Saturday, April 23, 2011

Paani Puri Politics....

I may be 'air-dashing' to Kolkata tomorrow. I have a date with Didi ( don't be dumb and ask 'Which Didi? Whose Didi?"). There is only one Didi. And I can't wait to meet her.
Two days ago, I 'air-dashed' ( how I love this strange desi term! It's only in India that people are forever 'air-dashing' idhar-udhar) to Delhi and back. Believe me, it is always a pleasure to catch that flight back to Mumbai. I had quite a few VVIP s on board - mainly boring netas, demanding masala chai five minutes before landing!Two corporate honchos behind me were trading 'solid' biz gossip. My ears were flapping! But my lips are sealed! In case I don't catch you guys in this space tomorrow - Happy Easter! I have got my bunny suit ready! Do you?
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This appeared in the Asian Age today....

Paani Puri Politics….!

Hey Bhagwan! Now street snacks are being targeted in Mumbai. Suddenly Paani Puri ( gol guppas to you), one of Mumbai’s all time favourite munchies has been declared a health hazard, and paani puri vendors are being chased out by the newly -minted , over zealous health police of this totally unhealthy metropolis. Mumbai is a city so embarrassingly filthy, even self-respecting rats have moved out of the garbage heaps. Mumbai stinks! To high heaven. Especially at this time of the year, when mercury levels soar and humidity goes up. Mumbaikars have lived with the stench for years. The first thing that hits the unwary visitor to the city at the airport itself is the peculiar stench that says perversely, ‘Welcome to Mumbai!” It is all pervasive…. clingy, fetid… a combination of rotting fish, uncleared garbage, clogged drains, and piles of human excreta that lines railway tracks, streets, pretty much any available free space. As of now, Mumbaikars are battling pre-monsoon malaria. The bugs in Mumbai have developed their own mutant strains – nothing can eliminate them. Our cockroaches are a breed apart – literally! They are the size of the endangered sparrows, and can fly faster than any of them! Once the rains arrive, the garbage heaps grow into mini- mountains and block pedestrians from using those absurdly narrow foot paths. In any case, footpaths are used as open air lavatories by the slum kids and are impossible to walk on without stepping into some bachcha’s poo. Given these overall conditions, what’s all this rubbish about paani puri being a serious health hazard? Since when? Of course, paani puri is dirty. But, boss, our stomachs are zinc- lined. Of course, the paani used by vendors isn’t mineral water. More likely, it is gutter water - contaminated and gross – but no worse than the brown water that runs through our taps. Paani puri enthusiasts know that… but they still want their regular fix of this foul indulgence. Let them have it! As they say in colloquial terms, “What goes of anybody’s father?” Why pick on poor paani puri alone? What about those luridly coloured ice golas that are peddled on carts during the long hot summer? Typhoid is just a gulp away when you suck on those disgusting concoctions made out of synthetic syrups, crushed ice and enough artificial colour to paint a bill board.. What about the improvised juice stalls selling ‘maara maari’ ( I am not making the name up. This is what an orange and mosambi juice combo is called in Mumbai). What about bhel puri – that is symbolic of Mumbai, not just in the culinary sense, but on many other levels? What an incredibly satisfying snack it is. I can do bhel puri, any time , any day. And I do know it is a potential killer. That’s the attraction … and thrill. Standing at a crazily busy traffic intersection, with underage millionaire brats driving pappaji’s Porsche just beyond ones toes, and instructing the Bhaiyaji to hold the imli, but pump up the kothmir, is an experience that is quintessentially Mumbai. I wouldn’t want to give it up for anything in the world – not even at the risk of missing a couple of toes as a consequence. I can’t profess the same level of commitment to the other Mumbai favourite – vada pav. I know it is cheap, filling and wonderful. It is our answer to the Big Mac and so on. But frankly, it is a calorie bomb that I prefer to avoid. I like to pick my calorie treats and O.D. with care. If I am going to pig out, I’d rather do it on bhel puri ( not that bhelpuri is diet food, but come on…. compare puffed rice to vada which is a deep fried patty of potatoes). To make it worse , the lethal potato patty is squeezed into plump squares of bread with a layer of bright red garlic chutney? No chance! Ditto for that other killer – pav-bhaji – which, in addition to the potatoes - squashed and mushy – has half a packet of butter going into it. How else can one get that irresistibly gooey texture? But these far-from- healthy concoctions are spared the wrath of local political parties. Why? Because they are seen as being ‘Maharashtrian’ snacks. Made by Maharashtrians for other Maharashtrians.Which is hog wash. The only authentic, freshly cooked Maharashtrian snack is kanda poha – and it doesn’t have too many takers. All other food in Mumbai’s countless informal eateries, has been introduced by ‘outsiders’. From Udipi restaurateurs serving idli dosa, uttapam and upma, to the ubiquitous ‘ Punjabi-Chinese’ and Jain Pizza joints catering to their loyal clientele. Nearly all these dodgy joints are dirty and do not deserve a license or health certificate. So?
We desis take our khaana –peena very seriously. Whether we gulp down gallons of gaaney ka juice ( 100% impure!), or choose to eat roadside fruit chaat with dozens of flies sitting on the sliced papaya – it’s our call, our stomach, our health. If authorities are serious about protecting citizens from various health hazards, why not start by cleaning up the roads? Making sure public hospitals maintain some level of sanitization? Providing public loos? Why go after those paani puriwallas who have been such an intrinsic part of Mumbai’s vibrant street food culture for decades? Take your battle somewhere else, you guys. Leave us to slurp , gag and choke while gulping that perfectly crisp puri filled to the brim with sweet and sour , over spiced water, that travels like liquid fire down the gullet, bringing instant tears to the eyes… and a gigantic smile to the face as soon as the tin plate containing those six, paper thin puries has been licked clean. Oh… how could I forget the post-paani puri burp? Aaaah – paani puri! Stay where you are. Stay the way you are. We’ll love you regardless.
Thinggu to you, politicos!

31 comments:

vskrishna6 said...

There is only one word to describe whatever you write: SUPERB

What millions feel, you put in words.

The style is racy, the treatment down to earth and the impact: Dynamite !

In one word: Superb.

Appu said...

Option 1.
Have Dahi Puri if not Paani Puri.

Option 2?

Sadiya Merchant said...

i once tasted a pani puri at a fancy hotel where dey made it wid gloves
one wrd reaction fr d taste- 'BWACKK!'

NAT said...

Reading your last para makes my mouth water...Oh for Pani Puri.

I guess the one at Bandra Elco Arcade is good and clean. They use bottled water, and charge a bomb.

Other Maharashtrian treats you did not mention Usal pav and missal...

Cheers!

goodluck said...

This description fits each and every place in India. There are no exceptions. Only degrees of dirt.

rutuja said...

:) awesome.. hope the pseudo health police reads this... they might just realise that india z not dumb...

jarheadxbox said...

What does Paana Puri taste like? Is in like falafal bread?

shetty sneha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shetty sneha said...

you can express the commmon man's world in the common man's words!!

Uppal said...

Wow to the perfect street food imagery juxtaposed with the nauseous filth and stink et al.The narrative clothed in racy wit, embellished with mirthful irony and breeziy style makes the piece to stand out as fabulously original one.Bravo!

ashwini said...

M'am well written, a tribute to all the street food of Mumbai which we miss in far out places, in an out of India. If you are going to Kolkata and meeting 'Didi', why dont both of you try the 'Puchka', that is 'Paani Puri' Bengali style? Have fun eating all the Mishty Dhoi and Sandesh!

star said...

Ultimate writing there..!!!

ROHAN kARKHANIS said...

agree with your views here.. but no one can deny that the pani puri walla urinating in his lota and using the same utensil for drinking water is enough to put any one off paani puri for a long time!!!!!!!!

cmpershad said...

I never airdashed to Mumbai. I travelled to Bombay [when it was not yet christened Mumbai] and would wake up in the morning by the stench which would indicate that I am touching Bombay :)

सुशीला पुरी said...

SUPERB

Uday said...

Heating food kills many germs, so wada-pav, pav-bhaji, and masala-dosa
could be safer than pani-puri.

Have been reading your blog for a while. Now, hubby checks it out too but says smaller paragraphs would be easier than one large chunk of text.
Possible?

Maira said...

" awesome " is the word for both...pani puri and this article...and i am a die hard fan of both :)

anil khanna said...

anything can happen on street.indians are disorganised.world wide,traffic lights are enough to monitor cross-roads but indians require traffic police to man cross- roads.foreigners visiting india ask if it is alright to buy from roadside.why indians are not taught to be careful of what they eat,what they put inside their mouth.why we eat everything.

Neha said...

I have to have paani puri today!!! And I agree that these politicos need to clean up the roads and provide better and more public facilities instead of aiming for street food. They have nothing better to do, I suppose!

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Mona said...

I even ate a panni puri after the chatwaala went to the corner to pee, holding his willie with the same hand with which he dished out the paani! :D

Divya Virmani said...

The media needs the smallest part of a gossip to create a HUGE hoopla in the country. I mean com'on??? My view are similar to yours. You have written out everything which is very very obvious by every single Indian. But still, our cuisine is definitely the best cuisine out there, so too hard to avoid any of these chat-pata and masala filled munchies!

BTW, heard about Kalmadi's arrest! Are you planning to dedicate your next article on his stay at Tihar J? :P

MdShafiqM said...

A novel descriptive for an unfortunate but perfectly true picture of the things and people rotting Mumbai within its colloquial flavour and favourites if not roadside to elite tasty life stylized conditions.
Mumbai Meri Jaan.
Kab hogi puriii hamari armaan.

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