Thursday, November 13, 2014

Walks and talk

Walking has its charms. It also helps if you’re perpetually scared to drive.
But I guess I have always enjoyed walks. These are not power walks every morning or evening to stay fit. These are leisurely walks observing people, trees, anything or anyone else that needs observing.
Sometimes I sing songs in my head while walking. At others, I am thinking of my next subject to write. These days it’s photography that I am thinking of, and trees. Having lived in this suburb for years, I had gotten to know quite a few of them. Like people, some have passed on, most having been victims of redevelopment. Like the bougainvillea that once stood bright and happy where now stands a chawl for the rich, by the name of Jade Gardens. I wonder where the garden is.
Then there was a beautiful chafa tree that too exists in memory now.  Like some strangers we see everyday, I had gotten to know the trees and like them.
So this is why I’ve been thinking of photography and trees. Sure, no photograph can capture the beauty and colours of a tree honestly. But at least it’ll be proof of what is, what was.
It’s just like other suburbs in Mumbai, this locality where I live. The only difference being, it still has a decent cover of trees.

I don’t remember when I began to like walks. Perhaps it was when I was in college and I hated to wake up early for the lectures. But I looked forward to my short journey to the bus stop. It used to be quieter then, and very few morning walkers were around. The noted painter, K K Hebbar, walked with his little dog every morning.
The trees helped me dodge the rains in the short walk to my bus stop, as I was always fed up of opening the umbrella in such a short distance. In the summer of course, they provided shade. Just before winter, the falling leaves would spread a carpet of earthern colours, albeit a crunchy one.  

In time I began to enjoy walks. The walk itself lets me know how far I must continue. Like the time a raddi wallah accosted me twice in the gap of a few minutes, insisting I call him for old newspapers. The first time he stopped his Kinetic two wheeler next to me and said sinisterly, “Bhav nau rupaye hai.” I said, okay, a little bewildered at being told this in the middle of the road without warning. A few minutes later, he stopped again and said, “Aap mera number le lo!” I just smiled and walked home as fast as I could!
Crazy people, these raddi wallahs. The one who collects old newspapers from home now has said only one dialogue every time for the past couple of years. “Bhaiyya, bhaav badh gaya kya?” I always ask him. “Arre kahan? Abhi beech mein badha tha, ab wapas 10 rupaye hua hai.” At least he waves and smiles when I am on my walk and does not haunt me.

There are many types of walkers. There are the couples, where it’s clear that one has stepped out at the insistence of the other, for exercise. Then there are the young women who huff and puff while power-walking amidst talks and glances at the thin college girl who just passed by them. There are also senior citizens on daily walks. These are all serious walkers, out there with a purpose. But there are also other mad walkers like me, who stop and talk to people, play with a stray dog or cat, or simply pay attention to the world around them.
Since I am not a person whose walks are bound by the hour, I have time to see many strangers and familiar faces. Like Laxmi, our former maid. She has retired a long time back. But she used to work in our colony for years and has seen at least a generation of us kids grow up. So for us, she’s like an old aunt in the neighbourhood. Every evening she sits chatting with fruit vendors in a lane nearby, with a “Kaisa hain” for each colony resident who walks by.

Occasionally I see Ramdas, my mother’s best friend’s domestic help. When her kids and me and my sister were growing up, he was always there to chaperone us around. We would call him by name, but he was always like a part of the family. Now I often meet him when he chaperones her grandson to his drawing class and friend’s houses, like another grandfather.

Then there are the familiar non-human faces. Like the two dogs who live outside a small tin shed shop near my colony. The shop-keeper goes on rounds twice in the area, feeding chicken to dogs and filing random pots he’s placed nearby with water for them.
The strays in my locality do have it good. There’s a woman who feeds them in the morning. There’s also my friend’s mother, Mrs Hendricks, who feeds the stray dogs every evening.
Another familiar non-human face is that of a white and black dog that goes crazy when a neighbour’s dog, Zulu, is taken for a walk. There’s something that happens to street dogs when a pet dog passes by. May be it’s that ‘Here’s one of our own who made it big!’ feeling or just, ‘Hey, let’s play! Leave your mom behind’.

These days I too am wondering whether I should abandon my leisure walks for power walks. Join the rest of the world. But I am still unsure of this.  
I don’t go on walks in as picturesque a location as a certain Mr Bond in Mussoorie. But they’re equally interesting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Of Pathare Prabhus and non-vegetarian food

The other day my friend called, very excited. She had read Finely Chopped’s post on a Pathare Prabhu meal and knowing that my mother belongs to the community, asked me if I have such delicious food every day. She was also very surprised to know more about this Maharashtrian community, which is even smaller than the Parsi community.
I’ll say this Gia, I am glad to be part Pathare Prabhu. Half of my relatives put shrimp in everything, even our alu wadi and upma!
I am not sure when I realised I was a mixture of two castes – Koknastha Brahmin and Pathare Prabhu, but I do remember as a child, people asking me how I ate non-vegetarian food when my surname clearly points to my being a Brahmin.
The Pathare Prabhu genes have ensured that I devour seafood, mince lamb, chicken and eggs with as much gusto as pithla, methichi bhaaji, thaalipith, sabudana khichadi and other vegetarian dishes.  
Two of the regular non-vegetarian Pathare Prabhu dishes at our house, are bhujane and khadkhadle. I feel if you cut a Pathare Prabhu, the juices of either bhujane or khadkhadle will flow out of his veins, not blood! So staple they are in a Parbhu house.
Andyache bhujane is my comfort food. That was the dish our mother tempted us with through childhood, if there wasn’t a good bhaaji at home or if she was fed up of making something elaborate. As our father was also a good cook, my sister and I ate bhujane made by him too. When we grew up, we first learnt to make this dish. It is a mish mash of eggs, onions, garlic, curry leaves, chilli or chilli powder, a hint of turmeric, green coriander, a little water and unapologetically, lots of oil. While egg bhujane is popular, it can also be made with drumsticks, potatoes, pomfret, or prawns as the hero instead of eggs.
I am told mother did not prepare non-vegetarian dishes during our Brahmin grandparents’ visits when my sister and I were young. But some happy incidents of my making changed this.
I had a friend who happened to be a Goan. A few times I yelled at the top of my voice from the balcony of his house on the third floor to my parents on the first floor in the opposite building, “Aaj Raju kade maase ahet, me ithech jewate!” “There’s fish today at Raju’s house, I am having lunch here!” That was enough for my Brahmin aaji who told our mother that she was embarrassed, and non-vegetarian food could be cooked despite their presence. Of course, Parbhu non-vegetarian food is not the only non-vegetarian food we make.  
The few times we digress from making bhujane, is when we decide to make khadkhadle. It is said the name comes from the sound the vessel makes when the dish is prepared. It can be made with prawns or Bombay Duck. It is a dish made with fenugreek seeds, garlic and chilli powder. In spite of the few ingredients, the dish tastes lovely. Khadkhadle is also made with dry Bombay Duck and shrimp.
Just as the Pathare Prabhus are known for their unique recipes, they are known for some distinct differences from other Maharashtrians, like the usage of Gujarati words in Marathi, as it is believed they came to Maharashtra from Gujarat in the 12th century. There is another story that says they came from Patan in Nepal. 
They are known for their unique rangoli. They have unique jewellery and even the type of saree a Pathare Prabhu bride wears at her wedding rituals is different. This kasbi saree is known for its heavily embroidered and embellished border, in which gold and silver was used.
The Pathare Prabhus are also pioneers in women's education in Mumbai.
Pathare Prabhus are also a community which does not go wholly vegetarian in Shrawan. Of course, their vegetarian recipes are also different from those of other Maharashtrians. A simple dish they make is from ridge gourd, cucumber and green peas. As I hate peas, they are substituted with corn at my house. This dish also has a few ingredients, but is big on taste.
Another dish is sambara. This is made with coconut milk and either corn, or pineapple. One version is also made with onions. To the uninitiated, the combination of coconut milk and corn or pineapple may seem as weird as that of shrimp in upma. But as they say, don’t beat it until you try it!
Another unique combination is in a bhaaji made with brinjals. This is a spicy bhaaji, but has raisins in it.
Unlike Koli, Brahmin, Malwani and such other famous Maharashtrian cuisines, Pathare Prabhu food has been ‘discovered’ only recently. It is unique food with delicious and seemingly weird combinations that hit the spot. Judging by its popularity, we may soon see Pathare Prabhu restaurants. Until then, hold on to your Pathare Prabhu friends – even those who are part Pathare Prabhus – be nice to them and hope they invite you for a memorable meal!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mumbai to Goa

So it seems, as is with most summer holidays, many of my friends are presently in Goa. That makes me very nostalgic.
Of all the places, people and memories in Goa that I have been recalling, one is this concrete fish at Miramar beach. I took this picture in 2009, afraid it would be demolished soon. I have no idea if it’s still there.
Back in the 1980s, Panjim where I lived, was a small place and almost everyone knew everyone. The Miramar beach was a 20-minute walk or seven-minute cycle ride from home. But mostly I walked there. It was, and still is a pretty road to walk by up to Miramar past the old houses, residential buildings, the Kala Academy, the football stadium and the indoor stadium. There was also an abandoned house which we kids had dubbed the haunted house and tried to enter once. Some of my friends lived nearby. I knew someone or the other who lived there or they knew me. Someone would always wave out to me. Or I would pass by the one-legged bicyclist, a woman who I was always embarrassed to see, because I couldn’t ride my bicycle properly!
As children, we would play around and in the concrete fish, pretending it would come alive and swallow us. Of course everyone who stepped in got that distinct smell of urine inside – many drunkards probably used it as a toilet at nights – but for children, these are minor glitches. We would continue to play undeterred, screaming, yelling and jumping from its open mouth.
My favourite author, Ruskin Bond, says one cannot leave the hills after living with them for a while. I feel that way about beaches, which were never far when I was growing up in Goa. It’s at Miramar where I learnt to build sand castles and hills. It’s at Miramar that I would gaze at the horizon and day dream about the foreign lands I learnt about in school and pretend I would sail to them one day. It’s where we kids would run around trying to frighten small crabs back into their homes and marvel when we spot an occasional starfish. It was at Miramar outside singer Remo Fernandes’ bungalow that my friend and I once loudly spoke in French (we were learning it in school), hoping his French wife would hear us and invite us in! Many of our school picnics were at beaches. It was at another beach in Goa that I nearly drowned, but other memories of happy times at beaches outweigh this. Like a contest among my friends to find the biggest shell, or many similar small ones, to make jewellery from! I still am fascinated by them and have many shell earrings.  
It has been years since my family returned to Mumbai. But I haven’t entirely. I am in touch with friends. Some I’ve reconnected with through facebook. We talk about our childhood haunts. Like Miramar and the fish. In Mumbai I jump into conversations if I hear Goa. I smile at people in
local trains if they are speaking in konkani. I advice people travelling to Goa on where to eat.  
Many of my Goan friends in Mumbai think I am more Goan than they are. When in Goa, I would say I am from Mumbai. When people in Mumbai learn for the first time that I grew up in Goa, they always ask me if I am a Goan. I say no, I just grew up there. They are not convinced. I wonder what else I can say to explain. There isn’t any term like ‘India-born’ or ‘originally from India’ for people like me who have grown up away from their home states and returned there. But I think I now have figured it out. I will just say I am a Maharashtrian with a hint of Goa.