Saturday, August 30, 2014


The phone calls slowly become sparse, the messages too. You ignore, believing it to be a sign of maturing of the relationship. Your heart says something is not right, but you shut it up. You pray that your intuition is wrong, that your thoughts are a fragment of your imagination. You make peace with the demon.

Soon the phone calls stop completely, as do the messages. Your questions are met with a stoic silence. Finally, you ask in a quivering voice. But instead of a response you get accusations -- of being silly, sentimental, stupid. You retreat, feeling guilty.

Then you find out, quite by chance. There is someone else, there always was someone else, you could just not see it. You cry, you shout, he stands still, looking away. You leave. You say you hate him, but in your heart you know you love him.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No Greater Love Than The Love Of Food

When it comes to Parsi food, old Bombay is a gold mine. There are numerous establishments – some well known, others not so famous – that offer the various culinary delights of the community to all and sundry. To be in South Bombay, and not sample Parsi food therefore is nothing short of sacrilege. Having sinned enough already, I am in no mood for another act of impiety, so off I go on a hot, humid afternoon for my pilgrimage.

My first stop is Britannia and Company; housed in a heritage building of the iconic Ballard estate, right behind the Bombay Stock Exchange; the café-cum-restaurant has been around for close to ninety years and is easily one of the most famous symbols of Parsi - Iranian food in Bombay. Set up in the early nineteenth century by a family that migrated from Iran, the restaurant started off by selling Iranian delicacies to the British officers working in the area. The owner’s subsequent marriage to a Parsi lady ensured introduction of famous Parsi dishes in the menu. Today the place is as famous for its salli boti as it is for the berry pulav, and its crème caramel as authentic, as Pallonji’s raspberry (a Bombay staple drink served in cola style glass bottles).

Run by an identical looking father-son duo, the cafe is delightfully personal – the elderly father insists on taking orders himself, making small talk, and even offering you his signature drink in his signature style, “To beat the Mumbai heat, have fresh lime soda sweet”, he tells me. I am totally floored by his charm and ready to order everything he recommends when my pragmatic husband intervenes and we end up ordering only two items – berry pulav and salli boti. Dejected, I look around.

The place looks every bit of the Parsi-Iranian cafés I have only seen in movies until now. The bentwood tables and chairs, imported from Poland shortly after the café opened are still intact, as is the grandfather clock and the three mounted flags on the wall (Indian, British and Iranian). Along the service windows rest sacks full of raw material and crates of Pallonji’s drinks. The other items that adorn the place are: a huge fridge, plastic containers (used for takeaways) and signboards warning us against arguing with the staff.

Our food arrives in no time and I promptly dig in to the aromatic pulav. The mild rice of the pulav is contrasted perfectly by the flavourful gravy on which the rice sits; the tiny tart berries sprinkled over the rice add another layer of flavour to the dish. The berries, incidentally, are still imported from Iran. While I am enjoying every bite of the mild Iranian pulav, my mutton-loving husband is busy tucking into the food of his dream – salli boti, a dish made out of chunky pieces of mutton topped with a generous dose of fried potato juliennes, accompanied with the thinnest and softest rotis I have ever seen. We eat in silence and wipe the plates clean in less than ten minutes. I am now dreaming of the wobbly crème caramel but husband has other plans to fulfill my sweet craving. I bid a reluctant adieu to one love of my life, to follow another.

By the time we leave Britannia, the gentle sea breeze has started to flow into the Victorian Bombay and we walk along the fort to reach a nondescript building at Churchgate where our dessert awaits us.
It is easy to miss K Rustomji, one of the most popular ice-cream joints in south-Bombay, if you have not been there before. Situated in a corner of a nondescript, vacant building, the shop is not marked by a fancy board or an illuminated hoarding but by the large number of people awaiting their turns to pick up their favourite flavour. The place looks far from inviting but boasts of a mind-boggling variety of ice cream, ranging from the regular vanilla and strawberry to muskmelon and kokum (over 45 in all). I settle for nescafe while husband, a true connoisseur of sour and tart flavours, chooses kokum.

Unlike the gentleman at Britannia, the man at the counter here looks bored and disinterested. The look on his face kills my curiosity about the history of the place and I promptly retreat into my shell. The ice cream, thick slabs contained only by paper-thin wafer sheets, however makes up for his disinterest. It is luscious, flavourful and really, really creamy. We soon join the crowd laughing and licking the sweet liquid flowing down our hands, totally in love with the bawas and their food.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Calcutta and I

There are things in life that you choose, and there are things life chooses for you. Often both are interlinked, although you might not realise it until much later. 

Seventeen years ago, as an eighteen year old, I had to choose between staying back in a noisy, chaotic and crowded Calcutta, where my father had been transferred to and was very excited about (although I never understood why), or to go back to the comforting, calm and a more indolent Lucknow. I chose the latter and was confident that I was done with Calcutta, at least for this lifetime (I had stayed there through the summer and had despised every day of the stay). But Calcutta, as I were to find out later, was not done with me.

In a matter of five years, I decided to marry a Bengali man; that he had no connection with the city whatsoever was my way of making peace with my decision. But how long could I keep a Bengali out of Calcutta? Although not connected to the city, he was very fond of it, and our annual holiday started being planned via Calcutta. Durga Puja, after all, was the perfect excuse to explore the city. I had no choice but to accompany him. The first few visits were not easy, I was so closed to the place that I would only look at the negatives – the old dilapidated buildings, ready to fall off; the unruly traffic that reminded me of Kanpur; the suffocating, frenzied crowd at the Puja pandals. It was overwhelming to say the least. Over the years, however, I warmed up to the city, even started to look forward to the visits. But to say that I liked the place was still not entirely correct.

My fondness for Calcutta developed years later when I got to live there for a few months, although intermittently. That my stay coincided with the most beautiful months of the year, and I stayed in one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods helped too (isn't it easier to fall in love when conditions are favourable?). In those six months between autumn and spring, I became a full- fledged Calcuttan and for the first time encountered the real Calcutta. I experienced the warmth and the kindness of people and the joy of a laid back life. I experienced the madness of Durga Puja, the excitement of the New Year, the reverence of Saraswati Puja and the colours of Holi. 

I also understood the city better: no longer did I see the dilapidated buildings, the suffocating crowds and the maddening chaos, but noticed the history behind the buildings, the people behind the crowds, the energy that created the chaos. Although it was a period of personal turmoil (my mother was on regular dialysis, grandmother had been detected with cancer, husband had met with a serious accident and I was just out of a severe bout of typhoid), I still found peace in the city -- and the strength to handle all of it at once. 

Just as I had started to fall in love with the city I had once vowed never to come back to, it was time for me to say goodbye: mother was now well and grandmother dead; and my brother, whose stay in the city seemed to have been synced with mother's treatment, was moving out too. There was no reason for me to stay back. And so I bid a reluctant goodbye to Calcutta on a pleasant spring afternoon, four years ago. 

In the last four years, although I have not set foot in the city, I have often been there: I have been to 24 Hindustan Park, our home in Calcutta; I have been to the corner sweet shop called Hindustan Sweets; I have spent many an evening at the puchka wala, and many mornings buying fresh greens from the sabzi wala on the pavement. I have also roamed the crowded lanes of Garia Haat, and relaxed in the courtyard of Birla Mandir. And yes, I have had the piping hot singhara, the warm gur rasgulla, the spicy rolls and the chilled mishti doi too -- all in my mind.  

As I wait for the right time to go back to the city; to savour its flavours, to absorb its sounds, to witness its sights; I can only hope Calcutta is not done with me, for I surely am not done with it. Not yet.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Dream

 “Do you know how badly I want it?"

 I want it too”

“But how? I am a mother”

“I will turn the mother into the woman she ought to be”

 “No, that wouldn’t be right”

She had just come out of the bath and had dressed in her favourite yellow kurta, when he rang the bell. Although faded and worn out, the kurta made her feel beautiful. Her hair, as always, were tied back, and face was scrubbed clean. She smiled the smile that he was so fond of, and let him in.

They stood in the balcony, looking at the busy highway on a Friday night. The sky was bright and stars abundant. The gentle monsoon breeze played with a few stray strands of her hair, which, she repeatedly pushed away from her face.  As they stood there looking at the stars, talking of the ten years that had passed between them, she slowly slid his arm around her waist and pulled herself closer. Her body moved rhythmically to her breath, which could be heard in the silence of the night. He slid his hand inside the kurta through the slit. Her skin was not that of a young girl, but of a mother. “Make me a woman again,” she said, looking into his eyes.

It was hard to say who wanted the other one more. Her mouth was as hungry as his. She held him close and tight as she kissed him passionately; she did not want to loose him again. He on the other hand, held her softly and gently, trying not to hurt her. His mouth explored her mouth; her face, her eyes, and her neck, while his hands caressed his favourite part of her body.

She had dreamt about this moment many, many times but had always been unsure about it. He was not her kind, and yet she was drawn to him since the first day. He had always been open about his relationships with her, and maybe that is what kept her away from him. In the years that had followed, they had been friends and co-workers but never lovers. And then they had lost touch. In the years they were apart, she had often woken up dreaming about him. She could never tell why.

He, on his part, had liked her too. She had always reminded him of things and of places he had left behind. Over the years he had grown very fond of her and valued her as a close friend. And then she had left, abruptly, and he had gotten busy with his life, until he found her again – just by chance.

After having loved her bottom, his hands were now on her smooth back. From under the kurta, he unclasped the hooks and pulled the fabric off her. In another moment they were in each other’s arms like long-lost lovers. Not a trace of awkwardness, not a sign of discomfort. Their bodies, like their minds, were made for each other. What followed was a dream come true. A dream that had taken ten years to be fulfilled.

Friday, August 1, 2014

August Encounters

August, somehow, happens to be an overwhelming month for me. That I was born in August probably is the main reason (birthdays always make one happy and sad, at the same time), but also many, many significant events in my life seem to happen around this time of the year. It is also the time when the season changes and the rains finally come in to quench the parched soul of the earth and its inhabitants (at least in my part of the world), and the world in general looks happy and cheerful. That I should start -- or restart -- writing in august then, should not be considered a coincidence but a design of the destiny perhaps.

Last august, just after returning from my latest trip to Calcutta and Jamshedpur, after having fulfilled my responsibilities as a daughter, sister, daughter-in-law and wife, after managing two and a half weddings, a childbirth, a restaurant opening and many other such things, I was finally at peace of having dispensed my duties and was itching to do something with my life which had, according to me, become rather staid. That is when I discovered writing, or writing discovered me. 

As a compulsively distracted person, I had been randomly reading through parts of certain books from my husband's massive collection, trying hard to find something that could sustain my attention, when I came across one such book, and that book led me to another, which in turn led me to a delightful blog from the same author. Until then, let me be honest, I found the blog business quite silly: people writing about random things that hardly made sense. But this was different, reading through the many posts, it felt like I was talking to my reflection but what struck me most was the fact that one could write about the most mundane things and turn them into objects of delight: it's how you make your readers look at it. 

My first piece however was not about the mundane but introspection on the ever changing facets of life. The following pieces were attempts at building up a story, interjected with some random thoughts that had been breeding in my mind. Not having many friends, leading a lonely life of a wife and a mother who had only her two little girls to talk to had left much in my mind that was unsaid, and it seemed to be manifesting in the blog now. Looking back, some of them seem silly (so much for judging other blogs), but then they helped unclog my mind and let the fresh blood of ideas and imagination run though its veins. 

While on one hand I was doing what I had always dreamt of, on the other, I was doing something that I never thought I could: I read more than ever before. Books had never been my friends, just passing acquaintances who I would turn to only in times of need. I found them boring and constricting: the time that you spend on finishing a book can very well be used to finish so many other things. But now I saw them as teachers, who taught me what to say and how to say. I read more for the style than for the content, I read to learn, I read to be inspired, I read for pleasure even. The more I read, the more I wanted to write. The more I wrote, the more it helped me to discover and develop my style of writing, to find my voice.

And so in the last one year, I managed to do what I had always dreamt of: I wrote over 60 pieces for the blog, some short stories for Femina and a few articles for the papers (the latter being my biggest dream). I also bought many books, primarily in my favorite genre: Indian fiction. I added in my collection the books from Tagore to Ray, from Premchand to Manto, from R.K Narayan to Khushwant Singh and built my own collection of travel books too: Dalrymple, Threoux, Alter all became my friends and allies. 

As another august begins today, I cannot help but look back at how eventful the last year has been, how much it has changed me as a person, how it has helped me fulfill a dream that had been locked up in some deep dungeon of my heart for years. As another august begins, I cannot help but dream again -- dream to write a book, and hope it does not take as many years to fulfill.