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!

 

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.

Sabzi market  Delhi (13)

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…

Sabzi market  Delhi (17)

Colours and fabrics….. It’s India!

Sabzi market  Delhi (4)

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

Sabzi market  Delhi (6)

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.

Sabzi market  Delhi (10)

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!

Sabzi market  Delhi (7)

Sabzi market  Delhi (1)

 

A Wedding in Delhi January 23, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 12:04 pm
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There is a wedding. And there is a festival. My car is stuck among crowds of joyous people. They are coming from everywhere, all moving in the opposite direction of the car. The mass of people is like a big wave, and there seem to be no escape. They’re on their way home from festival celebrations. Whereas I’m on my way to a wedding. My expectations are disturbed by the driver’s silent cursing. Hees’s trying to manoeuvre the car this way and that way, but for the most part we’re standing still. The people in the streets seem oblivious to the cars, as if they didn’t exist. I get a creeping feeling of claustrophobia as I watch their exciting faces, and suddenly – quite irrationally – I imagine the crowd going violent. The driver coax the car out of the undulating masses and we’re once more on the main road. My western mind is thinking that I might be late, at least I will miss the arrival of the bride or groom or even both, and I’m cursing the traffic too.

20141003_222042NYThe car eventually comes to a halt, and I realise we have reached the wedding venue. It’s out of doors, still I pass through a covered gate and enter what looks like an assembly hall. The dark night covers the area like a roof, and my eyes blink when I look around. At first glance I see a world brightly coloured in red and gold. The area seems to be divided in order to meet several needs, and people are scattered here and there. I realise I must be early nevertheless. There is no crowd, as I had expected.

Soon enough the heat fastens its grip after the pleasant, cool car. I’m given a tour of the area, I stumble in carpets as I’m trying to get familiar with the hall. Tables are laid out alongside the walls, for drinks, fruit, plates, cutlery, some food – although the main buffet is in an adjacent room. The inevitable Indian stage is in the far end of the room, whereas the middle of the room holds some sort of ramp for whatever use it may be. Chairs are lined up in rows, but I realise that my back is going to suffer considerably if I don’t sit down immediately and keep the chair for the rest of the evening. People are going to circulate, I mentally correct myself. A few tables with chairs, few considering all the people expected, are also scattered more or less in the middle of the room – and suddenly my eyes catches a jumping-tower in the far corner – to keep the children busy I assume. Everybody and everything is taken care of. The opposite corner is set up as a disco, but I never noticed before I heard it.

I see some familiar faces from yesterday’s evening. A common language prevents us from exchanging pleasantries, but a few of the younger generation grabs the opportunity to speak English with a foreigner. Cameras and cell phones are more dominant than handbags. We stand in rows. Click. Exchange places, more clicks. Flashes are shooting up like lightning, and afterwards, bent over the small screens we make sure everybody is captured within the frame before the small crowd disperse – and new ones take form. I admire the women, trying my best to tell them how beautiful they look. The colours, the patterns, the silk, the gold. It’s amazing how one, or maybe two styles of clothing can show such a variety. When I think I have seen the prettiest sari ever, my eyes catches sight of yet another. And another…

I wonder if the heat will ever subside when I suddenly realise people are pouring in, and they must have been doing so for a while because when I look around me the hall seems full of people – I haven’t really noticed. It’s like watching a theatre play; something is going to take place but I just can’t imagine what. Instead, people are roaming carelessly around, but an empty chair allows me a few moments of relief. The air is thick, India has a way of eating you up. Right then I felt nibbled at. Unexpectedly, a child serves me some fruit and suddenly the air is ablaze with sound. The disco in the corner takes me by surprise, and from that moment the “all India picture” is complete with heat, people and noise.

I’m told the groom has arrived and I hurry to the gate. He is surrounded by quite a crowd, they all seem to be playing some game with money. He seems to be floating in a sea of hangers-on, I wonder if his feet are touching ground at all. He seems restrained, but maybe I’m misjudging his face. He looks at any rate beautiful in his outfit in red and gold, – undoubtedly the going colours for a wedding. The atmosphere is almost hypnotizing.

Somebody is trying to put an end to the disco as the groom is moving towards the stage. Still, the temperature is boiling on the dance floor, which is dominated by young men raising their arms in the air. Again I’m thinking; will this night ever become any cooler? Big umbrellas are flooding the stage with light, it’s like a photo studio. The groom has a tie of rupees around his neck and there seem to be some sort of a ceremony taking place. He looks stunning, standing tall in the limelight. He is somewhat heavily built with a square-cut face and full lips, in his outfit he looks like a Maharaja from times gone by. Whatever happens on the stage seems to be taking place without nobody really caring. A restless feeling takes hold of me; is the bride ever to turn up? Meanwhile the disco picks up and a few young girls have joined the male crowd on the dance floor. It radiates so much energy, the dance floor is like a human generator.

I’m not sure how much time has passed. People are still floating, eating, sitting, standing, I can’t see any form nor any formality. Young girls are picking at me, shy mothers hovering in the background, their daughters full of a foreign language and a straightforwardness unknown to them. A baby is thrown in my lap. His father trying to wrest my age out of me. More clicks. A young woman tells me I look tired.

And then the bride….. Like the groom she enters through the gate and she is welcomed by a small band whose members are dressed in pink kurtas, playing incessantly yet not able to drown out the disco spitting out Indian techno music in the background. A colourful entourage; a protective crowd of females encircles the bride. They’re taking one small step at a time, it’s a slow procession while people are squeezing closer together and cameras fighting for attention. The bride has a downcast glance, sometimes a shy smile lets out. Her right index finger sends me a small hello. She looks amazing – never was red so red. She takes a step to the right, she is all by herself in the limelight. More clicks. Before she again finds her place among her followers and…more clicks.

20141003_224851We turn our attention to the ramp in the middle of the hall. The bride seems to be crouching by the small flight of stairs, and you don’t need much fantasy to understand that the bride and groom are going to meet in the centre of the ramp. Again the bride is closely encircled by the women. People are buzzing around, cameras and cell phones constantly shooting off lights. I’m craning my neck, people allow me space. But nothing happens. Nothing. The strange thing is that nobody seems to lack patience, neither do I find anybody who can tell me why nothing happens. I realise that what makes me tired, and sweating even more, is the lack of understanding. It has been an evening of waiting for something to happen, at the same time there has been a continuous stream of small events. But this must be the climax, and finally the groom leads the bride up the narrow stairs. And there is more…. The ramp starts to rotate. Only in India…., I’m thinking. Only in India. And only in India does the couple not grab the opportunity to indulge in a deep, long kiss as the ramp meticulously rotates….

After much ado, although in a low-key voice, the couple find themselves on the stage. The newlyweds – at least I assume that they somehow along the way are declared husband and wife, pose beautifully together. More clicks. More posing combinations. More people.

But for me the wedding has come to an end. The car is waiting, I enter and let the cool air embrace me and as I lean back I want to say; Drive through the streets of Delhi until the early morning. And let the evening stay with me for a few more hours before I let my head rest on the pillow.

 

 

A delhi morning January 16, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 11:19 am
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As I step out of my room, the heat embraces me. That overwhelming feeling of another hot day, when it will be impossible to escape the searing sun. But wait; isn’t it a little bit cooler today? Didn’t I just feel a breeze that wasn’t there yesterday? I step down the stairs and stop at the first landing. There is no view. The foliage of the green trees hides the source of the noise from Mathura road, the sounds that accompany my sleep. Muffled traffic noise, at times. An ongoing roar most of the time. The trees are like a curtain, drawn, but unable to shut out the world behind.

I retrace my steps and find myself at the upper terrace among the slightly disheveled flowers, tarnished by the heat I suppose. Table and stairs covered in a thin layer of dust. I lean on the barrier and let my eyes wander. My lodging is placed in a quiet, small street. A man is shouting at a distance, some “wallah” I guess. Maybe he is the newspaper wallah who collects used newspapers, or perhaps the bottle wallah? He’s in any case part of the Indian “soundtrack”. A sing-song voice with words drawn out of proportion is echoing down the small street.

I open my book, but close it again. The noise from Mathura road is again attracting my attention, irregular sounds pushing through the foliage. Cars, buses, trucks – a fleet of vehicles from the Tata family – as I like to think about them. Motorcycles meandering through the sea of continuous traffic. And the autos, the green and yellow three-wheelers cutting through the traffic in their rough, edgy way. Impatient honking horns. Screaming breaks. Again… that all too familiar Indian soundtrack. I make another attempt at my book. As I turn a page, I realize my thoughts have been otherwise busy. So I flip the page back. I’m in the shadow, but the heat comes marching along in big strides. Pushing away that pleasant feeling of a seemingly cool early morning.

My mind drifts and so do my ears. A dog is barking. A woman is shouting from a courtyard. I can’t tell what she’s saying, but it’s that special resonance; when somebody is half way inside – half way outside. The clang of a bucket, the bang of a gate. Suddenly the world comes to a standstill, it’s completely quiet. I listen to the unfamiliar silence, I almost hold my breath in loyalty – as if not to disturb. Before the sounds resume. A distant telephone. Music from a radio. A shrilling doorbell cuts the air in two. Homely sounds – yet another language. The neighborhood springs to life. And then comes a breeze sailing, as from nowhere. Lifts a few strands of hair from my chin, I can hear my own sigh of relief…. as the big palm tree rustle its leaves, they are shaking with a dry sound. It’s like music; the wind is like a gentle bow stroking a fiddle. The birds chime in, completes the sudden symphony of sounds. I listen to the variety of birds, admire the beautiful trees, welcomes a familiar crow. I pick up my book and realize I have been busy listening to another story; Morning in Delhi.

(Friend’s Colony, New Delhi 2014)

delhi

I lean on the barrier…