Sunday, January 27, 2008

My dear 'Kaka'

- By Janaki Krishnan

It is ten in the morning. I am stuck in a traffic jam near Sion Hospital. My house is just a two minute drive from here. But I get tense, for my dear friend's lunch will be delayed.

It is a daily ritual in my life. I make two balls of cooked rice, mix a little vegetable and curd, and place it on our compound wall. The very next minute, my winged friend comes swooping down and pecks at it. He is a small lean fellow, my friend Kaka the Crow. Very soon, eight to ten of his clan turn up. They stand one behind the other on the wall, in a neat queue. My friend moves away and allows them to eat. There is no rushing and fighting. One after another, they have their share and fly away. After they leave, my little friend comes back to have a second helping.

As against my friend's disciplined behaviour, my brother's feathered pal in Matunga is a spoilt brat. Unless the dahi is visible on the rice ball, he won't touch it. And only when my brother places the food on his outstretched palm does he come closer to take a look. Then, he perches on my brother's shoulders and enjoys his meal. But that's not all - every now and then, he must be served his favourite dish - potato curry. He also insists on home-made murukkus.

My Sindhi friend says he's not surprised about the murukkus. He feeds his crows sev. He said to me "Janki-ji, they love it. As soon as I throw a little sev on the ground, they come in large numbers cawing joyously"

Mumbai's crows don't have to depend on us to feed them, of course. The city's high rodent population offers them a regular supply of fresh meat. The fishermen's daily catch is yet another interesting source of food. In fact, the only problem our winged heroes have in the city is scarcity of accommodation. With the city becoming more a more a concrete jungle, like all Mumbaikars, the crows too must go to distant suburbs if they want to find safe, spacious and peaceful homes for their offspring.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A panki? What's that?

For foodies, Swati Snacks is a bit of a religious experience. For me, it is an education in Gujarati cooking. This time, I learnt about the panki.
I'd never seen a panki before, although I've lived in Bombay for more than 20 years. The couple at the table next to me ordered it, and they seemed to know what they were doing. So I recklessly said "I'll have whatever they're having".

Ten minutes later, my plate arrived. It had this yellow, paper thin pancake, steamed in banana leaves. You open the folded leaves, peel off the panki and pop it in your mouth with green chutney. It tastes divine.

The panki is made of ground rice mixed with a paste of yoghurt, green chillies, fenugreek and asafoetida. It is not spicy, and therefore the tangy green chilli in the chutney complements it wonderfully. 

The panki is Swati Snacks' signature dish - if you do go there, you'll find others ordering it. You'll also see some variants of the panki on the menu. Just do what I did - look around, subtly point at someone's plate and say 'I'll have what they're having!".

Sunday, January 13, 2008

No problem, yaar!

- by Janaki Krishnan

Mumbaikars have mastered an interesting knack - the ability to sail skillfully through life in housing cooperative societies, even in the face of irritants. I refer to the parking problems we face in our society, with three buildings, 48 flats and 15 cars. There is just enough parking space for the existing cars, at a payment of Rs. 300 per month. The problem arises when the cars do not check in at the usual time, and are forced to park wherever space is available. Since my husband is the Secretary of the Building Society, I get a ring-side view of the results.

It begins right at 6:30 a.m. The watchman comes running to our house and says 'Saglay mala oradtaat. Gaadi majhi aahe ka?' (Everyone's shouting at me, is it *my* car?). Before he finishes, our Sindhi friend Mr. Bhavnani, owner of two transport buses comes fretting and fuming. He delivers a fast-and-furious speech about his parking problems, most of which the Secretary cannot understand. "Bhavnani saab", the Secretary coolly says, "Repair work is going on in your building. You have to adjust for a few days." Bhavnani is stumped, but he delivers a parting shot before he leaves. "Whatever you have to say, you give it in writing", he says.

Next comes the mild-manned Rajaram Iyer, with his grievances. "Sir, Mr Jain has parked the car in front of mine and is still sleeping. Now I have to climb three sets of stairs to get his car key. Please, from next time, you keep a duplicate key!"

Next in line is Preeti, our Gujarati neighbour. Coming from the land of the Mahatma, she wants justice. "Uncle", she says, at the Committee meeting, "Only cars that are registered in the member's name should be allotted parking in the society's premises. Why is Ranade's married daughter's car here?" This sparks off a furious debate about parking rules. The Secretary tries to be calm. "Preetiji, today Mr. Ranade had a mild heart problem. His daughter has come to take him to the hospital."

Then, Mr. Joglekar, a senior citizen and a Committee member, steps in. With Maharashtra's legacy of legal luminaries like Ambedkar and Tilak behind him, he speaks about rights and duties. "Secretary saheb, when society work is to be taken up, nobody comes forward. Those who do not do their duties have no right to ask for privileges." As the Secretary smiles at him, Mr. Kamath, another Committee member of 82 years, takes up an advisory stand. "Mr. Krishnan, don't be scared of all this shouting. We cannot satisfy everybody. You do what you feel is right."

Finally comes a diplomatic reply from the Secretary. "I understand your problems fully. Therefore I have written a letter to the Secretary of the Mumbai District Cooperative Housing Federation, regarding rules to be followed for parking in cooperative societies. Very soon, I shall send you a copy of the rules. Till then, let things continue as they are."

After this, the meeting disperses. The members stand around, discussing why the watchman never opens the gate in time, the unhygenic conditions around, the sweeper's indiscipline, and other common problems. I observe their behaviour, and realise that a Mumbai housing society is a cohesive unit with its own unique character. Perhaps this is what separates the Mumbaikar from others in the country - we can live *happily* in groups, complaining to each other about our innumerable problems, while we continue with our daily tasks!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Jai Jai Vithala

- by Janaki Krishnan

It was 'Vithala Vithala' all the way this morning, as hundreds of Varkari pilgrims danced their way from Cotton Green to Shivaji Park.

They were on their way to the Vithala temple at Pandharpur, 450 kilometers from Bombay.

Men in traditional white caps and dhotis, with cymbals hanging from their necks, danced and sang devotional songs composed by Tukaram and Gynaneshwar, the great Bhakti saints of Maharashtra.

They were accompanied by women in nau-varis – long nine yard sarees – skillfully balancing tusli saplings on their heads. Some carried copies of the Gyaneshwari, a 13th century translation of the Bhagavat Gita from Sanskrit into Marathi.

A colourful palanquin, drawn by bedecked oxen, contained the idol of Lord Vithala. It halted at intervals, for people to pay obeisance. Residents of nearby buildings showered flowers on the ox cart.

My attention was drawn towards two brightly coloured cut-outs of Vithala and Rakhumai, the deities of Pandharpur. Vithala is another name for Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Little children, dressed as Krishna and Rukmini, brought a smile to my face.

The procession halted at Five Gardens for lunch. This family, led by a kirthankar with a stringed tanpura, had brought their own simple food.

There were others who ate in larger groups. They were served rice khichdi in disposable plates made of leaves.

Lunch was not a prolonged affair. When the sound of drums and cymbals started again, the whole group – men, women and children – rose quickly to their feet, and resumed their singing. I stood for a moment and watched them. When the rest of the city seemed to be revolving around fashion, fame and money, here was a group totally oblivious of everything around them, walking to a different beat.

This was no ordinary noisy procession, such as the ones I see every year during the Ganesh festival. The members of this group, young and old, seemed to be floating on a different plane, with Pandharpur in their heart and Vithala on their lips.