Friday, April 26, 2019

Life on the slow track - ‘Chaha’ at an Amruttulya

Chaha’ at an Amruttulya 
Tulshi baug, in Pune has been a Waada (neighbourhood) with a recorded history and inhabited since the 1700’s if not earlier. In the earlier centuries it was far from the overcrowded, chaotic, busy market place that it is today. 
Naro Appaji Khire Tulshibaugwale (1700-1775), the Subedar of Pune during the Peshwa rule built an ornately sculpted Ram temple in his sprawling estate which was completed in 1795, in this neighbourhood which would later be known as Tulshibaug.  Over the next 200 years civilization would thrive  nurturing trade, arts and culture in what would later be ascribed as the Puneri culture, from the times of the Peshwas. 
In those times the neighbouring metropolis of Mumbai was still an amalgamation of islands reclaimed from the sea and its dockyard was yet to become the thriving trade center that it would become in the following century. It would take a couple of days via horse drawn carts to traverse the hills and forests of the western Ghats past the forts to reach the islands of Mumbai.  

It was Pune and not Mumbai that was the power center from where the Peshwas and the Maratha’s ruled.  The British loved its ‘almost European’ weather which was a great relief from the humidity of the sea shores of Mumbai’s islands. They set their base in the cantonment area in Pune.   Up until the 1980’s one could spot raspberry trees perhaps brought in from England and planted and nurtured by the memsahibs who lived in and around what is the 509 - Airforce area in today's Pune.     
In the early 1900s, Pune was a Marathi heartland with a minority population of Iranis, Parsis and Gujaratis who migrated to set up small businesses in the city.  By the middle of the century, after India’s independence it became the hub of automobile manufacturing industries.  The TELCO now known as Tata Motors set up its automobile manufacturing plant and gave rise to many other ancillary auto industries. It was not until the late nineties and early 2000’s that the information technology industry discovered the potential in Pune and set up shops housing the back-office operations and software development of companies based out of the west.  
Until then Marathi was the predominantly spoken language in Pune. Hindi, arguably the national language of India was still a foreign language to many Punekars.
Despite the influx of migrants into the newer areas of Pune, there are some neighbourhoods that still retain the Maharashtrian and old Pune charm.  The Peth’s and Wada’s of Pune are a reminder of a good times when this place thrived and which held its own identity and nurtured its own culture. They had their own distinct style in architecture, music, dance, theatre, performing arts and that mouth watering, subtly flavored distinct Maharashtrian cuisine.
For atleast the last three generations if not more, Tulshi baug, in old Pune has been a paradise for female shoppers of all ages and times. Unlike now when you will need to park your car somewhere far away in available parking spaces and take an autorickshaw that will take you to the periphery of Tulshibaug, you could walk it up to visit the famous Dagdu Sheth Ganpati temple and then meander into the by-lanes of Tulshibaug to shop for your trinkets, kitchen accessories,  wool to knit the next sweater for the nippy Pune winters or to weave a delicate crochet that transformed into ornate table cloths and wall hangings, much of which unleashed the creativity of the housewives of a generation gone by.   
In Tulshibaug nothing much has changed in all these years.  As you alight the autorickshaw at any of the approach roads to Tulshibaug and enter the narrow alleyways you will be bombarded into the same small shops that sell everything from trinkets, beads, woolen material, knitting needles, traditional woven sarees to modern dress materials.  The trends and fashion keep changing and coming back.  But the bric a brac in Tulshi baug caters to all the variety and times and therefore remains evergreen.
It is a bargaining haven and you will be pleased to have struck a deal for something that could cost you a bomb elsewhere in an upmarket boutique.  Only to discover the next shop offering you a bigger discount on the same earring or dress material that you bargained and bought a while ago.  On the road side hawkers set up their shops of freshly harvested vegetables from the nearby villages. Although the villages have now moved far away, with all that advent of steel and glass structures that house the offices of information technology development centers and back office shops of the world. They were the erstwhile villages and farm lands that grew vegetables and reared the cattle and poultry to cater to Pune city’s population.  
It is early afternoon and somewhere amidst the chaos and the crowds, rings the bells of Tulshi baug Ganpati.  Shoppers and hawkers suspend their activity and congregate towards the Tulshi baug Ganpati.  Situated right in the middle of the crowded shopping area is the Tulshi Baug Ganpati, one among the finest gems in Pune’s historical treasures.  Tulshi Baug Ganpati has been in existence long before Lokmanya Gangadhar Tilak, made the festival of Ganpati a public festival, to rally people to fight for social causes.  Established by the local traders in 1901, it is a display of faith within diversity among the Maharashtrian, Marwari, Gujarati, Muslim and Parsi traders of Tulshi Baug.  The idol is an imposing 15 feet in height, made of fiber glass and is on display throughout the year and not just during the eleven-day Ganeshotsav when all important neighbourhoods garner resources and manpower to erect their own pandal and install an idol that is a show of wealth, prosperity and solidarity of the neighbourhood.  
In Tulshi Baug every year a new idol is sculpted by the renowned sculptor D S Khataokar.
Khataokar has been responsible for sculpting as well as decorating the Tulshi Baug Ganesh idol for more than a couple of decades now.

Pious devotees and passersby  take turns to hold the brass lamp and circumambulate the lamp for a few minutes as a part of the ‘Arati ritual’ before handing over to the next person. It is a ten-minute ritual in which Traders, hawkers and the passersby alike, stop-by and participate.  
An ostentatious display of about 80 kilograms of silver along with fruit and flower garlands that are refreshed every day, the Tulshibaug Ganpati stands in a small 20 feet by 20 feet space in a crowded and busy marketplace as a pillar of prosperity for its inhabitants and visitors alike.
Around the corner is the famous Ganpati temple built by Dagdu Sheth Halwai, a local trader that has celebrated its 125th year of establishment. About 40 kilograms of gold ornaments adorn two idols of elephant god and are insured for 10 million (one crore) rupees.
Despite being situated in a maze which you can only reach through narrow alleyways, its construction is so minimalistic that you can view the idol from the main road as you pass by the temple on Laxmi road, the main thoroughfare surrounding the Dagdu Sheth Ganpati Mandir. 
Legend has it that Dagdu Sheth Gadve a trader who migrated to Pune in the 1800’s had set up a sweets shop (and hence the surname Halwai) in this place.  Bad times fell upon him and he lost his son to a plague epidemic and went into deep depression. This in turn led to a downfall in his business.  His spiritual mentor advised him to build a temple for Lord Ganesh to overcome the bad times. 
Apparently after he built the temple, his fortunes turned and the entire place attracted wealth and prosperity for him as well as the other traders around the area. It was here that the idea of celebrating public Ganesh festival struck Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. It proved to be an epoch-making event in Indian history as Ganeshotsav’s in the early 1900’s slowly rallied support against the British and culminated in the freedom movement leading to India’s independence from the British rule. 
Dagdu Sheth Ganpati Mandir trust is the richest trust in the state of Maharashtra and is known for the many celebrities who flock the temple during the annual eleven-day Ganeshotsav.
The vibes of the Pune of yester years is strong and vibrant around these places, and is a stark contrast to the sprawling concrete jungle of its more cosmopolitan suburbs.  A visit to Pune’s Peth areas is not complete without visiting an ‘Amruttulya’ outlet. Translated in English it could mean ‘Comparable to Nectar’, it is a great hit among those who have that cultivated taste for ‘Chaha’ the Puneri way.
At an Amruttulya outlet tea is not brewed but boiled. Buffalo’s milk, water, sugar, crushed ginger and cardamom along with tea leaves are boiled and continuously stirred in a brass vessel. The older the brass vessel, the more distinct is the flavor of the tea boiled from it. 
Often situated as a corner shop in busy intersections of crowded marketplaces, an Amruttulya outlet is a small hole in the wall with a corner that serves as the kitchen.  A shining brass kettle perched up a kerosene stove always has some tea boiling in it with crushed ginger, cardamom, tea leaves, milk and sugar.  It is poured out in a cup and a bashi (saucer) and served to the customer.  A true Puneri way of having your tea is to pour out hot tea from the cup, into the saucer, watch it cool and noisily sip it from the saucer. Noisier the better.
When at an Amruttulya outlet in Pune, do not judge someone’s etiquette by how their sip their ‘Chaha’. For the ‘Chaha’ is best sipped from the Bashi and not from cup.  

A middle-aged man dressed in an impeccable white kurta, pyjama and a white cotton Gandhi cap, after some routine haggling buys a bunch of lemon grass and ginger wrapped in a newspaper for ten rupees from the old woman clad in a nine yards saree who has set up her wares by to road side
outside the Amruttulya outlet. Like in most Maharashtrian households, his day would begin with a Gavati Chaha - strong tea, boiled and strongly flavoured with cuttings of lemon grass and crushed ginger along with a bowlful of Kanda poha seasoned with freshly grated coconut and finely chopped coriander leaves while reading the ‘Sakal’ newspaper.   Somewhere in the background Pune’s own Bhimsen Joshi would croon away a Vithal Bhajan that would set the atmosphere just right to begin yet another day in one of the few waadas left in old Pune. 

References :

Friday, April 19, 2019

Life on the slow track - BANANA BUNS IN UDUPI


It is about 1.30 in the afternoon and the town of Kollur is in a siesta.  A soothing silence and peace has engulfed this little town. Dark clouds that threaten a downpour anytime pass by peacefully as though they too are on an afternoon siesta. The temple around which the entire economy of this little town in built is closed until evening. The shopkeepers too are on a siesta.

 As you walk up to the Kollur bus station and sit inside the only bus that leaves for all places outside of kollur, including Udupi, you realize the driver is also having a siesta on the long front seat. The conductor is the only man on duty and he is out smoking a cigarette.  He is happy for the lone passenger to board his bus and quickly goes out to solicit more of them. Unfortunately, he does not find any.
It is a lovely window seat from where you get to view the lush green mountains and feel the slight nip in the moist air of Kollur.  

As the bus takes off you take in the hazy experience of watching the landscape. In about three to four hours the landscape drastically changes from the greenery of the mountains to the barrenness of the plains especially when the bus takes the fast route on that freshly built NH44.    
The freshly felled trees are an indication of the newly built National highway that pierces through this place would be expanded into an eight-lane highway.  On the yet to be expanded national highway are huge billboards advertising gold and diamond jewelry showrooms, newly found educational institutions guaranteeing 100% job placements and infertility clinics with 99.8% success rate of producing children for barren couples.

The traffic gets dense as the long vehicles from the Mangalore port, the trucks, the tourist buses and the plush cars whiz past at dizzying speeds.

 Travelling from Kollur by a bus, it is amazing to see the landscape of these coastal towns change rapidly as you move towards the plains.
As you close in to Udupi, the weather gets warm and humid. There is a saline tinge in the air. Your arrival into the town is evident as the traffic gets denser and the central part of Udupi town emerges. It is a noisy and busy bus station, quite a contrast to its quiet and quaint railway station.

The bus conductor calls out for passengers alighting at Udupi to hurry up. As you alight, the noise, the crowd, the chaos, the huge billboards of this not so small town hit you hard.  
Udupi Lord Krishna on whom many a composition has been composed and sung by Carnatic musicians is the reigning deity of this town. 

Udupi Sri Krishna temple around whom the entire town grew over the years is about ten minutes’ drive away from the bus station by an autorickshaw. The streets surrounding the temple are cordoned off for vehicular traffic.  

At the center of squarely built streets stands the Udupi Sri Krishna temple with an imposing but petite architecture.  Surrounding the temple on the wide pavemented streets are, various institutions run by various ‘Mutt’s who are headquartered in Udupi, one of the five important Krishna temples in India. 
The aesthetically appealing architecture, grandly lit facades and delicately designed wood work make these ‘Mutts’ stand out and should loud to say that once upon a time these institutions thrived in this temple town. This place is also a prestigious platform for performing artistes to showcase their art.   

In the olden days these mutt’s would offer shelter and food to devotees who travelled from afar. Before the roads were built and rail roads were laid, undertaking a travel must have been an arduous affair. Travel must have been more for pilgrimage purposes than as a family outing or a youthful adventure.
Depending upon your affiliation in your home town, you checked into a mutt that had its branch in Udupi.

Times have changed. The Mutt’s let out these rooms for a small amount. But not before checking your antecedents and affiliations of caste, sub-caste and religion. It is not a commercial affair and no one solicits business here. You get referred by someone who has been there or someone you knew from your home town.

One such mutt is the Uttaradi Mutt. An institution that has perhaps seen better days in the past.
A ‘China Bazaar’ shop selling cheap plastic items and fake Puma track suits for 200 rupees camouflages the entrance to the Uttaradi mutt.     However, as you enter the Mutt, a different aura engulfs you.  The front yard is decorated with  a Tulsi alcove. (Basil – shrub considered to be Sri Krishna’s consort). A woman renunciate, a Krishna devotee is arranging the flowers and the copper vessels at an unhurried pace perhaps getting it ready for the evening pooja ritual to the Tulsi Alcove.   Time seems to flow slowly and peacefully inside the Mutt.

Inside the Mutt is a big hall and on the altar is a huge brass sculpture of Sri Krishna, very tastefully decorated. On the first floor from where you can oversee the happening in the hall are the rooms available for rent. In the room you get freshly laundered bedsheets and pillows on the double bed and a spotlessly clean bathroom.  No frills like air conditioning, bottled mineral water or room service.  It is a place for devotee and pilgrims coming from faraway places to refresh and move on.
As you step out of Uttaradi Mutt, you witness that Opulence is in the air.  This is ‘Krishna’ land. A ‘darshan’ of the richly decorated idol of Udupi Shri Krishna is relayed to devotees through LED Televisions all around the temple as well as at the entrances on all four sides of the temple.   There are rituals performed six times during the day.

At the temple auditorium a young girl with two accompanying artistes, one on the harmonium and another on a tabla is performing a dance drama known as the Hari Katha. The Chairs in the auditorium are all taken and people are sitting and standing across the stone walls of the temple mesmerized by the performance.

Sraddha is probably in her late teens, hails from Kasargode another coastal town not far from Udupi. Her performance is awe-inspiring.  She wears absolutely no makeup, sans her bindi.  Her hair is nicely oiled and plaited into a single braid. Dressed in a blue long skirt (Lehenga) and red silk blouse, she is standing at the middle of the stage reciting the ‘Srinivasa kalyanam’.  The marriage of ‘Tirupati Venkatesha’ to his consort ‘Padmavati’ .  While the format traverses through the various avatars of Sri Vishnu, Rama and Krishna being two among them, the story telling is interspersed with teachings from the Bhagavata Puranam.   

Her recital is in Kannada, the local language and the compositions are by Purandaradasa, an eighteenth-century composer believed to be the earliest founder of Carnatic music. The story is that of Vishnu Avatar’s and Bhagavata Puranam.  
As she bursts into songs, stories and anecdotes while reciting the story her expressions, her tone and her demeanor change. On her right hand in a cymbal that she plays in order to keep the rhythm and add music to her recitals, she is accompanied by two men, much older to her, one on the harmonium and the other on a tabla. As the evening progresses, she intersperses her songs with recitals and adds a modern-day contemporary touch to it.  When she bursts into ‘Venkata chala Nilayam … vaikunta pura vasam’, the composition by Sri Purandaradasa describing, Sri Vishnu’s abode in ‘Vaikunta’, the audience is spell bound and the applause across the auditorium reaches high decibels. 
And yet she is an unknown, unsung artiste of an art form that has few takers at the wider level. As the performance draws to a close, the father of the young artiste is introduced.  The audience, mesmerized by her performance, put together their hands for a huge applause for nurturing this young talent.

A very shy and introverted Sraddha thanks the audience who have walked upto her for the compliment and moves closer to her father, while busying herself packing her backpack with her belongings as they wrap up the show.
Neither Sraddha, nor her father have plans for her to pursue this art form as a full-time career.  At that point in time they are just thankful for the Temple authorities to have given her a chance to perform at the Udupi Sri Krishna temple.

There must be many like Sraddha in small towns like Kasargode and beyond, whose talents will sadly never be recognized by the wider world. But it opens your eyes to the depth of talent and devotion to a less known art form that lies hidden in the hinterlands of India where a rich and ancient culture thrived and promoted story telling as an art form for many centuries over.

Udupi in the contemporary time is known for its iconic brand of restaurants all over India that symbolize the typical ‘south Indian’ food.  They do not exactly operate like a restaurant chain or franchise, but are eateries across all segments run by families who have their roots in the coastal Karnataka region ranging from Mangalore, Gokarna and Udupi.

Their unfailingly standardized recipes that originate from this region have come about to signify your typical South Indian cuisine in the far-flung regions of India.  Although the South Indian cuisine is much more than the standard fare of ‘Udupi’ Masala dosa and Ghee roast dished out with a slightly sweet sambar and coconut chutney.

Much lesser known among the Costal Karnataka delicacies is the Banana bun also known as the Mangalore Bun. It is a bun that is not baked but fried and makes for lovely snack. Slightly sweet in taste, it is made with overripe mashed banana, mixed with dough that has been fermented overnight. The Dough balls are then flattened and fried in oil. This slightly sweet snack is best savoured hot with a splattering of coconut chutney. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Raise that finger and show it to ‘em

It is that time when the citizen is the king.  When democracy comes alive and the mighty and powerful come down kneeling to ask to be voted to power.

Thanks to Election commission (and perhaps demonetization) , this year’s run-up to the elections is devoid of the massive fanfare that it used to be in the yesteryears.
Absence of those massive cut outs,  mid night political rallies, cash and spirits flowing like water in exchange of promised votes gives us some hope that sanity will prevail in this democracy atleast in the future.
Perhaps I am  being na├»ve... 
Perhaps there is a lot going on behind the screens or underground. 
Perhaps our politicians have evolved and have devised other jugaadu ways to hood wink the election commission…

But the change on the ground is visible.   

More than the rallying from the political parties, it is the rally from the election commission and the citizens urging everyone to go and cast their vote, that is worth taking note of.

For if we do not do our bit, we are equally responsible for the mess that our politicians create when voted to power.      

While Bangalore’s immigrant population has been vociferous about their missing votes, there are celebrities that are urging their fans to go out and cast their vote on twitter and facebook.   

Here is one such plea urging citizens to go and vote that was painted on the walls of a government primary school building in a village on the banks of Narmada river near Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh that had me in splits as I clicked ... 

Pehle vote daalne jaana...
Baad mey apni Bhains lagaana...

(Literal translation : The first thing on voting day – go cast your vote.  You can then take your buffaloes out to graze)

Hilarious as it sounded at first, on second thoughts I thought it had a universal appeal.

We all have our buffaloes that we need to take out to graze .  Metaphorically speaking.

It may not be the rural hinterlands on the banks of Narmada, but in the air-conditioned cubicles and cabins of those tall glass buildings that some of us take our buffaloes to graze’. 

But vote we must.  

And for that it is OK to take time off.

So without much ado… Go out there and vote

Raise that (index) finger and show it to ‘em

Friday, April 12, 2019

Life on the slow track - Appam and Stew aboard NH49

The grey overcast sky from the early morning has given way and with the advent of sunshine, the day looks bright and clear.  It is humid but not hot at this time of the day.
When on a road trip it is best to go with your instinct and eat at places that you have never heard of before. 

Aboard the NH49, is this mid-sized bill board hanging out by the road side which says ‘MDM … stew and palappam Rs. 5.’  

As you slow down, you see a small shop on the opposite side of the road that is trying hard to cater to a cross section of customers by advertising chinees (sic), north Indian, South Indian snacks.   

However, at that time in the morning, the man behind the oven is busy preparing the dough for the Malabar parotta (as different as chalk and cheese in genre, species and characteristics from the north Indian understanding of paratha).

All they have available at that time of the day is Appam and stew unless you are prepared to wait for about twenty minutes, says a woman’s voice from the kitchen.     

A slightly wobbly yellow plastic table surrounded by blue plastic chairs does not make for a great ambience, but the not so busy NH-49 cutting across the coconut groves and the fresh rays of early morning sunlight piercing through the dense greenery on the opposite side of the road is soothing for the eyes. Besides it is a good place to stretch your legs, breathe some cool fresh air before the day gets humid and have a leisurely breakfast.
The lady lays out a lemony yellow plastic plate and serves a fluffy white appam with bare hands. Along comes a hot bowl of stew and the fragrance of freshly culled out coconut milk spiced up with cloves, cinnamon and cardamom ensures you have made the right stop at the right time.  The spotlessly white appam is soft in the middle, which comes from mixing the dough with freshly fermented coconut milk.  

There are some dishes that cannot be mass manufactured in the restaurants with heavy foot fall.  This is one of them,

Served fresh and hot they taste as authentic as they can and come with what is called the ‘homely touch’.

MDM restaurant supplies its palappam and stew to the nearby hotels who stock it up in their buffet breakfast menu.  This road side kitchen survives on its bulk orders of Appam and stew from the nearby hotels claiming to serve ‘authentic local food’. That was the reason they had Appam and stew available in the early hours, ready to the shipped to the hotels in time for the display in the buffet breakfast menu.  

Light on the palate, slightly sweetened in taste by the coconut milk and mildly spiced up, vegetable stew is an authentic local dish of the Malabar coast line. 

‘Stew’ as the name of the recipe was perhaps was an inheritance from the British, who were familiar with the other stewed versions like the apple stew, lamb and lentil stew from Europe. 

The localized version is the ‘Ishtu’ as it is called by the locals. Its ingredients and recipe are certainly as local as it can get.  Cloves, cardamom, cashew and seasonal vegetables or mutton pieces slowly stewed (not cooked) in freshly extracted coconut milk. It was probably christened as the Malabar stew by the British almost a century ago.  The locals have adapted the nomenclature and pronounce it ‘ishtu’.
When you look around and search for the origins of this recipe, you can trace it down among the Srilankans and Tamils settled in the coastal district in Tuticorin and Nagapattinam.   In its Srilankan Sinhalese version the stew is known as ‘Sodhi’. This dish perhaps   originated from Sri lanka which has a similar terrain and flora like the Malabar coast. A vast coast line, abundant coconut trees, spices and locally grown vegetables and livestock evolved and mutated into a recipe that was adapted by the locals and the colonial rulers alike. 

In its Malabar version, it is best served with fluffy appam’s that are prepared with fermented lentils and rice dough mixed with tender coconut water and coconut milk extract. Best served hot and eaten in a traditional Kerala home or at a non-descript road side eatery along the national highways dotted across the Malabar coast.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Life on the slow track - Vada pao at Karjat Station

Aboard the train from Mumbai to Pune as the skyscrapers of the megapolis fade away and a more soothing weather permeates around you, you know you are approaching Karjat station.  

The ascent to the hill stations of Lonavala, khandala and Matheran start from here.  If it is the monsoons, the misty clouds would definitely float over the Karjat station.

Among long distance train goers, it has been a long-standing tradition to taste the Vada pao at karjat station irrespective of what has been packed into your lunch boxes for the long train journey.

There is a quaint old-world charm about the karjat station especially when you relive those memories as you bite into a soft and spicy Karjat Vada pao. 

Vada pao – is India’s rather Maharashtra’s answer to Americas Burger. However, to the Indian taste buds a burger and a Vada Pao are poles apart. At least the McDonald’s burger or the one from Burger king.  Attempts have been made to 'McDonaldize' Vada pao by some Neo MBA types with large funding from venture capitalists. Thankfully their attempts have not really taken off.
There is no comparison to a freshly made Vada pao. A ball of boiled potato mixed with boiled peas and spices, is fried with gram flour paste in oil like a fritter and inserted in between a layer of soft bun (pao).  Strictly that would be Vada and pao.  But the icing on the pao is the dark red garlic chutney and a fried green chilly that is inserted between the Vada and the pao.  The quality of the latter solely determines how mouthwatering your snack would be.

Best eaten hot and spicy, during a defeaning downpour, Vada pao evolved from being a staple food for the mill workers of Mumbai in the 1940s and 1950s.  It was a wholesome quick snack that you could grab and bite while on the go and satisfy your hunger pangs while on your way home.

Typically, Vada pao outlets are located at railway stations, bus stations and areas where there is a huge footfall of working-class population. Every college also has its reigning Vada pao vendor. 

Shiv sena, the local political party of Maharashtra patronized Vada-pao as a working-class snack. Over the years it became the official snack of the Mumbai megapolis. It is the ideal snack for a population that is always on the move.  The maximum city that never sleeps.

There is something about having a Vada pao at Karjat station. As you train stops by, you only need to look out and there would be a vendor with the customary ‘Diwadkar’ embroidered in a red band across his khaki shirt, wearing a white topi, waiting with a tray full of hot Vada and fresh pao with a vessel containing the dry garlic chutney.

For a mere ten rupees he could quickly dispense a Vada inserted in pao, smeared with the red chutney along with the fried green chilly on a newspaper wrapping to suit your taste. 
Eco friendly, biodegradable litter and no trappings of the brand placement for the Diwadkars despite the volumes that they sell. Their quality speaks for them.

The stop at Karjat station for most trains is a mere five minutes.  And yet you are never short of time, because there are so many of the Diwadkar’s mobile stalls right in front of your train window, that materialize as soon as you have decided to buy your Vada pao.

For the Diwadkar Vada pao vendor, time is of essence here, as he needs to cater to as many passengers as possible in those five minutes from across the train window. Apparently massive quantities of Vada pao are sold in those five minutes.

It is all done very efficiently and with minimum fuss.        
As your train jerks and moves on, your mouth has already been salivating for a few minutes now. You cannot hold up anymore. You give in and bite into your Vada pao and the pungent taste of Garlic, the savories of the boiled potato and crispiness of the Vada along with the softness of the pao compete to seduce your taste buds. It is the softness of the pao that eventually wins. Unfailingly fresh and hot, Diwadkar’s have maintained a standard for which the Karjat Vada pao is known for.

There are many Vada pao outlets all over Mumbai, Pune and the rest of Maharashtra. Everyone has their favorites. For Vada pao not only triggers your taste buds but also your memories.
Memories of places visited and times gone by.
And here is one such nostalgic indulgence.

As you walk up the Dadar – tilak bridge from Dadar west, you come across Sri Krishna Batata vada. It is a thick crowd of commuters that have alighted the Dadar station and are bound to catch a bus that would alight at the Tilak bridge just a few staircases away.  You pull out a coin as you straddle through the crowd, hand it out, pick up your token, walk to the next counter and pick your Batata vada wrapped in a newspaper with a green chilly and chutney for accompaniment.

On any given evening at Sri Krishna Batata vada at Dadar, a hundred Batata vadas are dispensed at the blink of the eye.  You have no patience to stand and watch and take a bite. The commuters are gradually pushing your upwards to the bridge. You could be a college student, an office goer, a mill worker or a hawker. No one has the time or space to stand and watch.  That is when you grab your Batata vada, tuck it in your hand bag and make your move.

As your bus pulls up, you board your bus and settle down in the usual window seat.

There is a mild haze in the air, birds from the trees of the Hindu colony in Dadar, are screeching their throats out to announce the onset of sunset. You look out of the window seat and realize that the sky is turning a blushing pink.  Yet another day is coming to a close, you have had a long day of field work. Your destination is still another half hour to go and hunger pangs cannot wait until  then.

That is when you unzip your bag, unwrap the oil soaked newspaper and pull out the Batata vada. 

Unlike the Diwadkar’s of karjat, Dadar’s Sri Krishna do not serve you the pao, but just the 'Batata vada' - the potato fritters, along with the green chillies. You bite into the hot, pungent batata vada and the taste of mashed potato, spicy chilly and pungent garlic hits your taste buds all at once.  

You experience bliss.     

When you have finished eating your Batata vada and are still on the move, the taste still lingers on your taste buds for many more minutes. 

But it is the memories that linger on for many many years to come.


P,S : Many many years later in a upmarket airconditioned mall in Bangalore, old friends catch up and reminisce .  
This post is dedicated to all those TISSians of the '90s who boarded the Institute bus at the Dadar Tilak bridge in the evenings. . 


Lessons in Humility at the Golden temple

To call it a structure symbolizing classic minimalism would be an oxymoron. The Harmandir Sahib or the Golden temple of Amritsar...