Bombay Wanderings in Mahim

Mahim Dargah, Bombay India

Traffic on Mumbai streets does not ebb and flow like the tides of the Arabian Sea. There is always a constant torrent of vehicles travelling the citys' many thoroughfares and when things stop it is usually bad news or traffic jams, which to many is one and the same. Many a time I find myself a pedestrian in Mumbai, in a world full of pedestrians dominated by a minority of fast moving cars and buses. The object of my attention lies patiently on the other side of road and I wait impatiently on this - waiting for a small gap in the traffic to sprint across the warm concrete road. What is in my sight you ask ? In one of the oldest parts of Bombay on what was once Mahim the island - the dargah of Makhdoom Ali Mahimi.

Chaddars and Flowers
[Chaddars, blanket of flowers and sweet incense rising]

The man you asked for soap
[Photograph me if you wish this man told me, but on one condition. No not money but a bar of soap. Why? you ask because I want to wast my face, hands and feets so that I can pray. I have my photograph he has his soap.]

Mecca Is Newer Far.
[A shopkeeper and his Mecca]

It is a green and crème single domed mausoleum to this Suffi saint that surrounds itself with a chaotic mix of devotees, beggars, people, the arbit taxi and a line of shops selling the most peculiar coterie of colourful chaddars [shawls], incense and flowers. The chaddars [shawls] are placed on the tomb to pay respect to the saint and gain his blessing. This dargah like its more famous city counter-part, Haji Ali is steeped in urban legend. For Makhdoom Ali Mahimi is the respected patron sufi saint of the Mumbai Police.

Wikipedia tells me,

During the annual ten day Urs festival celebrated on the 13th day of Shaval,[sometime in December] the Muslim calendar, millions of devotees visit his dargah. The highlight of this is a procession of around eight thousand begins at the Mahim Police Station, believed to be the site of his residence. Two policemen from each of the eighty four city police stations represent the police whose association with the saint dates back to the saint's era. A representative of the Mumbai police who is the first to offer the "chaddar" (shawl) at the tomb on the first day of the festival. Legend has it that it was a police constable who gave water to the dying saint from his cap. Another story points to some miraculous assistance policemen once received from an old man, whom they believed was the saint, in fighting smugglers.

A room adjacent to the office of the senior inspector of police station contains a steel cupboard that houses the saint's preserved belongings such as his chair, a pair of sandals and his hand-written Quran which is considered to be a calligraphic work of art. The room is opened once every year to the public. In 1920 the cupboard was purchased by a senior British police inspector, Raymond Esquire as a tribute to the saint he revered.

Orange Juice  -  Rs2
[If I were the copywriter on the Hutch account :Orange (Hutch) ka chota re-charge for RS 2.]

Sunday Brunch Mumbai estyle
[A large Sunday Brunch on a lazy evening - the small pleasures of like]


Biryani Cooking
[Biriyani is cooking]

What lead me here wasn’t the green lights of the dargah but the slow rising glint of smoke from the charcoal that lit the kebabs red. Yes food is my first concern and on Sunday evenings just like the lanes that surround the dargah play host to a khao gulli [food lane] of sorts. A food lane that answers your every gastronomic prayers from baida rotis to kebabs to rich ghee filled rava halwas [sweet] served with crispy parathas and sweet faloodas.

In India food and spirituality are never far apart..... and I'm not complaining.

Celebrating Bandra as the Locals do

Waiting and Watching

If you live in Bombay it's hard to escape Bandra, this suburb by the sea in this glorious city reels you in, seducing you with her music, culture, people and her genuine all round trademark Bandraesque attitude to life in general. Every November, Bandra plays host to the "Celebrate Bandra" festival -its aim is to do just that 'Celebrate' this city suburb with a galaxy of events ranging from theatre to food to music to sports.
This Sunday I decided to celebrate Bandra as the locals do, so I took my camera along (as usual) to an event which is not quite on the schedule of the Bandra festival but should be - I went fishing.
Tide Fishing is a weekly affair on the rocky beach that forms the outer rim of Bandra's Carter Road.

Celebrating Bandra Life; My fishing buddy Kishore
[Kishore - my most gracious guide]

Kishore, my guide for the evening explains tide fishing to me - swishing his fishing net into the air he tells me "we first set up a perimeter of rocks so as to form small lagoons of water when the tide is low ". Pulling the net back his forehead cringes as he seems to come out empty but he throws the net back in again for the second time and looks at me and continues "we then swim in here when the tide is high and set up the nets ". His facial expression changes to a smile as he pulls back his net this time laden with a fruitful catch of silver dangling fish with pearl like eyes. "See", he tell me as he shows me his catch gleefully " when the tide is low again this is the result - fish and a lot of them". Kishore is one Bandra's invisible residents, this 13 year old boy is an economic migrant from Gujarat, who came to Bombay a few years ago in search for a better future. He and his family of 6 live in a shack by the Arabian Sea near Khar Danda. You might often see him outside the pan-wallah near the snazzy Café - Crêpe Station - cajoling passerbys into buying him a 'dairy milk' [a Cadbury chocolate], but today he is a fisher boy.

Netting it in



As the crows fly

It is fun therapy observing people doing what seems to them as fairly routine but to you fairly exotic This Sunday evening was definitely one such occasion . The cool sea breeze brushing against your brow and the cold sea waters running up to your knees, slippery green moss, sharp barnacle filled rocks - it definitely didn't feel like anywhere near an agglomerated mass of civilization that is Bombay but at the same time it was. Fishing definitely has a Darwinian "survival of the fittest" ring to it, as the tide retreats all you have is pools filled with hundreds upon hundreds of fish- all fighting to live. There comes man - catching them left, right and centre. The fishing is subsistent, the kohlis [fisher folk] let the smaller fish back into the sea and throw the dead fish to the birds.

A Frest Catch

Kishore shows me some biodiversity
[Kishore shows me some biodiversity.]

[An eel; one of the many casualties]

Subsistent it might be but it was fruitful the end of the day they left with a crate full of fish and me with a flash card full of photos. Till next Sunday then when the nets will be up again and it would be yet another day for yet another fresh catch.

A Bombay Breakfast


Everybody knows that an English Breakfast is fried bacon, sausages, mushroom, eggs and tomatoes; a Continental Breakfast is bread rolls or croissants and butter and perhaps jam, with coffee or tea or hot chocolate; but the question I ask today is what is a Bombay Breakfast ?
Here is my look into what fuels millions in this city?

A Bombay Breakfast epitomizes the city in every way- it is fast to cook, diverse, mobile, well packaged, high on carbs and low on greens.

If you have grown up in Bombay you would have noticed a particular piece of food is a perennial part of your diet - bread. Not the sliced ‘modern bread’ you pick up from the nearest pan-wallah shop. It is “ Pav”, this ‘bread roll’ of sorts is delivered straight to your home bakery fresh by the friendly neighbourhood pav-wallah. The pav-wallah is just one of many visitors an average Bombay household gets - all those friendly faces that keep you busy answering your doorbell through the day - the dudhwala (milkman), the paperwalla (newspaper boy), the bhajiwalli (vegetable grocer), the machiwali (fisherwoman) and the string of cats that follow her, the istriwalli/dhobhi (the fellow who washes your clothes or irons them or does both), the jamadar (garbage-collector), the watchman (security at the main gates), the maali (gardener - not in all cases), the bai (maidservant).. I would have continued but the list is endless.
Once you are all stocked up on pavs [by the laadi (loaf)] we are all ready.

The Naashta No.1 [Naashta - breakfast] in the minds of most Mumbaikers would invariably involve the wada-pav. This carbohydrate bomb of a breakfast snack is probably one of the most munched on. I would be interested to know the number of wada-pavs [in metric tonnes] we eat everyday. If you’re not happy with the potato patty you can always substitute it with a samosa and you have voila a samosa-pav. By the way do you know there is a samosa stall in Lower Parel called Chamosa....know why???....because it sells hot chai with samosas.....

Mumbai’s favourite breakfast snack was born 35 years ago, when Ashok Vaidya, a snack seller outside Dadar station, decided to experiment. The combination of batata vada and split pav continues to be the city’s sledgehammer answer to the burger.

Piping Hot Samosas !
[Pipping Hot Samosas and Wadas at Bandra Station, Mumbai]

Feeling a little diet conscious -try the kanda poha (flattened or beaten rice with onions).

Bombay is a heterogeneous mix of people, cultures, religions and languages. This reflects on the meals in the city and I am going to classify the breakfast in the city into 3 broad categories - Maharashtrian, Irani and the Udipi.

The Marathi Option


For a traditional Mahatrashtrian breakfast option go to Prakash - Shakahari Uphaar Kendriya [vegetarian snacks center]. Busybee would suggest Vinay Health Home but I’m sticking with Prakash. A few blocks away from what was Shiv Sena Bhavan lies Prakash [on Gokhale Road, Dadar West] a small eatery that specializes in all things Marathi - Misal, Pohe, Sheera, Sabudana Vada, Dalimbi usal, Kothimbir Vadi, Puri Bhaji, Piyush etc.
Here is a menu.

It is usually crowded so be prepared for a short wait. The waiters are suitably attired in the Prakash signature pink uniforms and cute Nehru caps with Camlin pencils hinged between their ears. The language switches from mumbaiya hindi to shudh marathi (which in my case is not all that shudh [pure]). I suitably rewarded myself for waking up at 5 am with Sabudana-wada [sago based fried patties] and some hot Masala Milk.

Sabudana Wada avec Masala Dudh

You could also have their famous Misal [Puneri], served with Pavs of course.

The Persian Connection

If you want to treat yourself to a grand slam breakfast with all the works, head to an Irani restaurant - perfect for weekends when you can sit back, sip some irani chai and wait for the waiter to fullfill your order that spans half their menu. Breakfast options include - Unda [egg] Bhurji [scrambled], Double Bhurji, omelette single, omelette double, masala omelette [single, double, triple], bun omelette, kheema omelette, bun chuska [huge bun with a healthy dazzle of butter] - I could continue till I drain all the saliva from my mouth. All you have to do is choose a good irani restaurant and I’m not going to name one because I love them all.

Going Down South - Udipi

I am not going to expand too much on this category as the Udipi is a subject I think everyone is well versed in. It is perhaps the most globally accessible form of Indian breakfast dinning- idlis, medu-wadas, dosas, sambhar,chutneys, etc. Head to Matunga for the best in class restaurants.

Till next time have a great Sunday morning and more specifically a large yummy Sunday Breakfast - Bombay or otherwise .

Smiles, Colour and Mithai in a Puneri Diwali

“Careful where you step or you’d probably find your feet in a puddle of colour in what was an intricately constructed rangoli.”

Happy Diwali !!!!

Old Pune in a few words to me is where time stops but the traffic doesn’t, is where the people return your smiles and the decaying wooden facades are not just gateways but time machines into an India of the past.

Doorways into a India of Past
[A Doorway in Pune OLD]

Like Bombay’s Girgaon is divided in wadis [read Khotachiwadi], Pune is dived into Peths [burrows]. The old city is divided into 18 such Peths- interestingly some of which are named after the days of the week in Marathi: Shaniwar peth, Ravivar peth, Somwar peth, Budhwar Peth - just to name a few. All this designed with an amazing sense of Indian town planning. The old city is anchored around its heart the Shaniwar Wada and sprawls around it, dividing into different burrow, each having unique characteristics. It is a hive of activity and its got all the buzz to pull a sting. Hidden treasures greet you at every corner: if you want a second hand Enfield cheap head to Rasta Peth; if you want to buy your textbooks on extra rebate Appabalvan Chowk in Budhwar Peth is the place; if you want an eighteen yard paithani sari look no further than Laxmi Road.

Chuddi Walli
[Chuddiwalli - Bangle Seller]

Deciding to gauge the festive pulse I decided to walk through some of these neighborhoods. The houses without exception are caught in a dance of beautiful decay, chipping paint, burnt and broken wooden doorways and high trellised balconies from which old women in their elegant saris can watch whether the sabjiwalla [vegetable seller] has passed by yet. Traveling salesmen hawk their wares in the lane shouting out in low pitch calls with elongated vowels. From the kabadiwallah [vendor who buys old items] to the man who will sharpen knives on his mobile grinding stone. Take a turn around the narrow lanes and you see men sitting crossed legged shaping brass vessels with hammer and tongs, beating it with a rhythmic twang that sets the street alive with what would best be described as industrial jazz. Turn another corner and the scene changes into one of hectic diwali eve shopping. Diwali to my mind is basically a giant nationwide form of house cleaning for a very esteemed VIP guest, a certain goddess of wealth. This huge operation spearheaded by the women of each household involves cleaning all aspects of the house and goes on to decorating all aspects of it and on the big day lighting it up with as many diyas [small earthen lamps] as humanly possible

[Streets in Pune]

The Diwali Colour of Money
[Diwali ,Colour of Money]

[Buying Diyas]

Diwali in its design becomes a festival for each and every member of the family. The women are in it for the new sari or the new jewelry set in their locker, gluts like me are in it for the mithai, kids are in it for the fireworks and the men are in it for the arbit socializing and the games of cards that follow. Out of all these things I quite like diwali except for the gunpowder induced noise and the pollution that is its by product. What is unique about Diwali in Maharashtra is that kids make small model killas [forts] and decorate them with tiny clay figurines. It is a fun tradition.

[A Boy and his Fort]
Diwali Figures - Budhwar Peth, Pune
[Clay Figurines]

Anyway before I forget- HAPPY DIWALI . I think its time I go hide in the kitchen before I’m deputed to scrubbing the walls. Why the kitchen ? for the chakallis and the karanjis of course.