june

Summer 2012 begins today in New York, officially. Last June I was in India, enjoying the company of my family, friends and summer fruits. It’ll be hard for this June to match up! Here are some pictures from my Mumbai trip, that I hadn’t posted. ♫♫♫

Yazdani Bakery

Powai

Kala Ghoda Cafe

Fab India, Kala Ghoda

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue

Around Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

Moti Mansion

And this is how today looks like here in New York. It’s alright, but I would rather be back in Mumbai :-)

Happy Summer Solstice!

renew

I’ve been in a reflective mood these past few days. May be it was the realization that it’s already December and another year is almost over. Or it could be the two days that I spent all by myself on several planes and airports on my way to India. Sometimes, it is relaxing to be amidst strangers. There is no need to talk to anyone and you are not plagued by any expectations, self-imposed or otherwise. I don’t mean to imply that it is taxing to spend time with friends. But every once in a while, it is mentally rejuvenating to be alone, even if it is on a random airport, in a new country, surrounded by weary travelers.

My last few weeks in New York were very tiring and cluttered. Coming home to your family after that makes you realize that all is, in fact, well with your world. It’s amazing what a bit of pampering and time with your parents can do to a worn out soul. So, in my meditative streak, I have made a few resolutions for the new year.

I have never been the sort of person who has professional goals or lofty dreams of doing something big and important. I like the little things in life. So, all I want is to make my life simpler and more balanced. For me that involves, correcting my sleep schedule (which has been jet-lagged forever!), getting more organized about work (no more last-minute madness!) and spending less time online.

I have also been thinking about the good things that came my way this year.

I made some really amazing new friends and now, I can’t imagine life without them (hopefully, all of you know who you are..if not, just ask!).

After dreaming about it forever, I finally visited Bombay for the first time.

(Haji Ali)

(Victoria Terminus)

(Leopold Cafe)

I took an amazing trip to Peru.

(Cusco)

(Ollantaytambo)

(Machu Picchu)

(Cusco from Sacsayhuamán)

I had the most amazing 30th birthday ever…full of cupcakes, Occupy Wall Street, dancing, dinners and pointy hats!

But most importantly, I am really glad to have a beautiful mom who will cook whatever I want to eat, who taught me (among many other things) how to make homemade paneer and who even remembers to buy the shampoo I use before I come home!

…My really tall and handsome brother who bought extra fire crackers this Diwali, since I haven’t been home for the festival in more than 6 years, so that I can light them when I visit in December!

(anaar)

(firki)

(fuljhadi)

…And, of course, my nutty father who refuses to learn how to use a cellphone, still wonders how electricity is transferred through wires and while walking on the terrace, thinks about where he would fall off if gravity stopped working!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, everyone!  :-)

Next up: How to make gajar ka halvah!

crawford market, mumbai

If you like visiting crowded markets and subzi mandis as much as I do, you should definitely go to the Crawford Market in Mumbai. It is officially known as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market and is located opposite the Mumbai Police headquarters, near the JJ School of Art. It’s an indoor market and the building that houses it was completed in 1869. It was designed by a British architect, William Emerson. But, the frieze on the exterior was designed by Rudyard Kipling’s father, Lockwood Kipling. According to Wikipedia, this building was the first in India to be lit up by electricity in 1882. I went there on a rainy day and so, couldn’t manage to click a picture of the façade.

On my way there, I came across these fresh dates! Aren’t the colors just amazing? I had never seen fresh dates before this and was suitably excited. :-)

Inside, the market is nothing short of a very complicated maze. There are lanes and lanes full of shops, overflowing with stuff. There’s hardly any natural light, so the place is lit up with bright tube-lights.

There are several vegetable and fruit vendors, meat and poultry stalls, utensil shops, specialty dry fruit stores etc. etc. Basically, you can find almost every kind of food and grocery item there.

All the shop keepers were very excited about me clicking their pictures. They thought I was a student from the neighboring JJ School and was working on some sort of art project..ha ha!

I didn’t buy much, other than a stainless steel idli mould. And it was so much cheaper than elsewhere! I was hoping to find an uruli as well, but no such luck.

On my way out, I couldn’t help but click another picture of the fresh dates, along with some pomegranates this time! Also notice the litchis on the top-left corner. Indian summer fruits are so yummy!

I had also heard about mirchi gali (chilli lane) being in the neighborhood, so armed with my map, I decided to look for it. Even though it was raining cats and dogs, the prospect of seeing a 100-yr old narrow alley full of shops selling all kinds of chillies was motivation enough! I did manage to find it, but sadly, there aren’t too many of those shops left anymore! May be it was the rain, but mirchi gali didn’t turn out to be as exciting as I had imagined it to be.

But before I left, I bought a very cool canvas shopping bag from one of the street vendors outside mirchi gali for Rs. 40. How cheap is that!!!

cafe britannia and other tales

Even though it’s quite important to fantasize and dream away to glory, it is equally important to do a reality-check once in a while. So, in that spirit, here’s my dose of reality for the day:

:-) Moving on, if you fall in any of those two categories above, you already know that I went to Mumbai this summer and had a really nice cocktail at a really nice bar. Thankfully, that’s not all I did! It was my first visit to the maximum city. But it didn’t feel like one. Anyone who has lived in India knows that Bombay, unconsciously, becomes a part of your life. And this happens mostly through Bollywood. Words like Andheri, Dadar, Malad, Khandala, Chowpatty, Bandra, Mahalakshmi become quite familiar even if you’ve never stepped foot in Mumbai. There’s no other Indian city whose geography, society, economics, culture and politics are as well-known all over the country.

So, when I landed in Mumbai, I was not some clueless tourist visiting a new city. Although, these days it’s never really possible to truly experience a ‘new’ city given all the internet research we end up doing before we go someplace new.  But, there is something to be said about the difference between visiting places that you are just informed about versus places you ‘sort of know’. Even if both are virtual, the Leopold Cafe you read about in a Lonely Planet guidebook is not the same as the one you know from ‘Shantaram‘. It’s like watching a movie whose review you’ve already heard versus watching one based on a book that you’ve read. I knew not just the plot and actors of Mumbai, but its story and characters.

During my visit, I stayed with S (of the Harbor Bar fame) in Powai, the Morningside Heights of Bombay. Everything there seems to be owned by the Hiranandanis, but it’s still nice with the IIT campus et al.

I had gone prepared with a huge list of things-to-do and places-to-eat-at, but sadly S fell ill with viral fever soon after I landed. We did manage to visit Poona for a day before that, but then, I spent quite some time either at home or roaming around by myself. I was so-so excited when we finally went out together on a Saturday! We took the local train from Kanjurmarg station. But since I was concentrating on chit-chatting with the police-women, we ended up boarding the wrong compartment in the wrong train. Nothing too worrisome, we just got off at the next stop, Bhandup (what a cute name!) and took the right one.

Bombay local trains are a lot of fun. Mostly. They are like the NYC subway: old, dirty, crowded, but cheap and reliable. During the rush hour, the crowd can make you feel like a fly in the middle of a tornado. But at other times, e.g. when you say ‘Sutta na aahe, boss!’ to the person at the ticket counter, they can be quite nice!

We had set out to eat lunch with an old college friend, D at Cafe Britannia (read their story here). It’s an old Parsi restaurant (founded in 1923) in the mostly-businessy Ballard Estate area. The neighborhood is old, beautiful, charming and not-at-all crowded if you go over the weekend. We had reached earlier than anticipated, and they only seat you when your entire party has arrived, so we just killed time clicking pictures. Both Boman Kohinoor and his son, Afshin are adorable!

But, we had not eaten breakfast and were quite hungry. So, until D arrived, we decided to spend time at the neighboring south Indian café, National Hindu Restaurant. It’s like an old-school coffee-house where you can leisurely spend hours gossiping, reading the newspaper, just watching the world pass by. I could grow old in such a place.

Having promised ourselves that we won’t fill our stomachs, we had coffee, lassi and shared a plate of idli-sambar. One of the most painful things in life is being unable to eat properly despite the food being delicious and you being hungry, only because you also want to eat another delicious meal in the next 30 minutes. We managed, somehow.

Finally, it was time for our reservation at Cafe Britannia, but D was stuck in traffic. We, nevertheless, left National Hindu Restaurant. When we reached, Mr. Afshin very sweetly inquired why we were ‘alone’ and didn’t have any boy-friends with us. Ha ha, how cute! We sat right next to the entrance and whiled away time clicking some more pictures and pretending to read each and every word on the menu.

Then, we ordered the famous Chicken-berry pulao, vegetable dhansak and fresh lime sodas. The pulao was very, very good. Dhansak and the sodas were just okay. We would have enjoyed the pulao way more had we not just almost-filled out stomachs. We ate at a terribly slow pace while waiting and waiting for D to arrive.

The line outside Cafe Britannia was getting longer, so we were glad when D finally made it. Sadly, she is a vegetarian, so she couldn’t enjoy the tastier bit of the meal. She is not too fond of dhansak either, so we quickly wrapped up and left. On our way out, Mr. Afshin gently reminded us to bring boyfriends along when we came next.

But D had still not eaten a proper lunch, so guess where we went?

The other good thing about places like the National Hindu Restaurant is that they don’t need reservations. So, within an hour of leaving our table, we were back and ordered another set of coffees and idli-sambar. Plenty of Bombay gossip was exchanged, more rounds of coffee were ordered, new pictures were clicked. We ended up spending another hour or so there before heading out for the Fort area. The evening would be spent shopping, visiting the Gateway, riding the ferry and drinking a cocktail. But before all that happened, this was already an afternoon well-spent.

from the harbor since 1933

This is the story of a cocktail. Once upon a time in Mumbai, two girlfriends visited the Harbor Bar at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It was a Friday afternoon and barring a few men, the bar was mostly empty. “May be it’s too early for a drink”, they thought. A cute, middle-aged man, named T. Mistry greeted them with a cheerful smile and made them sit next to a window overlooking the Gateway of India. “They should’ve built the bar on the first floor”, the girls discussed. After all, who would want their lovely view of the rain and the ocean blocked by Mumbai Police and the atrocious traffic?

Anyhow. Soon, Mr. T. Mistry came back and instead of taking their order, suggested they try the Bar’s signature cocktail. “It’s called ‘From the Harbor Since 1933′ and we flambé it right at the table”, he said. He asked them not to be shy in telling him if they dislike the drink. In which case, he would be more than happy to replace it. “Do we look that silly?”, the girls wondered. It was an expensive drink. Seven hundred and fifty rupees to be precise. But having lived in the US, they took comfort in the oft-abused-trick of converting the rupee-price into dollars. Of course, it didn’t seem that expensive then. “Alright, Mr. Mistry. We’ll both have your signature cocktail!”.

Next came a cart with two wine glasses, both filled with sliced fruits and gin and perched at an angle over tiny tea-lamps. Another glass contained some freshly squeezed fruit juice mixed with ice. Mr. Mistry shook the juice in a cocktail-shaker and poured it into yet another glass. Then, very carefully, he set the alcohol in the wine glass on fire and gently poured that burning liquid into the frothy fruit juice. A last stir and the drink was ready.

The first sip was wonderfully light, frothy and peachy with a hint of bitterness. It was the perfect-first-sip for a summer cocktail. Mr. Mistry waited to see their reaction. Upon hearing that a replacement would not be necessary, he said, “I am so glad you like it, dear”, and left the girls alone with their drink.

All great bartenders are excellent performers. They mix, shake and stir a cocktail with such panache, giving it a character that’s not captured by taste alone. Mr. Mistry, besides flambéing the drink gracefully, also recounted the story behind it in an equally mesmerizing way. In 1933, an American fellow was traveling via the Indian Ocean and his yacht was docked at the Bombay harbor. He received a phone-call from his wife who told him about the end of Prohibition in America. He badly wanted a celebratory drink, but there were no glasses in his yacht. Disappointed, he looked outside the window and caught a glimpse of the palatial Taj Mahal Hotel. He entered the Harbor Bar and asked the bartender to make a drink that would “quench his thirst from the last thirteen years”. The first sip of the cocktail blew him away and he wanted to know its name. The bartender smiled and said, “Sir, since it’s such a happy day for you, why don’t you name it?” The American stood up on a bar stool, raised his glass and shouted out, “From the Harbor Since 1933!”

The girls were lost in a quiet conversation. Like a teenage crush, the cocktail lost a bit of its initial charm once the foam subsided. But the story behind it, told so beautifully by Mr. Mistry, along with the increasingly less-crowded view because of the rain, made it much more than worthwhile.