legs, and cracked betel nuts on the nutcracker. My ancestral home in Kerala had many such treasures, now lost to me. Maybe, I am searching for a surrogate here. Whatever my reasons, I pray fervently, these shops never shut, don’t get swallowed up by a life and a world, that’s passing by so rapidly.

My only word of advice if you intend to go shopping here – don’t bargain beyond reason. These shops must almost be given the heritage tag, such purveyors are they of long-lost and fast-disappearing treasures. Help them to survive. In a way, you are only helping yourself to survive too.

 

 

 

All I want is a magic carpet…

Last week we went to see Disney’s Aladdin at NCPA in Mumbai. It’s a Broadway-style production, along the lines of the immensely successful and acclaimed Beauty and the Beast. My nephew had parts to play, and so we were among the privileged family and friends watching the first show.

It was a very creditable show, with superb performances by the cast, especially  actor Mantra who played the Genie with much aplomb and skill. The musical reflected the local flavour of Mumbai, with a few digs  at Mumbai’s SoBo crowd and traffic, very cleverly woven into the script. Not a single actor seemed to miss a beat. Or at least none that was noticeable!

Aladdin 3

 

How did it compare with the Beauty and the Beast? Well, the stage and production were not as grand as Beauty and the Beast, which was performed at the Dome theatre of NSCI, with its 360 degree stage and absolutely brilliant special effects. The songs in Aladdin were I felt, one too many and not as catchy, yet, there is no taking away from the fact that this was a stage musical setting very high standards indeed. Another highlight was the floating magic carpet. We oohed and aahed over it. Very smart.

But the journey to NCPA from Lower Parel was a fraught one. First of all, we went in peak evening traffic, which as everyone knows in Mumbai, is tolerable only if armed with an iPad or a Kindle or a smart phone, snacks, and plenty of time. Thinking conversation with family would happen, I had not carried an iPad or a Kindle. I find I hate reading books on my iPhone. Peering into the screen gives me a headache which just complicates everything.

The anticipated conversation was nipped in the bud by hubby, who had a scheduled conference call! So as he listened intently to the call, one hand held up to check any impulsive talk on our part, my son and I were suitably chastened, shushed and silenced. My son saw an opportunity here and took charge of my phone. He apparently doesn’t have any problems playing games on the small screen. I can only marvel at him.

We were getting horribly delayed for the show. Hubby had thought the play was at NSCI. Now, I never mentioned NSCI to him. Nor did I mention the NCPA. But anyway,  he couldn’t cavil much at me. As we reached Babulnath, a message from my nephew reassured us that the show was delayed, so we would surely make it. As we sat up from our slumped postures, we reached Wankhede Stadium and drove straight into the most godawful jam. Apparently a key IPL match was just about to start there! Talk about timing!!

Suffice to say, thanks to the tardiness at the NCPA end, we managed to make the show, missing just the first few moments. But later I wished, we had had the magic carpet to whiz past the traffic conundrums…Lucky Aladdin!

In which the Phoenix Mall is no longer bookish

The Phoenix Mall in Lower Parel, for lack of better options in the neighbourhood, is turning out to be quite the culture hub. The open quadrangle now regularly hosts interesting  events – pop up restaurants and chic shops, to cultural events. Just today, we caught Indian Ocean member Rahul Ram in action. Quite a crowd had gathered to watch the man, who belted out some of his popular numbers at eardrum splitting decibels. It was heartening to see many youngsters in the crowd, gyrating to the music though.

Indian Ocean Ram

This mall is a great place to be in. The restaurant scene here has also got energised suddenly with the addition of SodaBottleOpenerWallah, The Runway Project, apart from Wine Rack, Delhi Heights and Farzi Cafe.

Sadly, the Om book store has shut shop. It was the sole such store. Perhaps copying the trend world over. Even Hamley’s, which used to display a healthy number of books in a prominent part of the shop, has pushed its books section to a remote corner. And the books that are available, are hardly worth the trip to that corner. I know it’s a toy shop. But when they relegate books to a far spot after keeping them pretty prominently displayed initially, it does say a lot about our kids’ reading habits. Or perhaps kids now read only on Kindle? I will make myself believe that. Meanwhile, what do I do with the Om book store vouchers that I was gifted?

By the way, what does this sign mean?

Sign at Phoenix

 

This hangs next to Foodhall on the third floor. I am puzzled. Are they actually saying what I can read, or am I missing something? Or are they???

Oh, the powers-that-be at Phoenix. Straighten this sign out. And please bring a good book-cum-stationery store back (a la Landmark) to the mall. This is the the only gap here, but what a gap!

 

 

 

Just beat it!

Sunny Mumbai

Mumbai is incandescent with heat. The Sun is shining down with 41 degrees Celsius ferocity, and there is a shimmer in the air, which makes one avert one’s gaze from the outside. How did we get to this from the cooler days just last week? Actually, from just two days ago, when the temperature was seven degrees cooler.

My son has his Term exams and the worst crime one can do is try to teach a child the functions of the cerebellum and the medulla, while his cerebrum is feeding him enticing images of ‘crushed ice mango milk shake’ and ‘tonnes of refreshing lemonade’ (as if lemonade can be anything but)! I don’t know how he is going to get through these exams. I swear I am going to go up in smoke before the week is up.

What can one do to tackle this heat?

One, do not go out. Okay, if you must, slather on sunscreen (and sweat like a pig), carry water (in steel or glass bottles, plastic could land you in trouble), carry some grapes or a banana, or even better, some buttermilk (that’s my South Indian for chhaas).

Two, do not go out. If you must, carry a cap and glares and gallons of water.

Three, do not go out. If you have no alternative, then step out post 6 pm. That way, the only thing you will have to deal with is the traffic. And the pollution.

Four, do not go out. If you absolutely have to, then fly away to cooler climes, or to a hill destination. Though, don’t choose Lonavala or Mahabaleshwar, they may be hotter than Mumbai. How does the top of the Everest sound to you?

And last, I exhort you again, do not go out. If you are left with no choice, then dive straight into the swimming pool or the sea. Again, post 6 pm. The sea and pool waters will be warm, not hot. And the chill that touches you when you emerge from the water, a la Ursula Andress, will be completely worth all the heat you had to endure during the day.

I love summers. For the mangoes, more mangoes, and the chilled drinks. As for the heat, didn’t I just tell you above how to beat it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chutney kum!

Having never studied or lived in Mumbai before I migrated here a dozen years ago, I had never sampled her famous street food. I came to Mumbai and was directly introduced to street foods like bhel puri and pani puri in the rather sanitised environs of Swati snacks and Soam. Sanitised or not, I was smitten. Yet, I never gathered up the courage to taste this actually on the streets. I wondered if the chutney (which is not cooked) would be safe, as also the other raw ingredients which go into the various chaats.

Till one day, in the not so distant past. My friend Rachana gave me a way in, and a way out. Right outside the Chumbak store in Kala Ghoda (next to Fabindia) in South Mumbai, is the Gupta Bhel Puri Centre. She nudged me towards it. When I demurred, she told me the big secret of street food – how to have your bhel and eat it too, as you like best!

Bhel 2

Gupta offers up various mouthwatering combos, from the simple bhels to ragda masala and sukha bhel. My friend’s ingenious solution to hygiene issues is simply asking for sukha bhel with our choice of ingredients, yet leaving out the controversial imli, green and red chutneys. Then what’s left, you might grouse. Believe me when I say, the cone of bhel he whipped up had me asking for more, long after we had left his shop.

The yummy concoction had; the sukha or the dry bhel, slivers of the delectable kairi (raw mango), chana jor garam (a version of chickpeas),  boiled potatoes, chopped tomatoes, chopped green chillies, peanuts, the chutney dal, hard puris, topped with lemon and salt – all  tossed around with a light touch.  It was a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y delicious. And as pedestrians hurried past and office goers dawdled over their lunch hour, I was in chaat heaven!

Bhel 1Now, this Gupta has a deadpan expression. He must be so used to the idiosyncrasies of his customers that nothing must surprise him. I salute him for adapting to the changing mores and times. The fact that we visit him often (whether he’s noticed it or not), I hope gives him some satisfaction. Well, he did allow me to photograph him! And I am happy to report, I have never got a tummy bug after eating here. And keeping my fingers crossed, never will:-)

Please note: Carry a spoon if you like, to eat the chaat in peace. Otherwise you will have to make do with a hard puri for a spoon. Most seem to prefer it, though. After all, that’s half the charm of standing by the wayside and eating messy stuff out of a paper cone, isn’t it?