life… where it comes from and where it could go…

I escaped last week from the questions that the city life was posing before me. I escaped from the people that were coming too close for comfort and I escaped away, far enough to think about what was keeping me from breaking the walls.

I wasn’t escaping permanently, but just for a time enough to catch my breath and come back and deal with my life. So off I went- best friend, sister, and sister’s best friend in tow- to Malvan. A small town in Sindhudurg district, Konkan.

My relationship with Malvan has been a strange one. Although my family came from this place, I never went there for 9 years. When I did, I was a pesky 10 year old obsessed with Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. So there I was, in the backseat of the car, singing along to the songs, observing the trees passing and asking my grandfather some silly questions.

On that trip he told me that we all face same situations through our lifetimes, how we deal with them, is what differentiates each life story. On this trip, he could have ignored me, treated me like a kid but he didn’t. He treated my questions with integrity, answering them till I was convinced.

Soon, I didn’t have to ask any questions. He told me of his childhood, his mother, his father and a life full of poverty. He told me of his restlessness, to move out of the small town. He told me of his life in Mumbai, his struggles. He told me how he became a rich man and then bankrupt again. He told me how he tried to fight his bankruptcy and rise again. He told me how he succeeded and most importantly he told me how in his success he also failed.

I came back, the same pesky 10 year old, but I knew a lot more about my grandparents. And the narrow streets and thatched roofs of Malvan stood as a symbol of the story.
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The whole village seems abuzz. The streets that once saw not more than one or two cars a week, were experiencing traffic jams. The street, on which my grandfather played Veeti-Dandu, is full of halogens as we approach a Ganesh mandir. The bright exuberant Mandir is decorated with flowers, lights and devotees.

An old man wearing bright orange robes walks in with an entourage of 10-15 people. And at every step, someone touches his feet and seeks his blessing. He smiles and walks. He stood before the golden Idol, bowed his head and stood again, looking at Him with love. It was a different kind of devotion.

He walked back and sat by the edge of the Mandir. People from the village, from outside the village came and paid their respects to this man, who’d grown up on this very piece of land. This man, when he was a boy, struggled to keep at school. His father was a simple man who was passionate about Ayurveda. Though the family lived in limited means, this boy grew into a man rich with curiosity. He struggled to start a handwritten magazine. He may have dropped out of school, but he read and soaked up the knowledge books had to offer. He learned Sanskrit and astrology. He soon started wondering about the world outside the boundaries of this village.
He went, he struggled, he conquered, he lost, he struggled again and now, he was the man who commanded respect with the way he walked. Tall, elegant and serene.

In a village, where once he had been too poor to be able to afford simple joys of life, he had built a grand Ganesh mandir. In a village, where school masters wrote him off for dropping out, he built a school. And even today, the money doesn’t matter, he continues to be rich with curiosity.

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Don’t gimme red!

Ok so it’s the time of the year where TV, radio, newspapers and magazines start harping about love. All the shops are coloured pink and red with merchandise and all the couples around you start planning dinners, gifts and what not.

Yes, Valentines’ Day is around the corner and although I haven’t been in Mumbai for the past 2 years, I haven’t been untouched by the pink phenomenon. In fact, the last two valentines’ days spent abroad have made me tolerant to the Mumbai Valentines’ Season!

In 2006, I was a desi student at University of Sussex. While the under-grads, changed their boyfriends every week and took periodical breaks from dating and coochie-cooing, it was sacrilege for them to be single around the second week of February. And those who didn’t bother with the dating through the year, miraculously pulled their heads out of their labs and libraries to check out other singles. All to ensure a date for Valentine’s Day!

My best friend at the Uni spent most of her year missing her boyfriend, but she didn’t make any bones about Valentines’ Day, one of the reasons why I love her so much. And I didn’t give a damn. I was busy with my thesis, my sister was going to arrive in a month and I had to save up for a grand French holiday. I’d rather damn the Valentines’ day. That was my Valentines’ in Brighton.

The year after that, I had moved with bag and baggage back to Mumbai and was visiting UK for my graduation. I extended my trip and was going to be in London for Valentines’ Day. Immediately, a couple of my friends concluded that I had got together with someone and wanted to celebrate the day with him. I didn’t need that lame an excuse to extend my stay in UK. I love that country. It was my home for almost 2 years.

But it was that valentines’ day that has made valentines’ season in Mumbai much bearable for me. Everywhere I went, there were people holding red roses. Every store’s window display was red and pink and hearts were in abundance. On the bus, tube and on the streets, everyone was kissing and whispering sweet nothings. I am sure, Cat Stevens was in London around the Valentines’ season when he wrote ‘Love is in the air’.

Some of the couples seemed genuinely sweet, but from my experience at the Uni, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these people were genuinely in love! Like my SRK says in a film called ‘Dil to Pagal hai’- How many of these people will even bother to see each other beyond this hyped celebration of love. Is it that, these same people may celebrate the next valentines’ with a different person in their arms?

By the time the Valentines’ season wound up in London, I was asked out by some 5 random men, I was tempted to buy myself a gift for bearing through this unbearably sweet celebration of love with gritted teeth and I realised that Valentines’ Day is the season to segregate those who are single by choice for this occasion and those who hook up to avoid being alone on 14th of February!

And yes, if you don’t hook up and do end up staying in with Tesco finest pre-cooked pasta and a glass of cheap wine- don’t worry the TV will remind you that the world outside rejoices being with someone by playing the mushiest films, mushiest videos and the mushiest episodes of popular television series.

The romance-cynic in me is happy! It’s the 3rd of Feb and nobody’s bothered to tell me that I need to be with someone this season… How I love Mumbai!

Short on Money? head to Mani’s

If you’re running out of pocket money but need a good fill of food, don’t think twice before parking yourself into this modest eatery at Matunga. Mani’s lunch home has dished out crispy vadas and soft idlis to many college students for over a couple of decades.

There are three seating areas to choose from. There is the classic Udipi bench and table set-up inside, there is the open air seating on plastic stools and kattas outside and the third section is the comfort of your own car.

The most sought after section is the one on the footpath! Yes you read right, the footpath. The plastic tables and the marble lined kattas are a hot favourite amongst the college kids and those looking to revisit their college days.
The car service bit is rather popular with families. All they have to do is park by the curb, and Anna will bring you your order. Eat up and drive away!

The Annas can’t be called waiters. They don’t treat you as customers. They treat you like they would treat a guest at home- insisting on another cup of coffee, bringing you extra sambhar and chutney without you having to ask. Try the Mysore Sada Dosa, a crispy dosa with a soft, chutney lined centre. If you’re a health-freak demand steamed Idlis, dunked in the sambhar which is just perfect in consistency, not too spicy, not too sweet and not too tangy. Just perfect!

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, check out the chalk written board for specials. Bondas, banana bhajiyas and sheera are absolutely delectable but are very oily. “No problem,” says Anna in his signature south Indian accent. He disappears and brings us a cup of coffee. The aromatic filter coffee washes down the oil and pumps up the adrenaline to hit the road. All done in a little less than half an hour!

You maybe are wondering why we’ve not mentioned the price. Well, at an average cost of Rs.10/- per dish, you can eat to your hearts content for just Rs. 50/- , so who wants to watch the bill. “Order karo khata jao,” advices Anna as we move away.

Mani’s Lunch Home is located near Ruia College, Matunga-400019 and is closed on Mondays.