Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What you simply MUST NOT buy because of monsoons in Mumbai

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Yes, there are sales and sales. Nobody is saying it is the Pre-Id sale, but you a festival is a good reason to offload a lot of stuff on the waiting-to-buy population of Mumbai. Mumbai loves malls, loves food courts, loves Bollywood and loves shopping. But discounts and sales notwithstanding there are some things you must never ever buy, due to the aftermath that monsoon leaves on the stuff you so lovingly buy and hoard.

* Mango wood furniture. It is cheaper obviously than teak or rose, and looks solid. And a lot of well-established brands sell them. But your wood is going to puff after just one monsoon. Your drawers will not open. Your doors will get stuck. Cupboards will refuse to budge. You will tug and swear. Then break something because despite the solid look this mango wood is puffy after the monsoon leaves its track of humidity behind.
* Leather moccasins --those embroidered ones that are super easy on the pocket and look super cool too -- but will be gone with a fungal overload that will make you sick, give you itchy feet and will cost you as much to clean up, even with the streetside cobbler -- they use mustard oil polish to remove the fungus -- but once you seen the overgrowth, you can't won't to wear them again!
* Salt lamps -- oh, they leak and how
* Solar panel lamps -- Hmmm.. eco-friendly and all that, but they konk-and croak off -- and you will find out too late that nobody knows what to do with them.

There are other things, but will add them once I recover weeping over their loss:)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Paisa vasool? Getting small change is sooo tough..

If you look for anybody who has NOT had difficulty finding small change, I doubt you'll find anybody in Mumbai,except the super rich guys who do not need coins. But us, small middle class types, who need change for everything(btw did you know at the Sea Link toll booth you have to pay Rs 55.50 paise(and where are these 50 paise coins?!!) it is a very very tough life.

The auto or taxi drivers often claim they do not have the change that they are required to return. So, if you don't have the right amount, they keep the rest, since it is YOUR fault that you do not have change.  Or, they will not take you in, if they are honest, saying that they will ferry you only if you have the appropriate change-- that is fair from their side, but unfair, because we all know how tough it is to get an auto.

The chemists or some stores will give you some toffee/chickets/mouth freshners as change, since they too are bogged down by the lack of coins.

The other day I begged one shop-keeper to give me change for one hundred bucks. Or give me the name of the shop/dealer who can help... this business of having been a journalist, you try all tricks.  He said it won't happen for one hundred bucks. Usually, it will be only for several bagfuls. And the dealer takes a ten buck commission on one hundred bucks!

That is why we do have coin shortage in this city. Some fellows are hoarding coins, to recycle it back to shops in need, making a profit. It has to be on a large scale for it to be profitable. It is unbelievable. But barring one report in a Mumbai tabloid, which I cannot recall covered this hoarding aspect, have any of you noticed it in any newspaper at all?

I joke that when I start getting more Rs 5 coins, I will put it away in my locker...

But I must say, the last two days, the rare thing has happened, I managed to get five bucks as change from auto drivers.. no fuss, no haggle..Phew.. Hope this bonanza lasts.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Where are the blue flowers in your bouquet?

When I was a journalist(aw, there I go again), doing features, I had  the luxury (imagine, in  the good old Times of India which is pretty bureaucratic) of choosing the stories I worked on (being in the newest Features section of the Sunday TOI). So I would write from disappearing anti-biotics(when there was a epidemic scare back then), to child marriage by Arabs in Hyderabad,   to sudden appearance of yellow butterflies in Mumbai. I fondly remember the late Frank Simoes, ad guru, sending me a letter saying that how in the pall that was journalism my writing and choice of subjects was different and heartening (or something to do that effect). I cherished that letter for years, till, in the shift that has been my life, it got burned in a huge fire at my home.. I threw all my three big folders of bylines and my whole life as a writer into the other charred remains, and since then, up till now, looked only towards yoga.

Any case, I had written, years ago, on the Little Yellow suddenly dancing all over Mumbai.. it was a sudden beautiful thing, one summer. But nowadays I hardly see butterflied, though I fix orange rinds on my window sill (it is said to attract them).  But they are rare..I have seen the Monarch, large and majestic. And at the two nurseries near by (one at the Bandra Talao) you can still see large butterflies, attracted by the cluster of vigorous plants and flowers. ,, but that is just a rare freak thing..

Any case, this blog is about the next best thing to butterflies, flowers, even if they do not grow on my window sill -- if there is too much of a cementy dust, from excessive construction activity, the pores on the leaves seem to get smothered. I realize it is very difficult to maintain a terrace garden in Bandra ..

Last month I got an urge to keep a blue flower in my room. Usually I buy Rajnigandha for its intoxicating fragrance. If you cut the stem often and refresh the water, you can make it last all of one week, with the fragrance still spilling into your space.It costs just Rs 20 a stem, and is the most affordable from amongst the other exotica.  But I wanted a blue flower or a purple one. I hunted high and low, and the only flower with both shades that I could find in all florists was the blue orchid, which costs a whopping lot. 100/120 bucks for one stem. I had no choice but got it-- but though it had no fragrance, it lasted a long long while, its petals turgid and firm, and the color unfading and still magically glowing. I was amazed how long it lasted and understood why it was a favorite part of many large bouquets.

The point is most florists have a stock number of flowers -- roses in plenty, mostly in red, yellows, pinks and whites. No blues. The white flower line-up -- Queen's lace, lily, gladioli, gerbera. Of the last three again, there are several shades -- but usually the more popular yellow, orange.  Go and check the florist closest to you and you will see what I say is so true -- these are the dominant colors, not with shifting shades, but with strong monochromatic colors.  Barring the orchid, which u can get in one more shade, you will not find any blue flower with your florist. That was quite an eye-opener for me!

There is no third-eye (ajna chakra) representation in the floral bouquets of India. Have you seen blue flower themes at weddings? At other major events?! Most likely not. It is intriguing, , this avoidance of a color which is said to represent loyalty, trust, dependability.

No blue bells, no blue roses, no hydrangea, though you will find the nurseries do sell hydrangea plants with the large globes of blue.. that that is ok in the garden, but not in your bouquet..

And the blue orchid also, if you look at it properly, is more of a pinkish shade.. not quite purple(another color sorely missing with the florists) and not so blue except in photos..

I am curious if the rest of the major cities are also hung up about only white, yellow, pink, red colors for bouquets, wedding decors and parties..

And if the change happens, when blue flowers are more easily available,  will I still be around? Or will -- till then -- be required to  make do with a painting or a paper copy of a blue flower..

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ode to the disappearing restaurants in Bandra

This is the carry bag for Bong Bong. From just a plastic cover, we are happy to note its evolution, speaking of some spunk. Bong Bong, the very elegant Bengali food joint, is on 16th Road. And it started as a little smoky joint near Toto's garage pub.. a small takeaway  with some oily rolls. But it has grown now, and I cannot imagine that spot now without its individualistic d├ęcor (old typewriters, gramophone, prints, fans -- the nostalgia route that appears genuine).
  Why are we gushing over this little joint? Because since we moved back into Bandra the last few years, we have seen many a great restaurant and smaller ones (with established franchisee) falling flat on their faces. Our beloved Yellow Tree is gone, with its wifi zone, super menu and wonderful wonderful cocktails.  It started on one floor and expanded into two, before vamoosing one bright morning. Gone, to be replaced by another food spot, which, mercifully is pretty good too.

The list of loved and not-so-loved restaurants and eateries in and around Pali that have disappeared is appallingly long -- Barbecue Nation, where you could a humungous amount of food as buffet, And what about the hot Food Street hugging Carter Road? The elegant Italian restaurant beside CCD which despite its sophistication and elegant food was really low-priced, but gone now? Nearby,   Pocolo where we ate just once, Cinnabon (where despite my dislike for things too sugary I gained a few kilos), Costa Coffee which I always worried over, being so sparsely visited despite its sprawling space; the chocolate bar that disappeared at Pali Naka (can't get the name but with those lovely liquor chocolates) replaced by another Mediterranean  one which also disappeared, to be replaced by some other joint that too got replaced -- is there a food joint now? I am not going to find out. And that  tiny dumpling eaterie beside Suzette where the food did not meet the price tag. Who remembers the  umpteen  restaurants along the signal to National College (so many that have come and gone that I have simply lost track). I was sitting one day eating lunch at one of those pasta joints, and believe it or not, they were dismantling the kitchen. It was really tragic.

Oh, Kailash Parbhat, where you could get authentic Sindhi food? Hardly lasted a year... good food, amazingly priced; lotus stem specials and thalis that did not pinch the purse. Gone, forever.

No Dosa Diner here (we remember standing in a long queue outside the one in Bandra, long years ago. But despite its popularity, it too disappeared)

It is a wonder that the foodie sections of all these tabloids or magazine sections -- they do not cover the reason for this demise. When I was a journalist (how I love to say that:) we followed trends; did not just eat and smirk and carry a review which sounds very childish. I mean, I once read a food review, where this girl smirks at thin crust pizza and says how it does not measure up to the fat ones she's used to.  Totally exposed, but she does not have a clue:)

Where do the eateries (the good and the bad and the ambitious ones) go-- there is a lovely feature idea there:- both from a very business angle and from the love-of-the-city angle. And all we get is food reviews from restaurants that are very likely going to disappear very soon:(

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bandra, oh Bandra

Bandra will always be my beloved. It released the shy south Indian in me, and let me be just what I want to be.. tattooed, curly-wild mane, shorts and androgenous looks:)
 I remember once I ticked off a guy for jumping queue in the very back-of-beyond suburb Kandivli east where I lived in a state of suspended animation for years. He looked at me, as I am then as now, with tattoos (less those days) , wearing a leopard print rock-chic shirt, unforgivable in his eyes. In his limited world view as an Indian male, making it obvious what he thinks (that  dolt with diapers still on). And instead of cringing for lack of manners he says archly and with almost a spit at the end of his tongue, says, "Look at you." I mean to say, my leopard chic shirt was full-armed, my wild mane was tied back, and I had full pants on. Yet, he thinks that I should dare to speak to his holy maleness.. so he tries to bulldoze me with rudeness and says, " Look-at-you!" Hoping I will be reduced to ashes and blow away with the wind!!  Arrggh.. it is so irritating this habit. In the south, if you ask a man for a direction, he will pretend you are talking to the wind --- that you are not there. There is something seriously wrong with the Indian male, and you may have to psycho-analyse the entire families, and possibly, the guilty mothers for this terrible lacunae in how they treat the women.
But in Bandra this disharmony in the Indian male is somewhat (only somewhat) muted, so you can be just who you are if you can switch off some of the rowdy behavior (largely, I believe, from people from outside Bandra who think this is where THEY should let their hair down, and misbehave).
Any case, so since I am reviving my city blog after aeons, what better way than with Bandra bytes:)
So, see the image above.  And don't miss the name of the  paan shop. It is very very very cute, and hatke. I asked the paan shop owner if I can click, and he waved me on generously. I was at the traffic signal, where four roads meet (at Lemon Grass restaurant) which is where this paan shop is. There is another paan shop close to lemon grass, more humble roof, and no name. But this one, it rocks, na?
I was going to ask him why that name, and the story behind it. But I stopped being a journalist, though did not stop being curious. So, while I fought with these two identities, I slipped the opp to ask and here, there is only the image. If any of you go to him, ask him. I am sure, there is a tale:)