Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trishna, Andheri, Mumbai


I had eaten the signature Butter Pepper Garlic Crab at Trishna in Fort a couple of years ago and still remember fondly, the perfect balance of sweet crab flesh mingled with the saltiness of Amul Butter and the bite of freshly crushed peppercorns. But I much preferred the overall taste of food at Gajalee not to mention the proximity.

On my most recent trip to Bombay I saw that Trishna had opened a branch in Andheri too. We were tired and exhausted from our traveling, but decided to stop in here and savour the food.

Read my review here

Friday, November 28, 2008

Disjointed Questions on the Bombay Blasts and its aftermath

Being in a distant country while Bombay is under siege, is nerve wracking at best.

My first long stay in Bombay was for my first job, with MBA degree in hand. The first weekend trip we took together as Management trainees was a local train ride from Andheri to South Bombay. We caught up with other batchmates in town for a movie at Metro Cinema and headed over to Cafe Mondegar for a drink and later carried onto Cafe Leopold because we had heard so much about these Bombay favourites. We then walked over to the Gateway of India and gazed at the iconic Taj Palace and towers. Gathering courage we felt we could project enough confidence to walk in and use their washrooms, which we managed.

Since this was the late 90's, B-School salaries weren't as astronomical as they were at the turn of the millennium and we obviously couldn't afford to eat in there, so we headed over to Bademiyan's for more affordable fare.

All these locations were under the media spotlight for the last 48 hours, for reasons one would never have dreamed about.

Personally, this attack was very hard hitting because of the sheer numbers of family and friends who live in the area, who were working late in the area, or were eating in the area after work. As is usual after every such attack in India, we started calling and smsing, then emailing and scrapping (when the phone lines were jammed and over loaded) and everyone we knew in the location to check on their status. This time it was a much, much longer list of people we were checking on.

Some were barricaded inside their houses and offices in the area while their lifts were shut down and they were advised not to leave the premises. Many spent that first night in the office while the rest of us helplessly spent the night hoping and praying for their safety and that the violence wouldn't spread to the surrounding buildings.

We stayed glued to the television and kept refreshing news sites on our computer screen and anxiously followed the sequence of events. Coherent thought was not easy and plenty of questions and inconsistencies kept popping up in my mind.

First of all: kudos to our NSG, army, hotel staff and police for their heroic efforts.

Why/How did this happen:
Intelligence failure is something the foreign media has been harping about in relation to these attacks, but as someone else mentioned: weren't 9/11 and the London Subway attacks, intelligence failures too.

Could we have done anything more to secure the locations?
How many locations will you secure? We have a country of a billion+ citizens, so I don't think it is about securing locations. Terrorists target any and every location. The only way every place can be secured is if citizens take responsibility of being aware of their surroundings and people around them.
We need to stop cribbing about and finding innovative ways to avoid security measures at malls, cinema halls etc. They are there for our security.

Our government should focus on stemming the problem at its roots: training camps, poverty, education, unemployment.

The terrorists were armed with AK47's while a lot of the police and railway police were equipped with nothing more than a lathi. Do they even stand a chance?

Why were 3 top cops traveling in the same vehicle?

Rescue efforts:
The staff at the hotels responded admirably and heroically. Some even lost their own lives while saving the guests. I am not sure if they receive training drills for terrorist situations, but they did their best.

Politicians have no business being anywhere in the area when such situations are ongoing. Having them around, means that security and armed forces are forced to divert their attention to the "security of the politician"
What business did Gopinath Munde have to be at the Nariman House today?
Same problem when they visit hospitals were the wounded are taken. Doctors and nurses are forced to stop tending to their patients and clear the area so the politician and their entourage of news crews and security personnel royally stroll through the area and promise tax payer funds (other peoples money) as remuneration.

While NDTV was the most restrained of the lot, our media still behaved as irresponsibly as always.

People whose family members were stuck inside, is it fair to thrust microphones at their faces and ask them how they are feeling?

Rescued people being brought out of the hotel after a horrifying ordeal, is it fair to thrust microphones at their faces and ask them how they are feeling?

While Right to Information is a wonderful act, some lines should be drawn when it comes to National Security. Broadcasting the immediate moves of the security forces, dissecting their rescue maneuvers, having ex army personnel describe helicopter rescue operations in detail - this only gives more intelligence to the terrorists holed up inside who could be in contact with anyone with a cable connection outside the location, even if cable connection at the hotels had been cut off.

Broadcasting false reports of the operation being over when it isn't because they see a thumbs-up being exchanged between two NSG personnel.

We need an appointed official spokesperson who is the only authority allowed to speak to the media when an operation is ongoing. This person needs to receive reports from all relevant sources and be advised on what news can be released and what cannot. Press should only be allowed at this location and not crawling around the affected area causing more security hazards or getting caught in the cross fire. This should give controlled information and hopefully control the rumour-mongering too.

If the press are controlled in one location, it will also prevent the crowds who were at the locations today not to show solidarity or out of concern but were there for the sole reason of getting their face on camera. (This is a reality in India)

Role of Politicians:
They haven't done anything to prevent the situation, they should stay away from the situation as mentioned above.

Where has the champion of Bombay, Mr Raj Thackeray disappeared to? Which safe location is he hiding in?

Our Home Minister was ineffectual as always. Surprisingly, our Prime Ministers speech didn't induce confidence either.

Politicians need to rise above their petty politics of deciding whether to hold a bundh on December 1st or not.
They should instead be visiting the homes of the brave security personnel who lost their lives and appreciating the efforts of their husbands, sons and fathers (not to be sexist, but no female personnel casualty has been reported yet in this case) who lost their lives in the service of the country. This is one of the few useful things that they can do at this point of time.

I also pray that they do not use this attack to further communalize our country for their own vote bank politics.

Future Action:
It may seem insensitive to say this at this point, but as a country we should take advantage of the terrorists targeting Americans, British and Israeli citizens.
The US previously tried to restrain India when they spoke about retaliation after the parliament attacks.
This is the right opportunity to use this joint sentiment against these terrorists to take a stand and launch a forceful offensive against terrorist camps targeting India.
Use the Israeli intelligence and their expertise to stem the flow of terrorists into India and destroy their their training camps.
We need a single security network that is pan-country, not disjointed co-ordination between multiple agencies.

We need to make our country safe again. Where people do not flinch at a loud sound, where people do not have to think twice before leaving their houses to catch a train, shop for groceries or watch a movie. We need to feel safe. It is our right as citizens.

Published on

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Terrible Service from Meru Cabs

A friend of mine recommended me to try Meru Cabs the next time I was in Mumbai.

His office uses them regularly and he found them to be good and cleaner than regular taxis and found their prices better than the airconditioned blue & white taxis.

Since I had to make a sudden trip down, I decided to use their web booking system 2 days in advance to pick me up from the International Airport and drop me to the place I was staying in Bombay.

They asked for the following details online:
Name :
Pick up Address :
Pick up Landmark :
Destination Area :
Contact No. :
Your Email id :

After filling all of that, I received this mail from them after an hour
Dear Customer,

We refer to your booking request dated 27th July 2008

We regret to inform you that we accept bookings only 24 hrs in advance , hence we request you to contact our Customer Care Center at 022 44224422 at least 60minutes prior to your pickup schedule and confirm if we have any free cabs in the nearby vicinity to serve your request.

We appreciate your cooperation.

Thank you for showing interest in Meru

Customer Care Executive

This made sense, so I tried again the next day before heading to the airport, to catch my flight to Bombay.

I received another polite mail saying that they did not have allotted parking space at the International terminal and hence could not guarantee a pick up.

Ok, this too was understandable. So I made my way to my temporary residence in Bombay-Bandra using a regular taxi service from the airport.

The next day I had to catch a domestic flight, so I gave them a call 14 hours in advance to book a cab from Bandra to the Domestic Airport. (this was 5pm the previous day)

I was told that because of the weather, they could not confirm bookings this early, but if I called one hour before I needed to leave (which was 8am) I would definitely get a booking. I did not fancy navigating up asteep slope with my heavy luggage to find a regular taxi in the morning and I told the call center guy that. But he said, "Maam 99% you will be able to get a cab if you call at 7am, but I cannot take a booking right now"

I checked again at 10pm before going to sleep (international flight the previous night caused sleep deprivation that had to be made up) if I could book a cab and was again told to call an hour before I needed to leave.

The next morning I woke up early, because I could not sleep with this end being lose. At 5am (2 hours before the recommended time), I called to book a taxi to pick me up at 8am and was told "I'm sorry, but all our taxis are booked, we cannot give you a booking

In some ad of theirs, I read that they had more than 2000 taxis operating in Bombay. They weren't accepting bookings at night, but yet at 5am in the morning, they said they did not have any cabs available.

I asked the lady what the possibility of being able to book a cab one hour later would be and she said "We don't have any cabs free till 4pm".

While I can understand that some things are unpredictable and uncontrollable, why give false promises?

The whole ordeal just left a very bad taste in my mouth and I doubt I will ever use their service again.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jhama Sweets, Chembur

Jhama is an extremely popular sweet shop in Chembur in Mumbai.

I have an uncle who lives nearby who never fails to pick up a box of their sweets for us when he visits. So I have tried their kaju kathri and various other sweets, whose names I don't even know and found them outstanding!

Read my Entire Review on my Restaurant Review Blog

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Prithvi Theatre Cafe, Juhu

This Cafe was one of my favorites in Mumbai. Yes, you read it right, it "WAS".

Close to my house, this was where me and my husband often sat discussing the play we were going to watch over a cup of coffee and light snacks like cheese balls or dissecting and analysing the play we had just watched over raan and Prithvi's famous irish coffee :)

Doubt I will visit the cafe again, unless something changes drastically and they can match the standards of the previous avataar.

Read my entire review on Restaurant Review Blog

Oasis, Chembur

The ambience was really nice, inspite of the loud kitty party like dinner going on on the premises. (in one of the other rooms)

The food was the star. Being back in India after ages, I had decided I would only drink and eat Indian specialities. In keeping with that, I ordered a masaledaar chaas (70) and asked them to add some finely chopped chillies to the drink. The drink was outstandingly flavored and balanced and the chillies were chopped so fine, that they did not catch in your teeth (they were chopped not pureed)

Read the rest of my review on my Restaurant Review Blog

Patio, Gajalee

I have always been a huge fan of Gajalee in Mumbai for sea food. I fing their sea food better than Mahesh Lunch home or Trishna. (although Trishna's butter pepper garlic crab topples the scales completely)

My husband too loves the food at Gajalee. There was one branch very close to his office in Vile Parle and most office meetings invariably took place there. The days I couldn't send him lunch, he would order in from there. Its a wonder I haven't reviewed this place before, given how often we have eaten there.

Our standard order used to be a starter of solkadi (drink made of kokum - red berry- garlic and coconut milk which is an excellent appetiser, digestive and accompaniment to the food) and King fish fry (a large slice of king fish/eeson - batter fried and served with an amazing spicy green chutney which definitely has green mango in it for sourness)

Read my entire review here

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Of Aunties and All That :The Rise and Fall of a Bombay Goan Era

Roland Francis

If Bombay in its post-Raj era had been a relic of British rule in India, growing up in the city, we knew nothing of it, or maybe just didn't care. To us youthful Goans, it was a place where our parents had emigrated to and where we were born.

Correctly said, we didn't even call ourselves Goans. We were labeled makapaos, just as there were labels for everybody else. The Parsis were called bawas, the Sindhis papads, the Maharashtrians ghatis, the Gujaratis gujjus, the Sikhs surds and the Anglos payday kings.

If Byculla, Mazagon, Colaba, Girgaum, Mahim, Bandra, Chembur, Malad and Borivali were Goan kingdoms, then Dhobitalao was surely the capital of them all. It was the fountainhead of the Goan in Bombay and the place where no matter where you lived, you always knew someone there.

So it was no surprise what happened when Morarji Desai of 'pisskey' fame (he banned whiskey but believed in 'auto-urine therapy') decided in his Gujarati bania wisdom that the Bombayite needed to abstain from liquor. It was in Dhobitalao that the legend of the Goan Aunty was born.

Dhobitalao was the area which had the most Goans per square inch. Perhaps historian Dr. Teresa Albuquerque -- the sister of editor Frank Moraes, and aunt of Dom Moraes -- may explain why, but it could have been due to the kudds or village clubs locating there.
It was the Goan heartbeat with the Sonapur lane its aorta.

Though mainly lower-class Goan in population, it was a vibrant neighborhood comparable to a bustling village church area on a Sunday morning.

If you were an uncharitable traveler, you may have compared it to Warsaw's Jewish ghetto. There were the similar winding streets and narrow lanes we called gullies. Hardly any dead ends and, if you knew the place well, even a battalion-sized force could not encircle you.

So, Dhobitalao became the Goan Aunty's liquor heartland.
A place where any drunken Goan's wife could at last find the solution to her financial woes. Don't forget that although Bombay's Goan community was solid burgher in it's work ethic -- with more than it's share of educators, doctors, lawyers, high ranking police and army officers who made their name throughout the country -- these elite Goans formed the fringes who lived mostly in places I have described above, outside of Dhobitalao.

The core was the underclass of barely educated and underemployed Goan labour, a goodly chunk of which lived in Dhobitalao. Of this, quite a few did nothing more in life than hit the bottle and consequently their families suffered. Whether it was the frustrations of a city or the longing for their native Goan village, it was difficult to tell.

Not only the Goan community, but the rest of Bombay took their Goan Aunties to heart. Bombay was a bon vivant place then. The music scene, the advertising crowd, the business community, the religious groups -- all had the need of a tipple when the occasion arose. And such occasions were many.
Give a man the freedom of a bottle and he may choose to ignore it. Take the choice away from him and he will spare no effort to drink when he can.

It started out with a few Aunties allotting a small room in their house to known musicians and fellow village seafarers living in nearby kudds, to sit, have a few drinks and thereby earn a little income. The moonshine was bought from East Indian Christians living in the suburbs, who distilled it in their large backyards mostly in Bandra and Borivali and transported it to the city in rubber packs. The kind you fill with hot water and use as a compress on your aching back.

Overripe fruit was used as the ingredient and the resultant distillate had a rather palatable flavor, while giving you the necessary high. Few Goan musicians could blow or play without this nectar and few Goan college professors could unwind without it.

The police took a rather benign view of the whole thing in the beginning. Police stations were headed by Anglo Indians, Parsis and Jews. It was not unusual for, say Inspector Mistry, to caution an enthusiastic aunty that she should tone down her operations to no more than a few bottles, enough to care for her family with as less disturbance to the neighbors as possible.

However as Aunty's services to the thirsting Bombayman spread beyond the original confines, the Aunty, like any good corporation, expanded her market share. Except that beyond word of mouth, she had no need of any marketing.

Liquor needs went beyond what amateur operations could supply and the channels expanded to South Indians operating giant vats in the marshes and vast hutments of Dharavi, Asia's biggest slum. Using, at times, groups of lepers to carry the booze to avoid police searches.

They used battery-grade sulphates commonly called battery powder to distill it faster, and spoiled rice and sugarcane molasses instead of overripe fruits. Police saw an opportunity of their own, in this expansion process. They made fortunes from extorting the Aunties and their suppliers, though extortion might be the wrong word here. It was all a peaceful business process. The cops got a feel of Aunty's turnover and put a proportionate 'toll' on it.

Business was good for everyone -- the Aunties, the cops and the consumers. A win-win situation as we call it today.

Village socials, dances and weddings were no longer the muted occasions they became when Prohibition was initially introduced to the city. Aunties spread everywhere and no place in Bombay was more than a little walking distance from the nearest speakeasy.

With competition the business evolved. The drinker needed some visual stimulation and younger and fulsome Aunties began wearing low-cut revealing blouses and throwing flirting looks and invitations. The older ones substituted with putting their frisky nubile daughters to serve the clientele with strict instructions on how far to go and advice on how to further relationships when they encountered eligible and responsible regulars.

Many an Aunty's daughter was married off to a Times of India reporter or an upcoming schoolteacher or even a prosperous businessman's son. The Uncle was completely out of the picture. He was either told to get out of the house by 5 pm and sleep at a relative's, or better still he was packed off to Goa with a regular remittance following.

Just as Goans prospered with a stint in the Gulf countries or earlier than that, in Africa, the Aunties too prospered. Most were possessed of shrewdness and spent their money educating their children and buying flats and homes in the suburbs.

Bandra was a favourite. In fact I was dating a very beautiful girl of Sophia College which was then the St Xavier's College female equivalent, who went on to become a medical doctor and who unbeknownst to me, was an Aunty's daughter. The day of enlightening came when she invited me over to her house in Dhobitalao quite early in the evening, but not early enough to discover (to her chagrin) a few customers straggling in. She avoided me after that, though having a rich Aunty as a mother in law would not have found disfavor with me.

Prohibition spanned more than one generation and an entire Goan culture encompassed it. Tiatrs were staged around Aunty's lives or with her financial assistance. Booze was supplied to the tiatrist if he was good and his presence in the joint would increase the clientele.

Bands would not venture to the show without a nip sized bottle in their inside pocket and this helped the composition as well as the quality of the music. Many a hot song would not have been birthed without this necessary ingredient.

My father had a good friend who after liberation went from Bombay to a police officer's career in Goa. There was an occasion when he had to come back to the city to arrest and take back a criminal who had fled here after committing a crime in Bardez. Having found and handed the felon to the Byculla Police Station for temporary custody, he came over to where we lived nearby and whispered an invitation in my father's willing ear to celebrate his success at a nearby Aunty's.

By this time the Prohibition Branch had been added to the Bombay Police and they had a habit of raiding speakeasies at their peak hour of business. Both my father and Blasco, his friend, were trapped along with the 50 or so other customers.

Mum had suggested to them that they drink at home, but they ignored her advice. So when they did not return at a late hour, I was sent to see what the problem was. I was too young to visit such joints then but I was the usual smart Bombay kid and in no time I found out from word on the street that a certain place had been raided.

Walking, I came across my father and Blasco coolly returning from the other direction. It transpired that while the clientele were lined up for questioning, Blasco could have stepped out of the line and revealed he was from Goa Police but he feared that he might be arrested instead of released and would lose his job as a Police Officer breaking the law.

However when his turn came he decided to reveal it and was told as a brother officer to walk away and take his companion, my father, with him.

When I came of drinking age myself, I was a regular visitor at Cardozo's joint in Mazagaon. Peter Cardozo was in a much senior league than the biggest Aunty. He employed trucks to bring commercially bottled feni and naval rum from Goa to Mazagon and my favorite was the Old Barrel brand which he sold for 20 rupees, the same price as the rum.

The feni was good, better than today's Big Boss and I considered myself too haughty to drink the usual country stuff. I was one of Cardozo's VIPs as I used to bring my friends almost every weekend and was a big spender.

For us, the all-you-can eat fresh Bombay Ducks fried in turmeric outside his doors was a complimentary from Cardozo who was a young mid-30s entrepreneur.

One day while relaxing in this manner with three others, suddenly the word 'raid' was heard. Leaving the bottle and the tasty Bombay Ducks, we ran to the nearest window that let out into a side street, along with the other customers and jumped from a height of about six feet.

Not all of the others were as young, athletic and of the level of sobriety as we, and a couple of them at least landed on their bones and started moaning and shouting in pain. We were not callous boys but we had no wish to remain to help them when faced with an arrest.

My Mum was a strict nurse and would have given me a strong Catholic guilt trip of how she had raised her only child to no good result. We walked back discretely to the front and saw Cardozo, limbs akimbo, telling one and all it was a false alarm. We went back to our places as if nothing had happened. Cardozo took care of the injured in style, by brazenly calling an ambulance and paying all the concerned charges.

When V. P. Naik the new state of Maharashtra Chief Minister replaced Morarjibhai of the Bombay Province, he relaxed prohibition. Not only because it had caused lasting harm to the Bombay public's health and guts but was also because of the culture of bribery and corruption that was taking root in the Bombay Police force.

I am sure that being a big grape grower had something to do with his decision. Beer was now made available and the government started permitted Country Liquor outlets, selling brand names like Rocket and Double Ghoda (Twin Horse), which kicked you much harder than a horse could.

No doubt these liquids had their origins in distilleries belonging to Naik and his sugar-baron cohorts from the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra. This gradual relaxation of a meaningless law sounded the death knell of the Bombay Goan Aunty. By then she had made her money and she could well say like Shakespeare 'all's well that ends well'. It was the end of a Bombay Goan era.

Roland Francis is based in Toronto, and wrote this in May 2008. It is to be published in a forthcoming book on Goans in Bombay, covering the 1930s to the 1970s, currently being edited by Reena Martins, a feature-writer and journalist based in India's commercial and media capital.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

An Offering to the Goddess

Deepa Krishnan has written a wonderful article with pictures (drool) of the pedhas offered to the Mumbadevi.

Read the article at

In the little lane behind the Mumbadevi temple, doodh pedhas are still made the old fashioned way.

Milk is mixed with sugar, heated and stirred constantly, until it thickens and acquires the colour of a creamy latte.

It is then hand-rolled into little offerings for the Goddess Mumba. Not that she hangs on to them permanently - she merely blesses them, and the priest at the temple hands them right back to you as holy prasad.

Read the entire article at