Saturday, September 03, 2016

Women at Haji Ali Dargah

- by Deepa Krishnan

Haji Ali dargah has been in the news lately, because of the agitation to allow women into the sanctum. I went there a couple of years ago, when we were not allowed to access the mazar (mausoleum). There was a side-door, through which women could go up to a certain point. 
Thus far and no further
Closest that women can get to the tomb
Given the way the access is organised, with multiple gates and enough space for queuing, it would be really easy to ensure equal but segregated access to the mazar for men and women. Women don't particularly want to jostle with men, anyway. It could work just like a traffic light, no? If we can manage cars, why not humans? 

To deny women and allow only men, is a really jaundiced view of the world. The sooner we change such mindsets, the better.
Prayer area outside
I posted a series of 30 photos, showing the common areas, as well as the women-only areas. You can see the photos here, on the Mumbai Magic page. This is a beautiful shrine, and should be accessible to everyone. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A great shopping day at Paramparik Karigar!

- by Deepa Krishnan

I had a meeting at the World Trade Centre; and it coincided with the first day of the Paramparik Karigar exhibition. So a bunch of us decided to make an outing of it. 
Paramparik Karigar is an association of craftsmen from around the country. It was formed under the guidance of Roshan Kalapesi and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (Crafts Council of India). I visit their exhibitions often, because they really bring the best of Indian crafts to consumers. There were so many stalls, each with their own specialty craft or textile. I started to photograph things, but within a couple of minutes, I decided to put my camera away :) and focused on enjoying myself.
Tholu Bommalata of Andhra Pradesh by Sindhe Sriramulu
With Padmashri Laila Tyabji at GV Sarees (Kanchipuram)
Our shopping haul
We ended with lunch at Status, their fabulous thali. Overall, great retail therapy! And here's me, enjoying one of my acquistions, a beautiful organic cotton stole from Khamir. Isn't it gorgeous? 
www.khamir.org

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A day in the life of a Maharashtrian vegetable seller

- by Deepa Krishnan
 
Whenever I go to the markets, I wonder about the women who sit there, running small businesses. What sort of life do they have? How do they survive in the city?  Recently I came across this coriander-and-lemon seller.
She was wearing her traditional green bangles and mangalsutra, but she had switched from cotton to synthetic sarees. She probably finds synthetics easier to wash and maintain, especially in the monsoons. And there is less wear-and-tear on the sarees, making it more economically viable.

I tried to imagine what her day was like. She has probably woken up at 4 am, and gone to the big market at Dadar or Vashi or Byculla, to buy at wholesale rates. It is likely that she had no time or inclination to make tea at home. Perhaps the rest of the family was fast asleep at that time. It is likely that she travelled by train, with an empty basket on her head. At the wholesale market, she must have walked around, trying to find a good rate. After buying her stock, she probably stopped to have some sweet milky hot tea.

Then, she must have made the journey by taxi and train, to her little roadside spot in the local market. I tried to estimate what she spends on her commute. Probably around 30 to 50 rupees each day, getting to work and back.

The total stock in her basket is probably worth somewhere between Rs 800 to 1000. If she sells it all, then she will probably make somewhere between Rs 200 to 300 per day. She probably needs to spend around 30 rupees on food, because she leaves home too early to cook and carry a meal. Perhaps she also needs to spend around 5-10 rupees on using a public toilet. After expenses, finally her profit for the day is unlikely to be more than Rs 100. 

She is unlikely to work every day of the month; due to illness, or family constraints, or festive occassions, or village visits. So my estimate is that she earns not more than Rs 2500 per month. Of all the vegetable vendors in the market, the lemon-seller is probably among the lowest earners. 

The markets of Mumbai are full of women, with small stalls of their own. Here's a kad-dhanya shop, I think her stock is worth around Rs 5000 (she had lots of stuff under the table as well). She is wearing her traditional khuna blouse, and green bangles, and the tattoos, but her saree is also synthetic. My estimate is that her income is around Rs 4000 per month.
This photo below is actually a temporary shop, which came up in Bhuleshwar around a festival. It's only a day's affair, and she will make probably Rs 500 on this day if she sells all her stock (quite likely). She is also wearing a synthetic saree, as you can see. It is quite clear to me, that cottons are dying out.
Most of the women I see selling vegetables are 40 years or older. I rarely see young women.  Perhaps fewer younger women are entering this sort of business? I will keep my eyes open for younger women, next time I go to the market. And I will ask some of the older women whether their daughters or daughters-in-law are going to follow in their footsteps.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Mumbadevi Temple - The legend of the goddess Mumba

- by Deepa Krishnan

Mumbadevi is the patron goddess of Mumbai; the goddess after whom the city gets its name. But do you know her story? 

Mumbadevi Temple spire
When I went looking for more information, here's what I found: a textual reference called Mumbadevi Mahatmya.

Mumbadevi Mahatmya - the Glory of Mumbadevi - is a set of 52 verses in Sanskrit, estimated to have been composed somewhere in the period 16th to 18th century. In 208 lines, it tells the tale of how the goddess got her name.

The story goes like this:
In ancient times there was a daitya (demon) named Mumbaaraka. He obtained a powerful boon from Brahma, that he could not be defeated by man or animal or yaksha or gandharva. The people went to Vishnu, who along with all the gods, went to Kailasa to petition Siva. From Siva's mouth there emerged a shining bit of his essence. Other gods similarly gave a part of themselves. This combined to form the goddess Mumba. She mounted the lion of Ambadevi and waged battle with Mumbaraka, and defeated him. He was banished to patala (the netherworld). The goddess assured the people that she would take the title of Mumbadevi and reside on the island to protect them. 

Detail of decoration, temple walls
The poor quality of the Sanskrit and the grammatical errors in Mumbadevi Mahatmya suggest that this text was composed by someone without much education (and not much imagination either, by the looks of it).

Like all other mahatmyas, the text clearly outlines the benefits that will accrue to worshippers of Mumbadevi. For me personally, the chief benefit of visiting this temple is that I can eat the famous jalebis from the corner shop! But according to Mumbadevi Mahatmya, if you desire heath, prosperity, children, victory in battle, or the power of oratory, then it's a good idea to worship this goddess.

No dearth of Brahmins
Also, the author suggests that those who desire Mumbadevi's good graces should feed Brahmins and give them dakshina (donations). This is easily done: there's no shortage of dakshina-hunting Brahmins outside the temple, looking to tie red threads around your wrist.

Earlier texts such as the Mahikavati Bakhara (Story of Mahikavati) and Bimbakhyana (Story of Bimbadev Rana) which date to 15th and 16th century do not have any mention of Mumbadevi. Thus it is possible that this goddess gained prominence only in more recent times. 

Inside the temple
Mumbai-based researcher and lecturer Suraj Pandit suggests that the name 'Mumbaaraka' bears a close resemblance to Mubarak; and perhaps the reference is to Sultan Mubarak Shah of Gujarat who ruled over the area in the 1300's.

Late medieval mahatmyas, says Suraj Pandit, often preserve historical events through a retelling framed in a religious narrative. Perhaps the tale of Mumbadevi is one such story.

Text Reference: Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth Pune, Sanskrit Sources of Indian History, Volume 1, Pages 189-198, Mumbadevi Mahatmya by Suraj Pandit 
Photo Credit: Deepa Krishnan

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Mama Kane's Swatcha Upahar Gruha

- by Deepa Krishnan

Established in 1910, Mama Kane is one of Dadar's old names. The founder, Narayan Vishnu Kane, and his widowed sister, worked very hard to establish this eatery.
A lot of Konkanastha Brahmins / Gaud Saraswat Brahmins worked in this eatery. In fact, the original name was Dakshini Brahmananche Swacha Uphargriha, indicating this little eatery's roots in the cuisine of the Brahmins of southern Maharashtra. But it was more popularly known as Mama Kane, as this is how the founder was called.
Mama Kane died during the second world war; and I read a blog which said that family and employees had to wait at Shivaji Park crematorium till sunrise as cremation was forbidden at night due to Black Out.

This restaurant was one of the earliest in Mumbai to put batata-vada on the menu. I enjoy the simple thali when I go to Dadar flower market. I also enjoy the kothimbir vadi a lot. The nicest thing about Mama Kane is that it is large, with high ceilings and I feel instantly like I have entered a time warp.
Here is the old fashioned billing counter, and various delicacies which they sell at the counter.
Delicacies include Poha chivda, Phulavlela Chivda, Anarase, Karanji, Chikki, Aaavla, Paakateel Chirote, etc.
By the way, I also love Mama Kane because they won't serve you new-fangled things like Pepsi or Coke :) They have their own menu of "thanda pey" (cold drinks and sherbets), and I highly recommend you try those to cool down this summer!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

First aamras of the season!

So every year summer comes around, and I wait for aamras.

This year, I got lucky. I went to Kalbadevi, so I made sure I went to Surti to taste it!
There were three of us. Between us we had 4 big cups of aamras, and a plate of puris, and some bottled water to drink. The bill came to Rs 300. Perfect joy. They serve it chilled but not cold; and it is just divine. Thick and rich, and I felt that they have absolutely not compromised on quality. I liked it so much that I got a parcel for home. They parcel it beautifully so it is easy to take home without any spillage.

Crawford Market is full of ripe mangoes, by the way. But prices are quite high right now. I thought about buying some mangoes and making my own aamras. Different people make it differently; some add saffron, some add cardamom, but I think this is a beautiful dish just plain. A little sugar is all it needs. Cut up bits of excellent alfonso or kesar mangoes, add a little sugar, blend. Voila.

How to get to Surti:  https://goo.gl/maps/ByBoRNH6N1F2
You can take a taxi right up to the restaurant because it is on the main road.
P. S. Their thali is pretty good too. And their undhiyo in winter is excellent.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mumbadevi Jalebiwala: utterly drool-worthy jalebis

When a restaurant has only one item on the menu, you know it's got to be something pretty special. Especially if that restaurant was set up in 1897 and has been serving just one item since then!

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you the 120 year old Mumbadevi Jalebiwala. Makers of the city's most drool-worthy jalebis!

Have you been there yet? Small little blink-and-miss-it place, near the Mumbadevi temple. Can you see the Jalebiwala board in red text in Hindi? Big signboard, but tiny shop underneath. It was a bit of a battle to get there on a busy Saturday evening; but it was worth it!
I got piping hot jalebis. Served with their papdi and papaya chutney. I asked if they would serve us bottled water, they said no. Thums up? Coke? Nope. Only jalebis and papdi. The jalebi still comes on a leaf; the papdi has moved to a recycled paper plate. Go. Eat. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A day to remember

- by Deepa Krishnan

It's not often that you get to spend the day with the governor of the Reserve Bank! So here's a quick look at my day, with Radhika Puri and Raghuram Rajan. What a totally fabulous couple. And such lovely, old-fashioned good manners. I really should learn from them. I met them at 8:45 am, and we talked non-stop until 2:00 p.m. Quite a feat, even for a super-talkative person like me! 
We started with a visit to Castella de Aguada, the old Portuguese fort, where I explained about all the kingdoms who fought for control of trade on the western coast. There are multiple forts around the bay (Mahim Fort, Bandra Fort, Worli Fort). Clear evidence of the strategic importance of this area.
We saw lovely views of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.
Driving past Mount Mary, we stopped to see the prayer candles. They are so uniquely Bandra! If you want to have your wishes fulfilled, all you need to do is pray to the Mother of the mount and light a candle. There are wax figurines which you can offer to become a television star, or a movie star, and there was even one for becoming a Hollywood star :) The homes of some big Bollywood badshahs and ranis are nearby, and we saw them as we drove past Bandstand.
At St Andrews Church, we were joined by Father Caesar D'Mello, who showed us around and told us some interesting stories. The church is celebrating its 400th year. "When the Taj Mahal was built, we were already 50 years old", they say proudly.
After the church visit, we started our village walk. We went to Chimbai Village, Ranwar Village and Chapel Road; where we enjoyed the old wooden architecture, the numerous small crosses and the quirky wall art. We went to a designer studio, to see how a old heritage house can be repurposed.
 
We ended the Bandra tour with chaat at Elco Arcade, where we ordered their seasonal strawberry kulfi, as well as some old favourites of mine (I like the pani puri and the gulab jamun!). 

And then because we wanted to get more out of the day, we went to Dharavi, to see what makes the slum economy tick. What a great visit, even though it was completely unplanned. We went to Dharavi Art Room, to meet Himanushu and see the great work he is doing with children and women. We saw the papad-making (cooperative model) and how that worked. We walked into a "multiplex" to watch the migrant population enjoying a Nagarjuna movie. We saw the recylcing industry, garments industry, and all the units busily at work. We met Fahim, who I have been mentoring now for several years. Fahim told the story of how he set up and grew his slum tour company 'Be the Local'.  We walked through narrow alleyways, seeing how people lived. All in all, it was quite a day!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Winter specials at Soam - ponk na bhel and lots more!

- by Deepa Krishnan

Have you tried the winter specials at Soam? Here's a look at what I ate yesterday:
Ponk Bhel, made from fresh jowar. Only available in this season. Made delicious by a peppery shev, peanuts, a tamarind chutney, and a sprinkling of pomegranates. The dash of lime brings in a freshness.
Their yummy farsan platter (this is available all through the year). The cheese and palak samosas are to die for. The chutneys are fabulous too, especially the mango chunda. It has cashewnuts!
The basil lemon juice is really very nice. I've never seen it on any menu elsewhere in the city. Normally I always have their sugarcane juice, but I'm glad I decided to try this one instead.
Roasted mashed brinjal (odho), with fresh white butter and bajra rotla. You feel like you are in some rustic Kutchi heaven.
Undhiyo, with puri and raita. The taste comes from the fresh green winter beans and yams, with a 'hara' masala of green garlic, green coriander and green chilli.
Every single dish was absolutely yummy. There's still a lot more of the winter menu to try, so I'm going back again soon. Maybe next week!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Co-optex - A sleeping giant awakens

- By Deepa Krishnan
If you're a Tamilian living in Mumbai, there's a pretty good chance your cupboards contain something from Co-optex. Probably a bunch of hand-spun cotton towels. Or a nice cotton veshti. Or a handloom saree. My family has been buying all of these from Co-optex for many years now.

Co-optex is the brand name of the Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society. Last month I was invited to attend their lecture-demonstration on the handloom weaves of Tamil Nadu. Although I am Tamilian, there are many small weaving clusters of Tamil Nadu about which I know nothing. So this was the perfect opportunity to meet friends and learn new things.
The lec-dem was very informative. Knowledgeable and experienced staff from Co-optex showed us samples of the weaves, and told us about the diverse weaving traditions of Tamil Nadu. I learnt many new terms and developed a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the weaves.
I was also very impressed by all the changes happening at Co-optex. I have always thought of Co-optex as a slow behemoth. It looks like the behemoth is now alive and kicking and doing exciting stuff. 

For example, they are recreating a range of "MS" sarees. "MS" is the legendary Carnatic singer, M. S. Subbalakshmi, who is a household name among South Indians. Everyone was very excited to see a saree in "MS Blue", the famous shade of blue that M. S. Subbulakshmi wore. "When are you launching these in Mumbai, Sir?", was the clamour in the room!

I bought 4 sarees that day. Two of them were organic sarees, part of a new initiative by Co-optex. For weaving these sarees, they use cotton which is grown without the use of pesticides. The yarn is coloured using only natural dyes / plant extracts. I'm posting a photo of the organic saree which I wore earlier this week. The saree felt light and cool, and it worked really well with my dabu mud-resist blouse.
Here's the third saree, this one is also a lovely saree with green checks. It is from a weaving cluster called Paramakudi, near Madurai. Weavers from Saurashtra migrated to Paramakudi 600 years ago. They wove cotton and silk, and were originally patronised by royal families of Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga. I teamed this Paramakudi saree with a block-printed blouse and silver choker. Lovely combination, no?
Not many people know about the Paramakudi weaving cluster, or about the people who produce such beautiful sarees. Co-optex is trying to bridge the gap, by creating saree labels that show the origin of the weave. 

I learnt, for example, that my saree was woven by a woman named Geetha, and that she is 38 years old. It took Geetha two full days to produce my saree, because each thread was woven by hand. This sort of immense effort is not possible without a certain mental attitude. In fact, handloom weaving is a form of sadhana, meditation, because you need an almost meditative state of mind to achieve the rhythm and become one with the loom. This is why handlooms are a precious part of India's textile heritage.

I've got another beauty from Co-optex to wear in the coming weeks. It is a stunning purple "koorai podavai" from Koorainadu. In Tamil weddings, the main wedding saree is called a "koorai podavai", and traditionally these were made in the weaving cluster of Koorainadu in Nagapattinam. Co-optex is reviving this cluster by bringing new interesting colours to improve the appeal of the sarees. There are just 10 weavers in this society, so there are only a limited number of these Koorainadu-revival sarees. The saree has silk in the warp and cotton in the weft. I'm not posting a photo because I still haven't worn it! It's brand new.

I'm super thrilled that Co-optex is becoming a dynamic and enterprising co-operative. Their facebook page is active, they are reviving and breathing fresh life into handlooms, and they are creating new markets for the weavers. I wish them success in their efforts to popularise Tamil Nadu's beautiful handlooms.

Cooptex showrooms in Mumbai: http://cooptex.gov.in/showroom
Please note, the Matunga one is closed. The showrooms are in Mahalakshmi, Chembur, Fort and Dadar.