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?
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!