Times, things and tastes change but this one’s from the ’90s. Many of these cherised spots have long been put to rest, some survive. A toast to all of them!
“I am a junkie.”
How many people you know will readily admit to that? Well, I do. I have a food fetish and if you too think of your salary every time you see moongphali, have a cast iron stomach and are the enterprising kind, this piece is dedicated to you. Or you can stick to your home-cooked DBRS (daal, bhaat, roti, subzi) and be happy, though dreadfully dreary.
It being July and the monsoons, have you been to Café Naaz near the Hanging Gardens? Drink a beer in a light drizzle while you languidly gaze at Bombay from the terrace. Or in a sudden burst of inspiration, grab a tissue and compose poetry. Lord! If mere thoughts can make me go near-beserk, imagine what would actually being there do? All this, for a cover charge of just five rupees!
If it’s really pouring, check out Gallops at the Mahalaxmi Race Course and have the spicy chilli-cheese toast and a cold coffee with ice cream, as you take in sheets of rain blinding your view of the verdant expanse, or make conversation with your companion du jour. Or head for Samovar at the Jehangir Art Gallery, which overlooks the vast gardens of the Museum, for their stuffed parathas with pudhina raita and chutney.
And if fish is not temporarily off your menu, Mahesh Lunch Home at Fort is your goal. You have a drink – or three – of course, but the real reason you’re there is for the steaming, succulent tandoori pomfret (or three!). Nothing like it. Or the the aloo chaat at The Silver Plate at Hotel Diplomat (behind The Taj), served complimentary with the drinks. Both courteously provide forks, but avoid, what are hands for? To borrow Col Sanders’ line, “it’s finger lickin’ good.”
Then there’s Café Mondegar of the decrepit jukebox and chilled draft beer fame on Colaba Causeway. For only a buck, you get Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini or Cocaine. Or Leopold, whose chicken tikka at 44 rupees a plate can’t be beaten. It’s probably the best known café among the seedier firangs on Bombay’s streets – and I believe is listed in the ‘must visit’ section of their tourist brochures. Whether it’s for the food or the ‘other attractions’ upstairs, I wouldn’t know.
There’s also Anand Ashram, located down a non-descript lane in Girgaum, for Malvani food. You wait in line for your turn and when it comes, you get to sit on your own small, private table. The solkadhi they serve is a digestive for their shellfish and the owners’ surliness. At Ballard Estate is Britannia, for Parsi patra ni macchi and awesomely authentic berry pulao, and George Restaurant opposite Horniman Circle for its biryani with pickles and onion on the side.
You know KC College? Well, just opposite, on the footpath outside the SOTC office is this guy and his cart with chhole-bhature. Or there’s the sukha (and teekha) bhel-wallah outside St Xavier’s College. There’s also Solly, who runs a pav bhaaji stall outside the Lop Stop at Haji Ali Circle. He’s lesser known then Sardar’s at Tardeo, but probably better tasting, especially when accompanied with garlic papad. There’s RR Plantain Leaf Andhra Restaurant at Navjivan Society, guaranteed to set your taste buds aflame but not leave you cold when faced with the bill.
If you’re at Dadar Station on the Central side, at an unearthly hour and your tummy’s rumbling, there’s a guy on a cart who makes egg-bhurji, with a chai-wallah situated next door to dip your pao in.
Now I’m not religious – I can identify more with Bakasura than Bajrang Bali – but I’m ay Babulnath pretty often. Close to The Bombay International School is this dosa-wallah, known for the way he flips the dosa onto your plate and his mmm-Mysore masala. If your’e at Little Gibbs Road, try this bhel puri-wallah who is the only one who doesn’t complain when you flick a few more puris to munch on while you wait. Whereas others invariably moan about the cost of each bite, he’s only too glad when you nibble for free, and that’s not only because he knows me!
Worli Sea Face, I know, can get crowded in the evenings. But near the entrance to the dairy is a Mafco booth, besides which are two sandwich-wallahs. The one closer to the booth has the most delectable toasted veg sandwiches, garnished with butter, sauce, chutney, masala and coal dust this side of Bombay 400016.
You might remember the now defunct Pastry Palace on Napeansea Road. In its place stands Papa’s, with new décor. But you still get the same chicken roomali, albeit at Rs.18 now, with the special mint chuntney. Bachelor’s on Chowpatty Seaface has strawberries with cream. And strawberries with cream and cream. And strawberries with cream and cream and cream… You get the idea? A parking spot there is harder to get!
So, gourmand, “bhukkad”, “haurat”, call me what you will. I say if you’re still reading without salivating, you’re probably impotent. In your tastebuds.
The cock crows. Jassi awakens. The alarm rings, Simi arises. Without either spouse, they sleep alone at night. His is no more, her’s abroad. Away is away, whether permanently or temporarily, right?
He gets the sigri going to make himself some chai. She beckons the maid for her morning cuppa. He hitches his lungi and trudges to the milk booth for a plastic mug-full of the wholesome white stuff, while on the other side of the tracks, she changes into her Reeboks for her morning walk. Breakfast for him is poha, for her, pancakes.
At eight o’clock, with the city ready to rock, he nestles one child under his arm, takes the other by the hand and places them on the charpoy outside his hovel. He lights a bidi and watches the trains carrying commuters to work. The start of an arduous day. She summons her chauffeur, “upar aao, gaadi bahar nikalo” and sends her maid off to the supermarket. It’s a long shopping list, what with the party tonight. Perhaps the houseboy and the driver alone won’t suffice to carry all those bags, they might need to ask for a delivery boy as well.
By nine, he gets restless. Packs off his younger child to the neighbours’ for them to mind. So what if they’ve got six of their own, they all work, don’t they? The older one, all of five years old, takes along an old cycle tyre rim and a rod to play with among assorted garbage, a few fowl and a couple of loitering strays, as Jassi picks up a grimy old sack and is off to work, collecting scraps from rubbish dumps to resell. Simi gets ready for her day ahead, as well. But women like her must look nice before they step outside. So she heads for the salon, where while getting coiffed and manicured, she explains how she and her husband lead too hectic a life to find the time for children.
Before you know it, it’s lunch. Maybe a couple of sukha rotis with pickle for him (lime, for a change) – that much is still affordable. If he’s lucky and makes it to the where the subzi-wallah is clearing week-old vegetables, add some bhaaji. Oh, her lunch is simple, too. Some steamed broccoli and cottage cheese. After all, nightly binges do take their toll.
As the sun bears down, Jassi settles down under the superstructure of an upcoming flyover. Flies mill all over and crows hanker and scrape, but at least there’s shade. And he improves his vocabulary with every swearword directed at the heat, dust and traffic as cars swerve past.
Simi, in the meanwhile, has had to use those very same words (albeit in English, of course, and delivered in a sophisticated accent), while explaining to her cook what needs to be done for the night. She’s ensconsed in her air-conditioned room, talking to her friend on the phone – it is so hard finding good domestic help nowadays.
They both labour through the rest of the day. He’s found a few metal cans, some cardboard containers. She’s helped unpack a couple of cartons and open a few tins of foodstuff. Night falls. He impatiently smacks one child to sleep because he refuses to stop crying. The damn kid thinks he’s hungry? Look at his father, he’s been hungry 30 years! She scolds her poodle who’s been naughty by clambering onto the sofas before the last of the guests have left.
He’s tired, she’s tired. He opens his bottle of hooch, lights another bidi and gazes up at the moon and stars above. She pours herself a cognac, lights her Cartier and looks down at the world from her duplex. They both ponder awhile. Jassi, that it’s a dog’s life, Simi as to why wretched s.o.b.’s like him have to spoil the fair face of this city in the first place.
One’s a faceless entity, a no-namer in a crowd of millions who don’t matter. The other, a DINK, a yuppie, call her what you will, but call her you must ‘coz she thinks she’s a personality, one of the elite. They fall asleep and they dream their own dreams. He, Jassi – Just A StatiStIc and she, Simi – Socially Influential, Moneyed Individual.
C’est la vie. Another day in paradise. Yeh hai Bambai meri jaan. Que sera sera. Who gives a damn anyways?