Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mumbai: Gujarati Thali Again and the Sad Story of the Asiatic Society

Another rainy day in Mumbai. I'd stopped being so disappointed - it's foolish to be disappointed by rain in Mumbai - but I was by this point growinfg bored, cooped up in a moldy hotel room with only a terrifyingly huge snail to keep me company. There just wasn't a hell of a lot to do in Colaba when it rained like this. I could sit in Barista and drink surprisingly all right cappucino, and regard knowingly the boy with a copy of Nabakov and a wispy beard one seat over. I could while away a few hours in an internet cafe that smelt of pee, catching up with my friends to the sound of the Muslim owner's Arabic pop-music, piped in the background. I could leap through puddles and slosh through buckets of mud to the local gas station to purchase a Diet Coke, listening in while a Mumbai Society Lady upbraided the properitor on his disappointing biscuit selection. These were the entertainments provided to me. At least I had some books.

I tried to visit the Asiatic Society Library. The Asiatic Society certainly had a good pedigree: founded in 1804 by Scottish judge and professional dilettante Sir James Mackintosh, the society intended to gather "useful knowledge, particularly such as is now immediately connected with India". An Asiatic Society in London followed, and the current building was finished around 1830. It currently functions as a library, with over 100,000 books in the collection, andover 15,00 books classified as rare (including one of the two extant copies of the Divine Comedy).

I was hoping for a colonial and welcoming library like the one I'd found in downtown Bangalore - a calm oasis of learning full of amiable egg-heads who might be willling to talk to me. I might even be able to find a book or two on Hampi, the ancient Vijayangar empire, a personal obsession of mine. It sounded promising.

Abroad is always under construction.

. I dutifully tramped over to Kala Ghoda, slightly soaking myself. The Asiatic Society sits in the middle of a large and impressive looking ring-road, or at least it might have been when new, back when it occasionally saw something approximating maintenance. Now it's old and the buildings ae stained with grime and moss, but they retain a certain grandoise, out of place appeal - there are not very many people here, for Mumbai, and the little park in its center is a nice enough place to while away the day. (I had found myseld trapped in this part of town two years ago, in the hottest part of the day, and had stumbled slightly dazed into this park - it was so crowded with people with the same idea as my own that we all jockeyed madly for butt-space, there was nowhere to retreat. I ended up sitting half on an ant pile next to a girl studying French: I had a nap anyway).

I am sad to report that the Asiatic Society was a vast disappointment. They were theoretically renovating it - there was scaffolding up around the outside - but the interior was dusty and dirty, and the books were all locked away. (I find locked away books in a library vasly offensive - surely thre are security reasons for such, but the browsing element of a library is destroyed, the sense of discovery mooted). There was no attendant to ask to unlock the books, and it was nearly impossible to see through the faded glass, anyhow. The rain kicked up ferociously as soon as I got inside, and I sulkily retreated to the "Ladies Study Area" to look at a book on South Indian History I had in my backpack. Cooing from the ceiling: a pigeon family had taken up residence inside the library's main room.

I had lunch at the Copper Chimney, in Kala Ghoda. It's one of those upscale North Indian/tandoori places favored by power-lunchers and Punjabi families dressed up for a weekend outing. Curiously enough, it's downstairs from a trendy buffet/gelato/Wesern restaurant, and is decorated in a very contempo fashion. I went for my usual picks - tandoori chicken, tandoori gobi.

Could someone familar with Mumbai and/or able to read Hindi tell me who this man is and why he has a statue?

It always amuses me that many Westerners don't know how tandoori chicken gets that red. It's food coloring. They don't use it here, usually a sign of a higher quality establishment. This was excellent. Lots of yogurt coating left on their.

Saleem and I had been hoping to meet up again, but I recieved a call from him around 8:00 PM, after he got off work. "It's raining so hard they've stopped running the trains from Bandra," he said.

"Jesus," I said. "That's not normal is it?"

"Oh, no." he said. "Not normal." Mumbai after all is sub-aquatic city, a city mostly accustomed to being buffeted with rain. Well, within reason - there were the floods back in 2007. This monsoon wasn't flooding, not exactly, but it was persistent, it wouldn't quit, it just kept on thumping away.

The Monsoon, the goddamend monsoon. I was fairly insulated from it in Bangalore - a town with remarkably pleasant weather - but this years monsoon has been the worst in 20 years, a remarkably persistent SOB. Well, according to this article, not the worst by a long shot. (Actually, rather dry on average) Simply one of the most maddeningly erratic. Back in the day, you knew when the monsoon would start and when it would end. Now? All bets are off.

It was pissing down rain, as it had been for the past four days, and I was the only person in Golden Star Thali, situated near the Opera House, opposite Carni Road railway station. The host was small and thin and had an extremely grand manner to him: he ushered me to my seat in a fairly theatrical fashion. "It's all you can eat, madame," he informed me, as the metal thali plate was set before me.

Christ, did he ever mean it.

This montrosity is Golden Star's 300 rupee thali. Not exactly a major investment for a comically large amount of food. It's less refined then Samrat's thali, but it's a little tastier - got more "soul" as we'd say in my native tounge. Loved the stir-fried cabbage and the variant on aloo gobi. It's not as sweet as Samrat's either. (No, I didn't ask for the ketchup. Came with). The Gujarati dahi? Fantastic. I'm very keen on all Indian dahi/curd products and this did not disappoint. You cannot stop them from pouring ghee all over the plate so don't even try. They also bring you masala chaas, a yogurt drink with turmeric and ginger. Incredibly refreshing and a fantastic way to restore electrolytes in Mumbai's climate.

This is, I believe, Gujarati Dal Bati. Basically, it's dal with bits of wheat dough - these seem to be Gujarati "crackers" or biscuit bhakris. Golden Star is very fond of running specials on every day of the week, be they unlimited Bengali sweets, unlimited desserts of another sort, or other items of their choosing. See what's on when you visit. They give you a card which, if stamped ten times, scores you a free thali. I love these guys.

1 comment:

  1. Here you go...