Sunday, 1 October 2017

A Museum for Mumbai : A bun-maska for thought

This new year’s day, I spent my noon convincing the receptionist at ‘The Museum of History of Catalonia’ to open up as advertised. We were visiting Barcelona around that festive time of the year and probably I had my stakes high expecting them to open on Numero Uno of 2017. Perhaps, that was just the museum enthusiast in me.

So, my father-in-law gave up practising his Spanish or rather trying to understand the local Catalan and we made our way to Barcelonnetta beach instead. The promenade reminded me none other aapli Mumbai, our Marine Drive.

My colleagues do ask me about Mumbai or India and express their desire to visit it someday. “Oh, The Golden Triangle”, pat comes my answer. Kerala for people seeking quiet retreats. Andaman or Ladakh for the adventurous. But rarely do I suggest Mumbai. … if you are going to Goa that is. Yes, Goa doesn’t feature on my top list. (I am willing to have an argument over this.)

“Perhaps, you could do 48 hours in Mumbai. Don’t forget to book the Taj though”, I add. I don’t think Mumbai would count on an average tourist map. One could really do the city in a day if they wanted.

But at the same time, I do have a bond with my birth city. The global me thinks, what will I show my child at Mumbai when say they are 8 or 9? Say, in another decade’s time. You would say take him to a local playground. But that’s where the new station is planned! It wouldn’t be there anymore. “Your mother had watched some amazing concerts here”, I will point out. “Oh and that was Dadar beach”.
Of course, I could take them to the Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum. I could tell them how visiting that Museum at 15 by herself was their mother’s first travel adventure.

How about a ferry to see the statue of Maharaj? No, I don’t want a Statue La Grande of Chattrapati Maharaj in middle of the Arabian Ocean. I have deep admiration for the king’s bravery and statesmanship but I don’t think spending ex-chequers money for that monument is a wise idea.

Apologies, but I don’t want a tour of the slums, I don’t think making a living exhibition of someone’s lifestyle is ethically correct. Did you say there were two options instead? The usual shanty towns and the masses of ugly tall buildings sprawled all over?

Nor, do I want to visit the many Socials opened at every corner with less than average fare on their menus. Maybe I could treat them to the Caramel Custard or proper bun maska at Café Military instead. If it is still around, of course.

I would be delighted if there were state of art facilities at Elephanta Caves. We could break the Caves image as the scandalous shack haven for average couples seeking a solace in the city. We could add a sound and light show at Bandra Fort explaining the Fort’s history.

Perhaps, something else might help my children appreciate Mumbai and inform them about the changes which transformed Mumbai in a decade’s time.

How about a Museum for Mumbai?

I would certainly take my child to a Museum – a place which celebrates the 18 million Mumbaikars who have stayed together through riots, terror attacks, poor infrastructure hazards and torrential rains. Spirit of Mumbai as they say. Or even our cool Chalta Hai attitude.

But, I do wonder if my children would ask me about the survivor’s fate in all the mishaps which occur in Mumbai. Did their families get a compensation, where the guilty bought to justice, was life same for them again or their families?

Would the Museum tell also the survivors story in a compelling way as much as that of a Bollywood super star who made it big in India’s city of dreams?

I wonder if my children would equate the very celebrated Spirit of Mumbai with Mumbai’s Chalta Hai attitude. For lack of accountability in Mumbaikars and failure to stand up to their rights?

What will they think when they come to know about the recent stampede at Elphinstone station in the Museum? That was the very local station which their mother travelled from every single day in her Mumbai commute days.

Would we record in the Museum about the inquiry which bought the concerned civic department to justice for their failure to monitor the stampede or the team who failed to recognise a need for new bridge looking at the ever increasing crowds during the last decade?

I hope there is an answer in that Museum.

Otherwise, how would we explain our children that their existence matters? I am sure all the family members in India get excited enough at the thought of grandchildren just when a couple has got engaged. Then why is it that their lives don’t matter. Would the relatives say Aur ek bacha kar lo? Or do they quote the Geeta and say, Death is but inevitable? Mar gaya bichara.

I really hope that a strong wave of change grips all the Mumbaikars. Not just saying #Mumbaikar #cool #different #liberal #Delhisucks.

That they shout of loud and beat drums not just during Ganpati. But that they claim the amount of money they pay for shoddy infrastructure. For better governance and civic sense.

For Accountability. Not Chalta Hai.

Show the World What Spirit of Mumbai actually stands for!

P.S. We did visit the Museum of History of Catalonia the next day at Barcelona. I learnt about the history of Catalan life and their take on Modernism. The Moroccan immigration wave. I wonder what the fate decides for Catalans today as they take a referendum much to the opposition of the Spanish government. 
Barcelona city from Park Guell






Saturday, 20 May 2017

Once upon a time... at Malta

I woke up gently as a light sun ray touched my face. I kept gazing outside the glass windows watching the horizon change its colours from light grey to a mellow yellow. Eternal bliss for a morning person like me!

I kept admiring as a small island passed and looked at my darling husband by my side. He was still deep in sleep. Ah! My Night Owl! How could he miss the first sun rays and gentle Mediterranean breeze? As an hour passed by of pure nothingness, I was struck with joy….

An island with fortified walls and peculiar tall domes jotted throughout that region. I had never seen such a landscape before. “Yeh kaunsi nagari hai?

 Did I just wake up to a dream or gone back in time? I looked back into the room. Aditya was still fast asleep. I pinched myself, rubbed my eyes. No, it wasn’t Jules in wonderland….this was for real.

"Wake up Adi! Wake up Adi! We are here….this is MALTA"

I had never imagined to be like this. Infact, I had barely researched anything before this cruise holiday.
The MS Splendida slowly approached the city port, dotted with colourful doors.


“Lets go! Lets go!” We got ready in a jiffy and greeted Adi’s parents who participated equally in our enthusiasm.

Malta, a small country of only 316 sq. km. and 5 lakh people, what treasures did it hold? It was our last stop on a week long cruise holiday. The place seemed so efficient and welcoming with a picturesque shopping plaza at the Valletta, Grand Harbour and fleet of public transport.

We joked as our taxi driver proudly showed us the President’s residence and the gardens adjoining them. The gardens would be the size of any local park in England. We could cover this place in a day! Much to the agony of our male members of our family, our driver, drove us to their glass and ceramic factories which was an ex-Military habitat converted into a Crafts Village. “Look at our indigenous handicrafts Sir”, he remarked. "Commission times", my father in law chuckled.


My mum in law refused to come out of the massive showroom as she admired each and every exquisite piece. (Ladies, see it to believe it) Even I pleaded with her to leave as we had other sights to see.

“Only an hour please”, as we approached the gates of Mdina town. All of us made a face as what stood before our eyes was a priceless experience…the Silent City, only meant for pedestrians. It enticed us by its classic magnificent gate and a draw bridge which lay on a moat. A hamlet and a city in itself with its golden walls overlooking the sea. The original capital of Malta. Its narrow lanes and cobbled streets transported you back to the medieval era.  Where the knights marched and maidens sold fruits in baskets and children wiggled into w­­­­­­­­ooden doors all painted in blues, reds, yellows and greens.

I touched the walls of this city wanting to feel a piece of history. This was straight out of fairy tale.

As the evening approached and the winter light started diminishing, it was time to sail away with MSC Splendia's
Conte parito....Goodbye Malta (Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli)

As I stood still watching Malta fading into the horizon, leaving the magnificent silhouettes into the purple sky, I actually revered the pride of the taxi driver. His ancestors had stood test of time. How a small island had fought to kept its pride, how it had evolved with various Catholic and Arab rulers. Their architecture, food and even language was an amalgamation of all the rulers. The islanders had built incredible resistance during World War II and served as a reliable British naval base.



Malta is perhaps a great example how a small island nation had evolved over centuries of influence from mighty outsiders and the incredible resilience by its people despite all the changes it faced. 

Much like its strong fortified walls.  









Saturday, 25 February 2017

One Decade, Split into Two. The Journey So far.

It feels like yesterday when I turned 21.( Hmmm..maybe not really) Naïve, hard-working, dreamy-eyed perhaps like any other person at that age. Full of ideals, idols and beans.

How life has changed since! I am still that hard-working and dreamy-eyed girl. Although, not that naïve any longer. My one grey hair can certainly vouch for that! The 20’s have certainly broken the rose tinted glasses. Heartbreaks, Adversity, Anxiety, Disappointments (not just from the boys), Depression and Letting go.

I have battled them all and I will battle them again.

Just, a little stronger this time nonetheless wiser.

There I was at 21, standing in front of the prestigious buildings in the business districts in Mumbai with a simple wish to work there in my lifetime. Little did I know, that I will land up a placement in that very building within the next six months! Here I am at 29, walking across the bridge every morning, with the giant ferris wheel in the back-drop in one of the demanding cities in the world.

My twenties have been split into two. The first half in Bombay and second in London.

Do I love my present? Yes. And do I sneer at my Bombay self? No.

It wouldn’t have been possible without the other.

It is but One Decade, split into Two.

Bollywood nights and ice-cream + coffee lates,
Beer, Reds and Pimms dates.

Nerves with round rotis to dishing out fish moilees.

Boarding a crowded local to whizzing into tubes,
from Mum’s packed dabbas to sandwiches and Pret soups.

Putting on dancing heels to punching it out to kill,
playing with words and sometimes with art of quill.

Evenings by the Arabian to walks along the Thames,
thirst for the Monsoon to awaiting glimpses of sunshine.

First Day First Shows to Netflix overdose,
It is but One Decade, split into Two.

Attentive listening, making friends all over again,
winning colleagues.

Hacks to save money and ways to spend it.
Planning great trips, experiencing new customs,
and recognising that people all over the world are but the same.

Knowing immediate ways to get drunk and curing hangovers.
Being fed breakfast fruit (Dad, who else!) to forgetting to feed your house plants (and eventually killing them)
Finding that perfect gift for someone and accepting you won’t get any in return.

Oh yes, and exams, countless hours of preparing for them, those horrendous nights
(Not really a night person, always studied during the day. But the night gives an extra touch)

And after all those certificates and degrees, acknowledging the bittersweet test called Life itself!

Farewell My twenties, Adieu!
It is but One Decade, split into Two.

(Still learning : Wearing makeup, taking a selfie and to Swim)




Sunday, 7 August 2016

Time Stops at Konshi

‘Shutting down’ sign blinked on the screen as I swung my handbag on my shoulder. I ran down from the stairs of my office building, straight to the Embankment station ignoring the lovely gardens in full bloom. ‘Not today’, I waved off to the mighty Thames. I managed my way dodging people on the escalators in the underground. A right, a left, a squeeze, manoeuvring my way between stations. I laughed at my silly three year old Londoner self. Travelling through the massive network seemed so daunting then and here I was ticking off the boxes. London is slowly becoming home.

I have two homes. Well, rather three. It was almost two years since I visited Mera Bharat Mahan and four since I witnessed the Monsoon. So, we packed our bags for some family time.

Yes, the travel bug had almost caught us until reality of adult world said, "Slow down, you need to certain aspects of your life sorted. Well, that’s what saner responsible people do.’’ So began our search for a new beginning, a place of our own in London which drained us physically and mentally. (I will narrate the drama over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, whichever you prefer). We were proud London home owners finally and then began the next phase of settling in (and we are still at it).

The chaotic traffic, the aroma filled streets, the ugly buildings grabbing every inch of the city.
Ah! Mumbai. Pune and Mumbai are special places. They are your siblings with whom you have a fight with and yet return.

But there are certain places which are close to your heart. You may not frequent them anymore but something about them makes you smile whichever corner of the world you may reside. There is no 'natak' or an 'air' but you are guaranteed only affection whenever your eyes meet.

We set off together to that special place  - Konshi which perhaps doesn’t mean anything on the global map but has made my childhood memorable. My maternal grandmother’s ancestral village. I had made my last visit 7-8 years ago.

When, I first visited it as a twelve year old on a red dirt road, the place seemed mystical, perfect for a little adventure. The palm and betel nut tree orchard encloses­­­­­ the family home on one side and the hilly terrain of cashew nut orchards to the other. So how do reach ‘Janaki Niwas’ you ask?  One has to cross a sluggish stream full of boulders and then make a way through the tall palms. Few little hops and you are then greeted by gentle brook and all the warm, lovely people of ‘Janaki Niwas’.

This is where one learned that rubbing coconut oil on one’s feet was an excellent insect repellent for that walk in the ‘Kaji’ (Cashew nut orchards). Not to forget the remedies for chasing away all the ghouls if you found one on your way in the forest beyond. Porcupine needles and old snake skins were treasured. One ate a ripe juicy guava by jumping a little high to fetch it and bathed all afternoons in the brook. Twitching your nose to the cow dung cleansing ritual you could scoot of to admire all different varieties of ‘Jaswand’ in the garden. One could spend the day helping around making ‘kokum’ or perhaps bugging your older cousins (actually, uncles) to take you for a swim. One never cared if one was best dressed in the summer as you proudly wore the dirt marks on your chest (a soiled shirt).

Evenings were a trek to the waterfall in the woods or climbing on the slippery black boulder. One could eat all the ‘Gare’ in the world and slurp the ‘Shevaya and Ras’ to the hearts content. A place where you witnessed the birth of a calf and climbed up the attic when you were upto some mischief.

So much and more.


As the rain poured, I once again realised what it meant to have wet muddy feet. A new place always holds promises and brings out a thirst for adventure. The people, the food, the exciting sights, you can’t have enough of it at all. But Konshi never failed and don’t think it ever will as I looked at my nephew (actually, a cousin…lol) with admiration. He is the one who led us through the narrow path to his home this time. Just aged four. Time does stop at Konshi.

P:S: With lots of love to Subhash Ajoba and Sunila Aaji. Thank you for giving us the best memories of our life.

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

La Dolce Vita : Eating in Europe's food heaven



We work for the sake of the stomach.

Ah! Surely, we do and what better way to celebrate the love for food and wine than to visit Europe’s food heaven: Eat-at-ly!!

The country whose signature dish has made its stamp in all corners of the world. Yes, Pizza features as a default weekend staple in our diet. Of course, they have been modified to suit variety of palettes. (Gathiya Pizza and coconut pizza sure sound scary)

The aim was to be in land of Pizzas. For a purist it would be to flight to Naples but we decided to venture to Rome first on this holiday. Italian cuisine takes pride in regional cooking much like Indian. Would a Marathi mulgi accept a gujarati style puran-poli? No. Would macher-jhol pass-off as a machi-kalwan for a Bengali? That would be a heinous crime. In the same manner, a person from Northern Italy would vouch for a risotto infused with saffron whereas a southerner will be delighted by fish.
Meatlious

The Italians take immense pride in their food and prefer food served from scratch and use the best seasonal produce. Now, my Indian friends reading this would rather find it strange….obvious isn’t it? A key to good food? Well, spend some time in London my dearies and you would understand the moolah you pay for the food and quality you are served are not always proportional.
In a market in Rome

Now coming back to expeditions.

After a tiring morning at the Vatican, our stomachs were growling at 3pm and the restaurants were closing their kitchens for lunch. We tried our luck at Tony and Dino’s Hosteria. They were closed for the day but the friendly owners took pity on us. 

‘’Pasta?? Pasta?? Ok??’’, said the pot bellied chef. ‘’Anything could do my friend’, we gave a casual nod. "  An Osteria is focused on simple food of the region, often having no written menu much like aapli khanaval. Perhaps, that is what you need on a vacation. Not caring enough about the decision to order food but being guaranteed a delightful plate in front of you! 
I will get you my specials, red or white, what will you prefer.’’ We just gave a sheepish thumbs up.

Dino and Tony did deliver their promise, two sorts of simple pasta cooked al-dente was the most joyous experiences of the day. (Next to the Sistine Chapel, perhaps) As our hunger pangs cooled down, we were presented with a plateful of desert. Tiramisu, tiny biscuits, panna cotta and Expresso con panna….burrrrppp. All for £20.

Each day in Italy was an experience or rather we made sure that we visited a good place. Life is too short for a bad spaghetti. Also, Italians have their meals in courses. So after antipasti, comes first course of pasta, followed by main course of meat or fish and to be ended with a desert and a coffee.
Needless to say, most of them are accompanied by a glass of wine. Walking the sunny by-lanes of Rome licking a creamy gelato was an everyday feature and a cheese and ham panini bursting with flavours was just right for lunch. 



Imagine waiting by the river Arno watching the sun-kissed waters at dusk only for Ristorante Pane e Vino to open its door at 7.30 p.m. (Oh, yes we are shameless gluttons) We broke the unsalted Tuscan bread (they seemed to serve bread in little brown paper bags here) as we were enchanted by the wooden beamed ceiling high courtyard. By the time we finished our anti-pasti (Fried balls of cod 'with tomato soup, sweet garlic sauce = me) and first course we were too full for the mains.
Of course, we did have the space for the desserts.

Whereas on the other night, we walked across the town for Il Teatro del Sale, another recommended restaurant only to be disappointed that it was closed for an event. We looked around and decided to queue up where the crowds seem to be waiting : Cibereo Trattoria. The manager encouraged us to share our table with another older couple who had flown down from New York. 

Needless to say, as the wine flowed, we had an engaging conversation with the couple about three things we love: food, travel and India. (yes, the lady was of Indian origins)

We exchanged top tips and notes as we relished the rustic chicken liver pate and sumptuous rabbit stuffed with chicken and pork. 

I could possibly go on and on about every single meal I had during my stay in Italy. Be it the humble bread at an old bakery at the Jewish quarter in Rome, the larger than life Florentine steak or the joys of finest wines in the world….. well Italy, never failed us.

I don’t know if we eat to live or we live to eat. 

But as Italians say : La Dolce Vita ( The Life is sweet). Especially in Italy.
Vineyards of Chianti