Wednesday, March 11, 2015

More street art from Bandra

- By Deepa Krishnan

I enjoy walking through Bandra, because I am always surprised by something new. I don't mean new cafes or shops. It's all the new street art that's everywhere (ever since the St+ART Festival that happened in November last year). It changes my experience of Bandra each time I go there.

Take this wall in Ranwar Village, for example. I don't remember seeing anything when I went there some months ago. Then all of a sudden, on a walk last week, I turned a corner, and there it was. A woman in black and white, adding drama to the wall.
I found out later that this artwork is by Luis Gomez de Teran from Venezuela. He called this artwork "Veronica". That's the name of the lane where this wall is located, by the way. Sort of bringing the lane to life, giving it a dark, smoky, interesting personality :) :) I'm not sure what exactly Ms. Veronica is holding in her hand. Can you figure it out? And check out the cat at the bottom!

Near the turning into Veronica Lane, on the main road, you'll definitely spot the colourful Jude Bakery (well, ex-bakery. The guy who ran it died a couple of years ago, and now it's owned by a guy in the hospitality business, who is not baking bread here). The street art here has a tongue-in-cheek prayer, it says "Hey St Jude, please help me. I am really a lost cause." You can only read the whole message when the shutters are down. The artist is a guy called AkaCorleone. He's Portuguese, I think. A lot of his murals are lettering-based.
This graffiti below is older, but I hadn't photographed it on my earlier visits. I don't know who the artist is. The text alongside is in Hindi, it says paidaishi junglee (born wild). I smiled to myself when I saw the real bike parked under the graffiti, and I wondered which Bandra junglee owned that one :)
This one is from Chimbai Village. It was at the entrance of a tiny lane, and it made me want to immediately turn into the lane, to see where the little boy would lead me. It's by an artist called Tona, from Hamburg in Germany. Tona does stencils, so replicas of this little kid are in other cities as well.
I walked down to the edge of the water in Chimbai and found lots more street art to photograph. Here's one of them, also by Tona.
We spoke to some of the fishermen sitting nearby, and they told us about the artists who came from abroad and painted in Chimbai. The fishermen seemed to find the whole thing amusing but irrelevant. I bet a lot of people in Chimbai think that.

Personally, I'm all for street art, because I think it's great for art to come out of the expensive and elite gallery spaces, and into a place where it can dialog with people. Street art is such a powerful (not to mention potentially subversive) medium. We're just beginning to see street art in Mumbai. Maybe over time the people of the city - the ones whose walls and streets are being decorated - will become more engaged. It would help if the effort was more participative somehow. It isn't enough to just take art to poorer, dirtier parts of the city. There's got to a be a more two-way process if this whole exercise has to have any meaning.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sheera special at Ram Ashraya, Matunga

- By Aishwarya Pramod

Ram Ashraya in Matunga is more than 70 years old. It's well-loved not just for idlis and vadas, but its array of sheera flavours.

Pineapple, strawberry, guava, grape... they make different flavours on different days.

This picture is from my mom's latest visit there: pineapple, butterscotch and chocolate flavours... sweet! I've even seen jamun sheera on the menu once. The daily sheera special is listed on the whiteboard outside, so check out the flavour and see if it tempts you to walk in :)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Heritage" is for everyone. Or should be.

- By Deepa Krishnan

Recently a lady from Business Standard interviewed me. She asked me the about preservation of Mumbai's heritage buildings; and whether the common man was aware or interested in it. 

I replied that there is a small, highly educated, elite group in the city which is interested in heritage preservation, but the common man of Mumbai has far more pressing issues in life and doesn't really care.

Then last week, we did a Fort Heritage Walk for a group of women from very low income backgrounds. None of them had a college degree. It was also the first time we did a tour in Marathi. So far, our heritage walks have been in English, which is the language of the elite in India.
This group of 24 women came from Pune by the Sinhagad Express. They were brought to Mumbai on a picnic by Yojak, a non-profit that works in education in Pune's slums (Renu who runs Yojak is in white in the centre). The women are teachers, they teach small children in their respective neighbourhoods, in an after-school learning program. For which Yojak pays them a monthly salary.

I found that our guests were highly interested, engaged, and motivated by the beauty of the monuments they saw. They wanted to listen to the details. They wanted to hear the stories. It opened my eyes to the fact that "Heritage" is really for everyone. You just need to talk about it in a language that everyone can understand. You need to make it accessible.

It's time to demystify "heritage management", time to make it less elitist. Time to take it to a larger population. And language is the key, I think. I am now considering offering the walk in local languages.

Maybe this is the next mountain I should climb?

For this group of 24 women, we did a free tour. Later when I thought about offering this tour commercially in Marathi, I felt that these women probably would not pay even Rs 50 per person for such a walk, and would much prefer to use those 50 rupees for their families' basic needs. So to take heritage to the public - many of whom do indeed have other pressing issues to think about - I need to find a creative way. Ideas, anyone?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Plaza Cinema, Dadar, Mumbai

- by Deepa Krishnan

Somebody in their wisdom has decided to redesign Plaza Cinema in Dadar. I am not happy.
Here is the old design that I used to like much better. More fun and interesting. And it acknowledged the beauty of the stupa at Sanchi, not to mention the big role of Ambedkar in reviving Buddhism. Ambedkar's chaityabhoomi is nearby in Shivaji Park. 
I understand the desire to turn it into a multiplex. Single screen theatres are not going to make money. I just wish the new design was not so "modern".

Also, it has all these little holes that are going to suck in dirt and I predict it will soon be a cobwebby mess. The dust and smoke at Plaza cinema signal is no joke. The rectangles sit oddly on the curved facade, if you ask me. The vegetable vendor in the sculpture thankfully is spared this modern thing, since his back is turned to it!
Plaza has a history of makeovers. The famous movie director V Shantaram bought it from a Parsi owner in the 30's. Several of Shantaram's hit movies ran here successfully. After his death, the theatre was leased out and became run-down. There was a bomb blast at the theatre in 1993, then it was shut down for 3 years. It was acquired by the Shantaram trust in 2005, redesigned and opened again, but has probably not been making much money since then. The trust has now again sold it to a corporate entity who has converted it to a multiplex.

Anyway - after this I consoled myself with a good home-style thali at Mama Kane. That is another old Dadar institution, and one which has not changed much!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hara Chana Roast, Chor Bazaar

- By Deepa Krishnan

One of the pleasures of wandering around in winter in Chor Bazaar: this is Hara Chana, roasted in hot sand, over a chulha (wood fire). They're lightly salted. Simple and super-yummy. What a pleasure to eat them hot!
Chickpeas are available all round the year, but usually in dried form. The fresh form is only there in the markets for a few short winter months. Make the most of it! You can make the most awesome chaat with it. You can add it to salads. You can sprout it. In recipes that have peas, you can replace the peas with chana. I'm even putting them in upma. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why Loiter: Matunga on a Sunday Night

- By Aishwarya Pramod

Why Loiter is a campaign that anyone can join from anywhere. The idea behind the campaign is very simple: it encourages women to loiter aimlessly about their city and make use of its public spaces :). In the face of victim-blaming and increased restrictions on women’s mobility, the campaign wants to create a sense of a community of women in public space, so that we can remind ourselves and other women that we are not alone.

This Sunday, I was going to meet a friend in Matunga. I saw the campaign on Facebook, so I took some pictures and hashtagged them #whyloiter.
I took a short bus ride to bustling Maheshwari Udyan (King’s Circle) and met my friend for dinner at Spring Onion. The starters were especially good. We told ourselves we’d come back there some other day and eat only 3 or 4 starters, no need of main course.

Then we wandered around near Five Garden and chilled… some photography happened there. Turns out my phone is not great at night photography (or I haven’t found the correct settings). There were many other people - many young people - walking, sitting around, hanging out.

We walked back to King’s Circle for dessert at Natural’s Ice Cream (one berry and one coffee-cinammon/coffee-walnut mix). Strolled around the circle for a bit - stopped to look at a street book stall (open quite late - around 10 pm). Families, college students and many others also loitered there, enjoying the night air. Finally, I then took the bus home.
I love lazing around at home, sometimes even more than going out. But when I do go out, chilling in Matunga is one the nicest things. It has pretty streets and buildings, good food, street book stalls, gardens, and optimal crowds (not too few people to be lonely/deserted, but usually not so many people that it becomes very crowded).
It’s widely accepted that Mumbai is the most women-friendly city in India. Bombay girls are the most bindaas (carefree, without restraint). Women who move here from other cities are sometimes heard to remark on their newfound liberation. I myself love Mumbai. But even in Mumbai the freedom is not absolute and not something we take for granted.

“Why Loiter” is also a book (published in 2011) that explores the ways in which the women negotiate and navigate the streets of Mumbai, in a larger culture that thinks women and public spaces don’t do together. I’ve read part of it – it was great! – and plan to finish reading it soon. It’s a refreshing, inspiring take on gender, public space and freedom.
Why Loiter is a call for an end to fearmongering and for women to openly and confidently claim the streets. Loitering – taking up public spaces while doing absolutely nothing – is everyone’s right. 
It calls on the government and society, not to provide paternalistic ‘protection’ by asking women to stay at home, but instead to begin providing the infrastructure (for example good public transport, street lights, public toilets) for women to feel safe. The book has many other interesting suggestions too. The final aim is freedom without fear.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Archaeology of Food: An Ancient Indian Meal

- By Aishwarya Pramod

Recently I attended a very interesting workshop on food in ancient India, hosted by Rushina Munshaw Ghildayal (culinary expert) and Dr. Kurush Dalal (Asst. professor of Archaeology, MU). The combination of food and history was fun. I learnt about India's food heritage, met many like-minded people, and got a delicious meal in the end.

The workshop began with a talk by Dr. Kurush Dalal.
Dr. Kurush Dalal
Grave from Mehrgarh. The bumps
around her legs are the remains of
five goats buried with her.
He spoke of the changing relationship between human society and food, from the Stone Age to the industrial age. He told us about the fascinating tools and techniques archaeologists use to find out what long-dead people ate.

For example in Mehrgarh (an Indus Valley site), ancient people are buried alongside goats - so we know they were probably shepherds consuming milk and milk products. Lots of traces of barley (and some wheat) show that they had domesticated these grains and were farming them.
Both the Harappans and Vedic tribes ate cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables and meat. Spices like coriander, turmeric, pepper and cumin were used. Sounds like our modern Indian food? Not so fast :)

Ancient Indians did NOT have access to so many things: no cabbage, cauliflower, potato, tomato, chillies, groundnuts, corn, rajma, cashew, chikoo. No tobacco, tea or coffee. Today we can hardly cook without tomatoes or chillies, and we certainly can't give up tea and coffee.

The predominant grains we eat today are also different. For example, lots of barley and amaranth were eaten in ancient times, unlike today. Millets (which were a major staple as recently as 50 years ago) are losing ground to to wheat and rice. Plus, hybrid and uniform crop-types are taking the place of localized, diverse varieties of each grain.

Lastly, oil, salt, sugar and spices are widely available in modern times but were rare commodities for our ancestors. This made a huge difference to their cooking methods and recpies. I also learned that in ancient India, a spice called long pepper was widely used - now we mostly use chillies and black pepper.
Long pepper has a stronger, earthier taste than black
 pepper. Rushina used roasted, powdered long pepper (top).
The talk was followed by a cooking demonstration and buffet, by Rushina Ghildayal. Rushina conceptualized and cooked the whole meal, using only those ingredients and methods that were available to ancient Indians.
Rushina stir-frying ambadi (gongura/roselle) and later on,
 chaulai (moth/amaranth greens)
Some close-ups of the food:
Panchamrit (with grape juice - hence the colour).
 It had lime, fruit juice, honey, water and rock salt - yum.
A sharp, refreshing drumstick broth with garlic,
ginger and curry leaf
Snacks: dried and fried karela (bittergourd),
gawar (guar bean) and makhna (foxnut)
A slow cooked jowar and bajra porridge
 with lamb, fish curry, and rice (unpolished)
Brinjal stuffed with minced lamb
Here's the full thaali (photo credit to Rushina's APB Cook Studio)
All in all, I came away very enlightened and very full!

APB Cook Studio does lots of food events (and cooking classes) throughout the year. Rushina celebrates regional cuisines, revives almost-forgotten recipes, and also teaches cooking.

If you want to know more about ancient Indian food, here are some links/books:

  • Indian Food: A Historical Companion. by K. T. Achaya
  • The Food Industries of British India. by K. T. Achaya
  • If you can't get the books, Achaya's work is summarized here and here
  • The Eternal Food: Gastronomic Ideas and Experiences of Hindus and Buddhists. by R. S. Khare
  • Food From the Mouth of Krishna: Feasts and Festivities in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Gujarati printing in Mumbai - the story of Behramji Jijibhai Chapgar and Ferdoonji Murzban

- By Deepa Krishnan

The beautiful red building in this photo is of Mumbai Samachar, the oldest continuously published newspaper in India.
Mumbai Samachar was first published in 1822, in Gujarati, and is going strong even today. The building is very well maintained; the old Gujarati typeface on the signboard is intact, and it is one of the few industrial buildings from the 1800s still surviving in the Fort district.
As you can see, the Gujarati text on the signboard says "Mumbai Samachar" and the English version says "The Bombay Samachar". On the top left, it says "Bhaaratnu Sarvapratham Dainik" (India's First Daily). And on the top right is Sthapna (the year of establishment) 1822.

The art of Gujarati type-setting is more than 200 years old. Gujarati type was moulded in Bombay for the first time in 1797 at the Courier Press; by a Parsi named Behramji Jijibhai Chapgar.  Apparently, this Jijibhai was quite the typesetting genius. Robert Drummond, who wrote a book on typesets in 1808, described Jijibhai as an "ingenious artist" who without any outside help, "succeeded in completing a font of the Guzzeratty types". 

Here is an excerpt from Drummond's book, showing what that 'Guzzeratty' type looked like in the early 1800's. It's not the same type that we see today. Jijibhai's original Guzzeraty type has undergone several changes in the 200+ years since it was first invented. Click on it for a larger view, it will be easier to read, and you can also enjoy all the folk wisdom in the book :)
Without Woman, Fire and Water, nothing is possible
Although the type-set was in place by 1797, it was used only for publishing advertisements. For a long time, there were no books or newspapers in Gujarati. There were approximately 200,000 people in Bombay around 1800 AD. Trade was thriving. The population included a significant number of Gujarati speaking people - Parsis, Memons, Bohras, Jains, Kutchis, and other Hindu Gujaratis. The time was ripe for a regular newspaper in Gujarati, to provide business news and trading information to these communities. 

This gap was filled by Ferdoonji Murzban, a Parsi priest from Surat, who set up Mumbai Samachar in 1822. His story, like all stories of pioneers, is very interesting. 

Ferdoonji was born in 1787 into a family of priests, and initially trained for priesthood. At the age of 18, he came to Bombay and learnt Persian and Arabic languages. In 1808 he opened a book-bindery, and made some money through an order from the East India Company. He decided to invest the funds in a printing press.

Ferdoonji was a friend of Behramji Jijibhai (who worked at the Courier Press), and would visit him there. Using Jijibhai's Gujarati type-set, Ferdoonji first published a Hindu panchang (astrological calendar) in Gujarati, at the grand price of Rs 2 per copy. That was in 1814, and it was a commercial success. I read that Ferdoonji's family, including the women, all worked together, helping to polish and set the type.

a comparison of South 
Asian religions
Ferdoonji was inclined towards religion and philosophy. In 1815, he brought out a copy of the Dabestan in Gujarati. The Dabestan, originally written in Persian in the mid-1600's, is a comparitive study of religions, and includes a detailed description of Akbar's Din-E-Ilahi. That Ferdoonji chose to put his earnings into this obscure work (there couldn't have been many takers for it!) points to the strength of his liberal religious views.

In 1818, Ferdoonji published the Khordeh Avesta, a Gujarati version of the Parsi scriptures, along with notes/commentary. It got him into huge controversies with the more orthodox elements of the Parsi community (I'm not sure whether it was the translation or his commentary that got him into hot water!). 

But like they say, all publicity is good publicity :) Ferdoonji weathered the storm and in 1822, he went on to publish the Prospectus of Mumbaino Samachar, a bi-weekly newspaper in Gujarati. Like the panchang, Mumbai Samachar was a super-hit. Within weeks, it was fully subscribed. Among the 150 people who initially subscribed, there were Parsis, Hindus, Mohammedans and Christians (Europeans).

Mumbai Samachar was meant for the business community, and filled a much needed gap. It featured local appointments, ship docking schedules, and news clippings from Calcutta and Madras, which were the two other important British centres at the time. There was also news from London, and the prices of opium from Canton in China.

The paper went from strength to strength, and still continues to function today (although Ferdoonji was actually forced to leave Bombay and settle down in Goa, due to his religious views).

The street on which the newspaper is located is called Bombay Samachar Marg. It is currently owned by the Cama family, and run by Hormusji Cama. If you ever go walking in Horniman Circle, stop by and admire the building. Often you'll spot Hormusji's maroon 1959 Chevy Bel Air parked outside (he is a vintage car enthusiast).

I drove by recently and saw two uniformed men standing at the gate. I'm not sure if they work there. But I was comforted by the feeling that the doors of Mumbai Samachar were still open for business, keeping the memory of Ferdoonji Murzban and Jijibhai Chapgar alive. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The movie-star graffiti of Bandra

- By Deepa Krishnan

The pleasures of wandering through Bandra are many. Bollywood Art Project's Madhubala is one of them. It brings all of Madhubala's vivacity to Chapel Road!

Earlier there was only the Anarkali painting, with Madhubala and Pradeep Kumar. But a year ago, the good folks at BAP added a solo Madhubala.
I had posted earlier, their iconic Deewar one with Amitabh Bacchan: it is on the road going downhill towards Bandstand from Mehboob Studio.
And here is the Rajesh Khanna one - capturing all the charm that made him Bollywood's first ever superstar.
There is also an Amrish Puri (Mogambo) in Khar, but I have not seen it. BAP is planning a tribute to Yash Chopra also. May their tribe increase! More information here: Bollywood Art Project

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Nandiwale and their sooth-saying bulls (Bholanath)

- By Deepa Krishnan

Once Diwali is over, the Nandiwale begin to make their appearance in Mumbai, accompanied by their sacred bulls. They are one of the many nomadic tribes of Maharashtra.
Nandiwale man with decorated bull and drums, Dadar Market
The Nandiwale originally belong to the state of Andhra Pradesh. They migrated to Maharashtra in two waves: the first wave came about 800 years ago; and the second, more recent wave, came 250 years ago. Those who came in the first wave now number around 2500; and they are called the Tirmal Nandiwale. Those who came in the second wave are larger in number, currently around 5500, and they are called the Fulmali Nandiwale. The two sub-sects do not intermarry.  They speak Telugu and Marathi; and many can follow Hindi as well.

For most of the year, the Nandiwale live where their cattle can find fodder - typically in the valleys and plateaus of Ahmednagar, Sangli, Kolhapur, Pune, Beed, Jalgaon etc. The primary occupation of the Nandiwale is a soothsaying performance, for which they train their bulls to nod their heads in answer to questions posed. The man plays the drum, producing a particular drumming sound; and the bull responds. The happy audience - whose question has been answered by the bull - then forks out money :)

After Diwali each year (around Oct-Nov), the Nandiwale set out with their bulls, going through villages, towns and cities. Sometimes the bulls they bring have an extra leg, or other deformity, like the one in this photo.
Bull with extra leg
The women of the community also go out to earn money. Traditionally they go selling trinkets, amulets, and other decorative articles (see the cowrie-shell beaded necklace and ornaments of the bull above). Like many nomadic communities, the Nandiwale women also have good embroidery skills. If you want to see a beautifully decorated bull, with embroidery and quilting patch-work, see this photo. Many of the Nandiwale women work in fields as agricultural labourers. They herd buffaloes, raise poultry and also sheep and goats. The status of women in the community social system is high, since they earn independent income and manage the family domestic affairs as well. Recently I saw several women of the community accompanying their menfolk, leading bulls of their own. Here is one of them, with a very perky bull:
Nandiwale lady with money-purse tucked into waist
By Mahashivratri (Feb/March), they return to their village areas with whatever they have earned. In earlier days, they were often paid with foodgrains. These days they mostly receive coins from people.  But the charm of the Bholanath (bull) answering questions is no longer appreciated these days. With dwindling incomes, many people from the community have taken to buffalo-rearing and trading as alternative careers.

The Nandiwale are one of the Vimukta Jati or Denotified Tribes; who were listed by the British as Criminal Tribes. After Indian independence, they were removed from this list (denotified) in 1952. In spite of this, they continue to be discriminated against. Since they are not classified as Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in Maharashtra, they do not have access to many of the development schemes run by the government.

Here's another one, doing the rounds in the Fort area:
Photo credit: Sigrid Wili from Canada, 
clicked on her solo travel through India
There is a lot of information about the community in the book "The People of Maharashtra" by Popular Prakashan. I learnt, for example, that the Nandiwale do not cremate their dead, but bury them. I also learnt that they have the system of bride-price, paid to the bride's father, while asking for the daughter's hand in marriage. Marriages are arranged by the parents, and the wedding ceremonies are similar to the Kunbi ceremonies (turmeric paste applying function, holding the cloth between bride and groom, etc).  They worship the Goddess Mahamai (Lakshmi); they celebrate Ashad Purnima (June-July). They like going to Tirupati to pray to Balaji. They have their own law and order system, they revere their ancestors, they are fond of listening to the radio, and they are fond of non-vegetarian food :) especially because many of them also have fishing and trapping skills.

The more I read about the Nandiwale and their social structure and cultural traits, the more I realised how complicated and beautifully diverse Indian society is. There are so many communities about whom I don't know anything; but each has a unique culture, with rituals, festivals, beliefs, practices. Take a peep at the book I mentioned above, and you will see what I mean. Wah re mera India. As usual, I am humbled and amazed by my country's diversity.

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