Sunday, October 26, 2014

Diwali walk in Dadar Market

- By Deepa Krishnan

It's fun to explore the markets during Diwali. So much buzz! I walked through the area from Plaza Cinema to Hanuman Mandir, then did a short side-foray into Ranade Road.
See the walk photo album here on the Mumbai Magic Facebook Page.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chopda Pujan in Mumbai

- By Deepa Krishnan

With Diwali around the corner, the streets of Bhuleshwar have lots of red chopdis (account books) on sale. Larger businesses may have switched to computers, but these cloth-bound books are still used by many smaller shops. Try going into Mangaldas Market, for example, and you will spot traders writing in them.

On 23rd October this year (Diwali / Lakshmi Pujan Day), businesses will close their old books, offer prayers to the goddess of wealth, and start the new year on the 24th. 

Here is the opening page of the book; listing the calendar year. It says in Gujarati script, "Diwali to Diwali, Samvat 2071". The calendar followed by Hindu Gujaratis (and also Jains) is the Vikram Samvat, which was established by King Vikramaditya of Ujjain, following his victory over the Sakas in 56 BC. The Vikram Samvat or Era is therefore typically 56 or 57 years ahead of the Christian Era. Currently we are in 2071.
The page also lists Calendars based on the conventions followed by other prominent business communities of Mumbai. The Islamic calendar is listed for those following the Hijri Year, but also there is the Muslim Misri Year (which is followed by the Bohras, a major business community of the city). Another business community which features is the Parsis; their Shenshai Calendar Year is listed, as well as the Marwari Calendar Year and the Indian Saka Calendar Year (which is used by some of the Maharashtrian businesses such as the wholesale fruit sellers in Crawford Market).

Here is the next page, which is used for the worship. It has a drawing of the kalash symbolising prosperity and auspiciousness. It says "Shri Pujanu Pano" (Shri=Lakshmi, Puja=Worship, Pano=Page).
And here's the next page, showing the first day of  the new calendar (Friday 24th October 2014):
The traditional accounting system (Bahi-Khata) followed in Gujarat and Rajasthan is a full-fledged double entry system. It makes a double-entry for all transactions affecting real, nominal or personal accounts. These transactions are first entered in the rokad-bahi (cash book), and then posted into the khata-bahi (ledger). A nakal-bahi serves as the journal. Finally a trial balance (kaccha ankada) is also prepared. I have watched entries being written into these red books in some shops, and I'm tempted to walk up to someone and ask them to teach me how it works. But it's so intrusive!

The pages inside the book are also a reflection of the diverse cultural / business practices of Mumbai's trading communities. The daily sunrise and sunset times are mentioned, to accommodate some practices such as Jain community's requirement to know the 'hora' or muhurat. The Jain working day is broken into 12 horas, beginning at sunrise and ending with sunset. Each hora is influenced by a particular planet and may or may not be suitable for undertaking a new activity.
When I see how well these books accommodate the needs of all communities, it makes me proud to be part of Mumbai's culturally diverse and thriving entreprenuerial ethos. This sort of thing is the very essence of Mumbai. The divisive voices we hear in modern politics are a sad reflection of how we are losing our traditional ability to get along and do business.

When I went to Mangaldas Market, I also saw the shops busy folding and stacking red cloth. This cloth is used as the base of a raised platform where the idols of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are installed. It will be purchased wholesale from Mangaldas Market by many dealers, and they will sell it all over Mumbai, to the business community.

For Lakshmi Puja / Chopda Pujan there are group prayers organised in Mumbai. Some temples also organise them, for example, the Swaminarayan Temple has chopda pujan as well as annakut celebrations the next day.
Chopda Pujan, Swaminarayan Temple Mumbai. Photo Source: ProKerala

Maharashtrian traders performing chopda pujan: Source: PTI

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Samosas to swear by

- By Aishwarya Pramod

If you live in Mumbai, and like watching movies, chances are you’ll have eaten an A-1 samosa. They’re among the most famous samosa-makers in Mumbai. They make about 15,000 samosas a day, and supply more than 30 movie halls in the city. Whether it’s a posh multiplex or a small single screen, you’ll find them wherever you go.
Those crunchy, spicy, potato-filled triangles of happiness can make a bad movie tolerable and a good movie awesome! But to get an A-1 samosa, you don’t have to go to the  cinema, where they’re priced quite high. At their main shop in Sion, near my house, it’s 10 rupees a samosa.

The shop’s nothing fancy, and it’s often hidden from view behind a row of parked vehicles. But it's always bustling with customers. Also, A-1 doesn't sell just samosas. They have kachoris and "aloo-pops" too.

The Punjabi samosa is their classic offering – it’s the potato-filled one you get in all the theatres. My other favourites are the Cheese-Corn Samosa and the Chinese Samosa. The Chinese ones are stuffed with bright red, schezwan-flavoured noodles – but they’re really not as strange as they sound. I’ve never tried the Sweet Mawa Samosas myself, I don’t know how I feel about a sweet samosa :/

Here’s their menu (since you can't tell the samosa varieties from the previous picture):

My mother recently brought home some of A-1's paalak-paneer samosas (not on this menu). They were filled with paalak and paneer (spinach and cottage cheese). They were pretty good, but not as much paneer as I'd have liked. I think I'll stick with the Punjabi anyway.  
There are two locations where the samosas are made: the first is at Champaklal Estate, Sion East. Here, the masala / stuffing is made, and the samosas are rolled into their typical triangular shape. From Champaklal, it is taken to the A-1 outlet in Sion West, where the samosas are first 'half-fried' and kept ready. Then they are deep fried in batches and brought out front. From here, they're distributed to retail shops, cinemas, school and office canteens, caterers and party organisers. As each batch gets sold or distributed, new batches are deep fried.

The distribution process is interesting: there is an army of freelance entreprenuers on cycles, who buy samosas from A-1 daily, and sell them to various buyers across the city. Typically they have a 1 rupee margin per samosa. Sales are made in lots of 150 or 250 samosas (there is a weighing machine, so the samosas are placed on trays and weighed, not counted). Each freelance entrepreuner has his own set of contacts/buyers across the city to whom he sells.

So if you go to A-1 at any time of the day, you can see hot samosas, coming right out of giant iron woks, being piled into trays, then loaded on cycles and being taken away. The large trays you see in this photo above can hold 250.

A-1 was established more than 40 years ago by Kishanchand Nevendram, a Sindhi who came to Mumbai from Karachi, after the Partition. He is said to have left everything he had behind in Karachi. His grandson now owns the business. Anyway, here's a testament to this little shop's fame: not only do many Sion-dwellers swear by their samosas, but a friend of mine from Andheri (so far from Sion it might as well be Mars!) once came to hang out in Sion and said, "Do you know where I can try an A-1 samosa? I've heard a lot." 

So if you're ever walking around in Sion, don't forget to stop by A-1 samosa :)

Note: While A-1 has great variety, for something a bit more filling you can cross the road to the equally well known Gurukripa Hotel (Gurukripa and A-1 think of each other as simply two parts of the same business. A-1's owner is the nephew of Gurukripa's - it's all within the family). In Gurukripa you can get A-1's Punjabi samosas with some chhole (white chickpeas), garnished with some onion – delicioso!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ek Hazaarachi Note at the NCPA's Marathi Film Festival

By Deepa Krishnan

For the last 6 years, NCPA has been organizing a Marathi Film Festival to showcase critically acclaimed and national award winning films. This year, I went with my friend Kiran to attend the screening of Shrihari Sathe's "Ek Hazaarachi Note". 

The films screened at the festival are sub-titled in English. Although I can follow spoken Marathi well, it helped to have sub-titles, especially since Ek Hazaarachi Note is set in Vidarbha, and there were many nuances of the rural dialect that I could not otherwise follow.

NCPA's Marathi Film Festival is called 'Nave Valan', meaning, New Directions. Valan actually means "turning"; and the festival's name aptly reflects the new-wave of Marathi films that we have been seeing recently. There has been a new-found interest in Marathi cinema since 2004, when Shwaas was selected as India's official entry for the Oscars. Budgets for Marathi cinema have increased; and we are also seeing an increase in the number of films produced. But more importantly, we are seeing talented people come forward.

I enjoyed Ek Hazaarachi Note very much - it is the tale of life in a small village, told sensitively and simply. 
The festival screening included face-time with the cast and crew; and I loved meeting the script writer, Shrikant Bojewar, who did such a great job of bringing the culture of Vidharba district to life. Shekhar Sathe, who produced the film, is also a friend, so we all went to dinner later and discussed the making of the film. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and have decided that I simply must put Nave Valan on my annual calendar! Thank you, NCPA.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Film Shooting for Swachh Bharat Mission

- By Deepa Krishnan

One of the nice things about living in the media capital of India is that you're always coming across all kinds of outdoor shoots. Yesterday I saw this advertising shoot in progress:
In a couple of minutes we figured out that it was a shoot for the new cleanliness campaign launched by the government of India.

How did we guess? Because of the "Gandhi Chashma" that the actor with the broom was wearing. The Gandhi spectacles are the logo for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, The Clean India Mission:
Here's a closeup of the spectacles :)
Lots of local people had gathered to watch the shoot; and I think everyone in the crowd realised what was going on. Of course, it had no impact on the actual mess of paper and plastic that was lying around the market area. I think along with positive messages we also need stiff fines. It will work better if we educate people, but also have Cleanliness Inspectors that follow through with monitoring measures. 

We need major re-thinking on urban waste management - so I am not really saying keeping the streets clean is going to solve our real garbage problems. But it's a start.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The picturesque Bandra Station

- By Deepa Krishnan

I've been wanting to photograph Bandra Station ever since its restoration some 5-6 years ago. I finally got a chance to go there last week. It is by far, the city's prettiest railway station.  No, it is not grand, like the Victoria Terminus, but in my eyes it is very beautiful. The woodwork and tiles add enormous charm, don't they?
Plans for this station were finalised in the UK, and the building was erected by BBC&I in 1864. Finally in 1869, the train service (which ran only upto Mahim) was extended upto Bandra, paving the way for more people to settle in this suburb. By 1881, Bandra had 15,000 residents, of which half were Hindu, 30% were Christian and 15% Muslim. There were also Parsis, Jews and Armenians.

Apart from the attractive Mangalore tile roofing and carved wooden eaves, this station has cast-iron pillars (you can see them in this photo). Remember my previous article about Watsons Hotel? The Watsons were shipping their cast-iron pillars to India at roughly the same time as Bandra station. I wonder if the pillars all came from the same source and on the same ship :)
As part of the 1925 Heritage Regulations, Bandra Station was listed as a Grade 1 Heritage Structure (prime landmark in the city; no interventions permitted on exteriors or interiors). A conservation project was undertaken in 2008-2009 by Abha Narain Lambah Associates. The wooden eaves were restored, the roofing tiles repaired, some ticket counters and other temporary partitions demolished, the walls were strengthened. Extensive termite treatment  was done. There are more phases of restoration planned for the interiors, but I don't know what's happening to that.