Friday, March 29, 2013

Mumbai street vendors: khatta tidbits

- By Aishwarya Pramod

The school bell rings one last time signalling the end of classes, and food vendors outside school get ready for a rush of orders. Bhel, frankie, pakora, dabeli, vada pav, bhajiya pav, sandwiches, groundnuts, and singhara are some of what's generally offer, depending on the day of the week and the vendors in the area. And inevitably there is one thela selling amla, kairi, starfruit, bor, imli, and other sour treats.

                                  Schoolgirl at thela
Up until I was about 12, I was a goody-two-shoes who made a beeline for home straight after school - not looking at a single food stall. But a friend of mine who was crazy about kairi eventually began dragging me after school everyday to see whether the thela-wala had come that day. Pretty soon, I was hooked to kairi and amla (with salt and enough red chilli powder to set my tongue on fire). And this was someone who'd never considered herself a fan of anything sour in general.

Here's a picture of kairi (raw mango) slices. The thela (cart) also has groundnuts, and two related kinds of berries (called ber or bor) - a small dark red dried berry, and the larger, brighter Indian jujube.

Here's a larger photo of the same thela - and in between a bunch of saunf (fennel) and a bag of imli (tamarind) pods is a bag full of the small, bright aamla (Indian gooseberry) which I ate in such copious quantities in school. Moving down, there is a bag of bright green karonda (Carissa carandas, a type of dogbane, Wikipedia calls it loftily) - a small fruit which is when raw can be used to make pickles. Below that, there is also a bag of large aamlas, which are typically urer and slightly more bitter than the small ones. I have a bottle of pickled aamla at home, to eat with curd rice.

Of course, it's not just school kids - everyone likes these snacks. 
                Check out the food colouring added to the kairi...
...and the six different flavours of imli (tamarind).
Here are some more fruits available on Mumbai streets...

Starfruit and cucumber being sold on Marine Drive.
A closeup of the starfruit with chilli powder and salt.
And here are two I've never tasted. The thela-wala told us that this small yellow fruit is like an extra sour mini-mosambi (sweet lime). On the right are wood apples - he told us its skin was so hard that it needs to be broken with a small hammer.

You can see the handle of the wooden hammer 
he uses to break open the wood apples :)
A college friend's mother was complaining to us about how in her time, after-school snacks meant eating these roadside tidbits, but "kids these days" eat packets of chips and burgers and ice cream. Well, alright, that may be true, but we still love those khatta things too. May these thelas bring happiness to continued generations of school kids!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Scenes from Worli Fishing Village

- By Deepa Krishnan

Walking through Worli Fishing Village is a bit like stepping into a time-warp. The rest of Mumbai might live in the 21st century, but this part of the city is still not far removed from the sleepy fishing village it once was.
Temple with deep-stambh, old style houses and tulsi plant.
Water is stored in big plastic bins now, instead of wells. 

The colourful boats still remain a visually arresting feature. The old cane baskets are there, but alongside, there are also plastic ones.
The kolins wait every morning for the catch to come in, like they have always done. Except now each woman has a cell phone, and the clothing is more varied. 
The morning ritual outside the homes still includes tulsi puja and rangoli
Spices and chillies are still dried in the sun, and ground to make personalised masalas
This house has a tulsi plant holder shaped like a boat. 
Change has come to this house, you can see a girl's school 
uniform hanging from the clothes line.

The current generation may not all go fishing, 
but the sea remains a constant presence, visible
at the end of  many tiny lanes.
And the boys continue to dive and splash and enjoy themselves, as generations before them always have done. 
Walking through Worli Fishing Village always makes me uncomfortable. On the one hand, I want to see the old traditions continue. On the other hand, there is the villagers' own desire to modernise, to become more like the rest of city. What we need is a strong conservation movement that helps document and preserve old houses and ways of life, but provides room for the aspirations of local inhabitants. I was in Ahmedabad this week, speaking at a training program on heritage management, and there is some excellent work that is being done in that city to revive the inner city areas. We need something similar for Worli. Or soon these little lanes and colourful boats will be things of the past, and glass and concrete will take over this part of the city too.