Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Don’t miss out the Irani Cafes in Mumbai September 3, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 5:56 pm
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Yazdani is a bakery, and from what I’ve read; women have no access to the bakery itself. I certainly wasn’t allowed in to take photographs.

I cannot recall when I became aware of the Irani Cafés in Mumbai. But I do remember my first taste of brun maska, one of their signature dishes, if one can call a bun a dish. The Irani cafes, those who are left, are scattered around south Mumbai. Originally owned and run by the Iranians who migrated to India, the cafes were initially set up as chai cafes. By the beginning of the 20th century, Irani cafes had sprung up on almost every prominent street corner of Bombay. They are now, sadly, in decline, as the Parsis (Zoroastrians from Iran) themselves. But that is another story. One should make sure to visit one or two of these quirky cafes cum small restaurants, before it is too late.

I first visited the Yazdani Bakery in the Fort area a few years back. The café has simple wooden benches and tables, the interior is worn and dilapidated. Upon entering, my travel companion grinned his nose, unwilling to sit down. Whereas I was immediately charmed by the retro atmosphere and preferred to oversee the grimy sink in the corner. We ordered brun maska, a hot toasted white bun slathered in melted butter (now is the time to forget all about diets) with a crunchy crust. My friend, a die-hard consumer of healthy brown bread grinned his nose even more, but dug into the bun. Breakfast was hours away. He almost immediately asked for one more … It is simply is delicious! The owner of these Irani, or Parsi cafes, used to sit at a typical cash counter by the entrance. And Rashid Zend still do at Yazdani.  He was keen to talk and pose for a photograph as we paid a humble price for the filling meal.

You don’t eat comfortably, but you eat well …

 

The famous brun maska, looks simple – tastes yummie!!

Authentic, no doubt …

Apart from the food, the interior by far defines the Irani cafes. Marble-top tables, red-checked table clothes, bent wood chairs of German/Polish design, entertaining signboards and biscuits in glass jars. You really believe these eateries to be frozen in time! The food is more than a “simple” bun or the tasty Mawa cake. You may want to try the famous Bombay Duck or the yummy Berry Pulao at Café Britannia & Co. Quietly in a corner sat the owner himself, the rather famous Boman Kohinoor. In his 90’s, he still takes orders and is more than happy to talk and pose for pictures when we approach him. He speaks of his good health and longevity and is happy to go through some of his prized photos and letters displayed on a table, among them a signed letter from the Queen of England. Boman is a self-declared Number One fan of the British royalty.

Britannia & Co. Boman Kohinoor may look retired when spotted in his corner, but once you make contact he is a very vital man, in his 90’s … (below).

Another iconic restaurant not to be missed, is Kyani & Co, definitely worth a visit for the interior and the small shop inside the restaurant. It’s all here; the counter at the door, the significant table and chairs, the signs, the bakery at the back and the numerous jars of biscuits. It was time to taste the Mawa cakes, we could have eaten ten in one go!

The biscuits set you back only a few Rupis!

 

On your way back to the hotel, make sure to stop at the Parsi Dairy Farm in Kalbadevi. No matter how many brun maskas or Mawa cakes, there has to be room for Kulfi, a popular frozen dairy dessert. The Paris Dairy Farm has been under threat for several years now, another reason to step inside and treat yourself to “traditional Indian ice cream”, before it’s too late. The distinctive interior comes as a bonus!

PS – you might want somebody to take you on a Parsi Tour – My choice is http://www.zamorinofbombay.com

Kulfi at The Parsi Dairy Farm.

 

The Colour of Calcutta aka The King of the Road March 19, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:42 pm
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The first thing I noticed in Calcutta, was the omnipresent yellow taxis. It shant be denied, Calcutta is – at least at first sight, a chaotic, dirty, dreary, noisy, congested megalopolis (rumour says 17 million people…). At second glance, after spotting the taxis, the picture changes. At least it did for me. The taxis, like a swarm of bees, were lighting up every street.

The yellow Ambassadors are everywhere!!

FACT | The Hindustan Ambassador was an automobile manufactured by Hindustan Motors of India. It was in production from 1958 to 2014 with few improvements and changes over its production lifetime.

All the taxis have ‘No refusal’ on their doors. The story goes that the taxis are notorious for declining passengers, a fact that tells me that the drivers earn pretty good money. At least enough to say no to a ride in jammed areas – or too far away or maybe the driver has just planned his lunch break! So the authorities made the drivers put ‘No refusal’ on the car and act accordingly. Does it help? Hardly!

QUOTE | “It is as if the car is made for the city, its classic design going so well with the Colonial architecture.”

 

 

FACT | Taxi services started in Calcutta in 1907, the Ambassador became the standard taxi model in 1962. In 2014, Hindustan Motors brought the production of this regal brand to a close, sadly the Ambassador was not in sufficient demand.

If you didn’t know, you would think that there was still a steady production of these cars as they swarm and honk their way through the streets.  May the remaining cars live long and colour the streets of Calutta!

 

Matching colours March 16, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:07 am
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Very often, when I walk the streets of Indian markets with my camera, I see matching colours. The street vendors are dressed according to the goods they’re selling. Or… is it just a coincidence? It might be, but sometimes not… I spotted a few matching colours at Dadar market, Mumbai.

Above; a woman is selling yellow coloured fruits, dressed in a yellow sari. If her sari had been red, I might not have payed her any attention her… Now, she stood out in the crowd.

Below: She is selling grapes, and she has draped herself in a mauve sari which matches the tissue paper…

Below: Whatever she is selling, it matches her sari and umbrella. It was the reds that caught my attention.

Below: Even her bangles goes with her goods!

Below: A man… at last. Selling garlic and the shades are all blue…

Thanks to http://www.zamorinofbombay.com/ who took me to Dadar!

 

Queen Crimson December 11, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:16 pm
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Just as Old Delhi was about to eat me up… with its congested alleyways overflowing with people, goats (or cows… depending on the area), stray dogs, stray children, brazen boys on mopeds meandering through the throngs, rickshaws forcing their way through the chaos with passengers sunken deep in resigned acceptance of the almost impenetrable mass of anything under the sun  – amidst them a few tourists whose faces speak of frightful delight… Sometimes I imagine the whole area is put up for show. Because how can it be…

Old Delhi

Old Delhi with its sea of people…

 

I make a turn and walk into a courtyard where the sudden calm is likewise overwhelming. Gone are the honking horns, the throngs, the smells – the everything I came to see and still it feels so good to slip away… Even the air seems of a different kind.

Old D pink lady_2

I saw her immediately. And old woman sitting on an all India plastic chair facing a wall. The Holy Trinity Chuch to her right. I lurk around with my Indian companion, she senses an interest in the church and comes forward with the keys. It is difficult to tell her age, it always is in foreign cultures. But my guess would have been that she was in her mid-eighties. “Picture,” she says and nods at my camera. I sometimes wonder why people want their picture taken, I wonder if they believe it is a way to make them immortal.

Old D pink lady_1

She is a beauty in her own sense. The hair is white, it seems to have been like that for many years. Her skin reminds me of that of my grandmother when she was her age; silky wrinkles in a face who bore that faint smell of toiletries sitting on her almirah. She walks quite effortlessly, still, with an old woman’s gait. She is dressed in a cotton saree with a typical cardigan over which she has slung a beautiful, crimson woollen shawl. Delhi is  cold to a local, pleasant to me.

She sits down, poses. She seems to possess a calm friendliness. I wonder if I am the umpteenth photographer who has fallen for her looks and posture.  She does exactly what I tell her, she even breaks into a smile and reveals the missing teeth I had expected. Smiles and teeth together don’t come easily in India. She must be passed that.

Once I have finished she goes back to her needlework, or whatever it is she is mending. We take a last stroll before leaving the courtyard. I take a last photo without her knowing. And then we leave the calm behind.

Old D pink lady_3

 

Bangles. BANGLES! September 2, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:37 pm
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Bangles_2

The air is clammy. The heat clings to you. There are people everywhere. The narrow streets feel suffocating, Indian markets has its price. The colorful display makes you stop, the open door welcomes you. It’s as if you step into Aladdin’s cave; it sparkles and shines in red, orange, blue, turquoise, green, gold … all the colors of the rainbow, and even more. There are bangles made of glass and plastic, and bangles with the most beautiful “gemstones” attached. You stop, reach out a hand and you lose yourself…

Bangles_3

Indian women love their bangles. One hardly sees an Indian woman without. Poor as rich, children and adults. Bangles play a major role for Indian women. They are not just for ornamentation, bangles are part of a tradition and a part of women’s identity. Bangles are round and rigid in form. The word is derived from Hindi; bungri (glass). They are made of various materials, such as gold, silver, platinum, glass, wood, other metals or plastics. Bangles are traditionally a part of the solah shringar of Indian brides. It is mandatory for newlywed brides to wear bangles made of glass, gold or other metals as they signify the long life of the husband as well as good fortune and prosperity. Traditionally, breaking of the bridal glass bangles is considered inauspicious.
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The vendor is looking at your wrist, quickly, and lifts a simple bangle off the display on the wall. “Try,” he says. You feel pale and sweaty, but cajole the bracelet over your wrist. An experienced vendor makes no mistake, the size is perfect. “Careful,” he says, and slips the bracelet off your hand. The young woman who works together with him shows you how to take on and off bangles, several together, without breaking any. The thin glass rings are vulnerable.

Bangles_bry2

In the Indian culture, the color of the bracelets has different meanings. Red means energy and prosperity, while green means good luck and fertility. Gold bracelets are supposed to give you happiness, whereas white means a new beginning and orange stands for success. Silver bracelets signify strength, and gold is the ultimate symbol of wealth and prosperity.

The various states in India have their own traditions and rituals for bangles and weddings. Bangles are called by various names. In the southern states, gold is considered very auspicious. Sometimes, green and gold are mixed since green means fertility and prosperity. Upcoming brides use the smallest bangle possible, put on with the help of oil. That means her marriage will be full of love and affection.
In Maharashtra, the bride bangles are significantly different from other states. Brides uses green glass bracelet in odd numbers. Green means creativity, new life and fertility. The green glass bracelets are mixed with real gold – usually a gift from her in-laws.

Over the years, bangles are adapted to modern trends, but they still play an equally important role as a thousand years ago. New forms and patterns have turned up, but for traditional ceremonies round glass bracelets or bangles made of metal still apply.

Colors, materials and textures – the vendor creates the most beautiful combinations … Fast gestures move the thin glass rings back and forth, some are taken away – others added. You nod your head in approval, or not… It’s like magic.. “Okay,” he says questioningly. And suddenly you have paid for a box of bangles. One more time again…

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Mix and match…. the ever well dressed Indian woman…

 

Mumbai morning. marine drive. May 3, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 2:31 pm
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Marine Drive_2

It’s 7 am. The air feels cool. Mumbai’s pride; Marine Drive, is awake and alive. The broad promenade stretches along the Arabian Sea. In the evening, the shining lamp posts form a necklace, the Queen’s Necklace as they call it. Beautifully rounded, accompanied by the waves that steadily hit the rocks. But it’s early morning now, the sun is about to rise and break through the morning mist. A faint breeze strokes my chin as I listen to the ever present Mumbai crows. To the north, the skyline stretches towards the sky, mostly made by the high-rise buildings of fancy Malabar Hills. They seem quite a distance away behind a haze of mist, or smog as it might well be.

I turn around and my gaze falls on the Air India building, who has become my landmark. Tall hotels together with ordinary corporate buildings form the Northern skyline. People come to work here, but right now, people come to walk. They walk alone, or in pairs. In long strides, and short strides. The men, retired perhaps – in their white, big jogging shoes. Loose trousers, shirts with rolled up sleeves. Some stroll along leisurely, some walk briskly. They walk the talk. Old colleagues, neighbours, brothers, friends. Twos and threes, sometimes in fours. Then there is the retired couples; the women in their salwar kameez and a woollen cardigan on top of it. It’s still cool for a Mumbaikar. The wide trousers flutter around old legs above big shoes. Good shoes. They don’t talk, there is no need. They walk. Before the sun emerges and makes walking unbearable.

Some wear track suits, swinging their arms energetically from side to side. More men in groups, friends on a daily morning round. Glasses blinking, hands agitatedly waving the air. They could be discussing politics. Shouting friendly at each other. Or just keeping quiet. An old woman walks towards me, she is wearing a burka. She sits down next to me, breathes heavily. She seems distressed, restless. After a while she heaves her heavy body and leaves, perhaps she needed a rest. A suffering body or a suffering mind. Marine Drive_3

A young man is chasing a football, all by himself. The ball goes this way and that, always captured by the man who puts it back on track. He’s moving along with the ball, in between people. Nobody interferes. I follow him with my gaze, soon the restless figure is lost among the people.

The stream of people thickens. The sun is about to break. Four women is sitting side by side, chanting. Om, they chant. Ooomm… They are unmoved by the stream of people, by the looks of any odd tourist. Closed eyes, deep in concentration. The concrete wall along the promenade doubles as a bench. People also walk on top of it, or they sit down cross legged with their faces turned towards the sea. Contemplating; about the day that lies ahead or even life itself… Even at this hour, some young couples sit close together, captured in secrecy perhaps, a more than common sight in the evening. Some do yoga, stretching their bodies towards the soft sky. Some is lost to the world in deep meditation. Or, we simply let our gaze wander. Up and down the promenade. Thinking how lucky this overcrowded, polluted, dirty megalopolis is to have such freedom and space for everybody to share.

The joggers emerge among the walkers. Long trousers, short trousers. A woman in a sari even. Chubby young girls adamant on losing a few kilos, their feet heavily touching ground; bump bump. Sweat foreheads. Alone, but also in pairs. Mutual struggle. Mutual pain. Being two is always a small comfort. Athletic men in shorts glide along, fancy sun glasses, even more fancy shoes. Expats trying to keep fit, trying to beat the forever-glaring sun, trying to keep up a lifestyle from colder countries. Foreign business men from nearby hotels follow suit. But people mostly walk. Arms swinging from side to side. Stretching limbs as they walk. Serious looks on their faces. Trying to fight old age. Middle aged women in western clothes and big sunglasses. Walking fast and furious. Fighting yesterday’s too many laddoos. Young girls in threes and fours. Serious sometimes. Or giggling, discussing that very special boy in school. Avoiding the many stray dogs that scuttle about. And there he is; the little boy with the monkey in a chain. Frowned upon by the regulars, but always attracting interest from tourists before they realise he’s not there to entertain, but to earn a living.

I’m leaving, still not at risk while crossing the street. Walking towards the Air India building, and then straight ahead on uneven sidewalks towards Colaba. The odd stalls are coming to life along the way, people are queueing for their buses, the Oval Maidan is quiet, but the traffic is picking up as I reach the other side of the city where the sun has hit the Indian Sea with full force. Mumbai kråke

 

A neighbourhood market March 20, 2015

Delhi has many markets. I’m always tempted by Khan Market and Haus Khaz Village, because of the variety of so many decent shops. The lovely book stores of Khan Market, the tiny paper shop, the curio shop filled to the brim with garlands in the weeks before Diwali, the crowded Good Earth with outrageously overpriced clothes…. The elegant clothes shops of Haus Khaz, the basement boutiques with beautiful shawls and interior design items. The many lovely eateries and coffee shops. But it is you and a steady stream of tourists and expats. Those who go shopping with pockets full of rupees. And you tire of it… Then there’s a completely different kind…. the neighbourhood market that caters for people’s immediate needs. A stone’s throw away from my lodging at Friend’s Colony in the south of Delhi I came across Sabzi market. Nothing fancy, just the Indian hullabaloo of people, small vehicles of every kind, stray dogs, giggling children, street food, stalls, shops… Sabzi market Delhi banana                   Sabzi market  Delhi (8)

The banana seller needs a break and thus takes a break…

I met these smiling women and commented on their clothes, their light blue punjabi dresses. – It’s a uniform, they told me, we are sales women. – We’re just catching up. They were selling washing powder and showed me samples from their bags.

Sabzi market  Delhi (14)

Food…. there’s food everywhere and people are lining up…

Sabzi market  Delhi (18) Sabzi market  Delhi (2)

Kachori  – a spicy snack. These were selling fast…

Sabzi market  Delhi (3)

Boondi…sweet balls. I don’t know what they taste like, but to see the process is just intriguing. It gets its cute name from the Hindi word for drops or droplets – Boond. Another name for it is Motichor Laddoo (Moti means bead or pearl in Hindi).

Sabzi market  Delhi (15)

He was busy with his tandoor, the guy at Chip Chop Food. The rotis looked delicious…

Sabzi market  Delhi (12) Sabzi market  Delhi (11)

Another guy at Chip Chop Food, he fits so well with the colours in the background.

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They wanted me to take their picture, they might be brothers taking care of their father’s shop. The second I pointed my camera at them, they started to pose…

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Colours and fabrics….. It’s India!

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Every market has a tailor. This one cateres solely for the men.

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So many things are taking place in open air in India. This looked so amiable, sociable… the vegetable vendor, the card players and the three men at the back papering “GUJIYA” which is a special sweet for the festival holi that was rapidly approaching.

Sabzi market  Delhi (16)

Suddenly the streets were filled with children, the school must be over. Or rather,
the first shift. Schools in India mostly work in two shifts.

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Sabzi market  Delhi (9)

Women were sitting leisurely around everywhere, they must be in the middle of their daily shopping, but finding time for a nice chat!

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Sabzi market  Delhi (1)