Monday, April 20, 2015

Inside the big dome of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus)

- by Aishwarya Pramod

Recently, I went for the heritage tour of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). It was quite a sudden decision - I happened to be on a train heading home, when I thought of going on the tour. I got off the train, and took another one right back to CST! :) At the last minute I called my mom to join me too.

I had to ask around a bit to find the start point. But eventually we found the entrance, and our tour began at 3:30 p.m. The tour took us through the Heritage Museum, the interiror of the Central Railway Headquarters building (where all the paperwork and government managerial stuff happens), and finally the station itself.

The tour was led by Ms. Lata who was in charge of the place that day. She conducted our tour herself, as the usual guide (an architecture student) wasn't available then.
As we entered, we saw the facade of the Central Railway Headquarters, with the round carved heads of the 10 GIPR directors.
The Heritage Museum has displays on the history of Indian Railways, old engine types, etc. There are interesting old photos, models, letters, artifacts and objects. As a bonus, the museum is air-conditioned!
An engine model. And look above for the (rather cute) GIPR
logo in stained glass. GIPR stands for Great Indian Peninsular
Railway, the predecessor of the Central Railway.
Old telephones and other gizmos
Some other interesting objects displayed were the Mangalore tiles with which the CST ceiling is made, an old money collection box (on which someone had put stickers, before it was rescued and placed in the museum), inkpots, teapots, cutlery, a slide rule, a range finder, and other instruments.

After the museum we continued further into the Central Railway Headquarters building. There were many rooms and offices, and I'd have liked to know what exactly was going on in each one. But all I got was someone who worked there "tch"ing at me for walking too slowly while admiring the architecture, and blocking them :P. (Then I got out of their way quickly.)

The Headquarters building is majestic: towering dome, winding staircase, high stained-glass windows, solid old wooden doors, and intricate stone carvings of animals, birds, plants and flowers.
A beautiful door set amidst carvings
Entrance to the hall
This proud-looking lion holds a shield bearing the 
coat of arms of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.
The high Central Dome
The wrought-iron staircase
We climbed up...
...reached the top...
...and had tea and biscuits.
We were then taken to the station itself. We went to the high corridors around the ticket booth area (I have always wanted to go here!)

This area is called the "Star Chamber" (notice the ceiling). 
Down below, people queue for tickets.
 We also went onto an open balcony.

On the balcony we got a better view of the lovely peacock carving...
... and the jutting gargoyles.
We were also shown this grand dining room within the building.

The luxurious dining room. Somehow this room took me by surprise - I wasn't expecting anything like it at all!
In the dining room, there was also this wooden bookshelf packed with thick, official-looking gazettes and other publications on the railways.
After visiting this last room, we said goodbye to Ms. Lata and left.

All in all, I'm glad I went for the tour. I got to see the gorgeous interiors of this building, that I had passed often but never entered before. I also learnt quite a bit about the history of the railways, of CST, and of Mumbai.

When, where, and how much does it cost?
The tours are conducted between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM, Monday to Friday. Tickets can be bought between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM. Each tickets costs Rs. 200 normally, and Rs. 100 with student ID.

The ticket counter is at the Heritage Museum. To reach the counter, there's no need to enter CST station. If you stand facing the Central Railway Headquarters, you'll see the main gate with two lions. Walk to your right and you'll see an arched entrance (photo below). This is the entrance to the Heritage Museum.
The lions at the gates of the Central Railway Headquarters. From the gates, walk towards the arch. The Heritage Museum is right under the arch.
Gates of the Heritage Museum
More information

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Where to go for thin crust pizza in Shivaji Park

- By Deepa Krishnan

Shivaji Park finally got a nice place for super-thin crust pizza. Terttulia actually opened last year sometime in the monsoons. But I only made it there yesterday, when Vinita came to the office and we decided to go for an impromptu girl's lunch. 
The pizza was called Terttulia-aah! and it was excellent. Lots of arugula, just the way I like it.
The lavash was also wafer thin and crisp, and the mezze dips were pretty good too. In the photo below, there are 4 dips - hummus, tzaziki (sp?), mushroom pate and olive tapenade.
Will go back again for certain. Very laid back and nice on a weekday afternoon. Vinita lives nearby and she tells me weekends are super-busy. So if you are going Sat/Sun, please call ahead and reserve.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Inside-Out Vada Pav at Dadar

- By Deepa Krishnan
If you walk from Dadar Station to Hindmata, you'll come across this little khau-galli type scene. There are motorbikes and scooters parked in a row, and behind that, under the shade of some trees, you will see a series of bright umbrellas with food carts.
In one of the stalls, there's a vada-pav seller. At first glance, he looks like any other vada-pav guy, selling batata-vada, palak-bhajji etc, but if you have a keen eye you'll soon spot his larger than usual batata-vadas (see them at the back?).
It turns out that those are not your regular batata-vadas at all. What they are, is Inside Out Vada-Paos. This little stall has flipped the regular vada-pao inside out. They've taken the batata-masala, and stuffed it inside a bun. Then they dip the bun in the batter and fry it.
This simple reversal trick has created a delicious Inside-Out Vada Pav, which I have become addicted to. I went shopping with my mom and sister, and stopped to eat it. Then I went with my aunt from Bangalore, and tried it again. And then I went by myself and had it yet again :)
By the way, I've also had a very upscale (and very expensive) version of this is at Masala Library @ BKC. That was pretty awesome too, but it didn't have the crazy chutneys that I got in Dadar. The Inside-Out Vada Pao at Dadar is served with a green chutney and a strange orange chutney. Both are delicioso, but I have no idea what the orangey thing is. It felt like tomato and kaddu and god knows what else. I have to charm the guy into telling me. Usually he is pretty busy and tends to not talk much. I'll report again if I get him to speak :) :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

More street art from Bandra

- By Deepa Krishnan

I enjoy walking through Bandra, because I am always surprised by something new. I don't mean new cafes or shops. It's all the new street art that's everywhere (ever since the St+ART Festival that happened in November last year). It changes my experience of Bandra each time I go there.

Take this wall in Ranwar Village, for example. I don't remember seeing anything when I went there some months ago. Then all of a sudden, on a walk last week, I turned a corner, and there it was. A woman in black and white, adding drama to the wall.
I found out later that this artwork is by Luis Gomez de Teran from Venezuela. He called this artwork "Veronica". That's the name of the lane where this wall is located, by the way. Sort of bringing the lane to life, giving it a dark, smoky, interesting personality :) :) I'm not sure what exactly Ms. Veronica is holding in her hand. Can you figure it out? And check out the cat at the bottom!

Near the turning into Veronica Lane, on the main road, you'll definitely spot the colourful Jude Bakery (well, ex-bakery. The guy who ran it died a couple of years ago, and now it's owned by a guy in the hospitality business, who is not baking bread here). The street art here has a tongue-in-cheek prayer, it says "Hey St Jude, please help me. I am really a lost cause." You can only read the whole message when the shutters are down. The artist is a guy called AkaCorleone. He's Portuguese, I think. A lot of his murals are lettering-based.
This graffiti below is older, but I hadn't photographed it on my earlier visits. I don't know who the artist is. The text alongside is in Hindi, it says paidaishi junglee (born wild). I smiled to myself when I saw the real bike parked under the graffiti, and I wondered which Bandra junglee owned that one :)
This one is from Chimbai Village. It was at the entrance of a tiny lane, and it made me want to immediately turn into the lane, to see where the little boy would lead me. It's by an artist called Tona, from Hamburg in Germany. Tona does stencils, so replicas of this little kid are in other cities as well.
I walked down to the edge of the water in Chimbai and found lots more street art to photograph. Here's one of them, also by Tona.
We spoke to some of the fishermen sitting nearby, and they told us about the artists who came from abroad and painted in Chimbai. The fishermen seemed to find the whole thing amusing but irrelevant. I bet a lot of people in Chimbai think that.

Personally, I'm all for street art, because I think it's great for art to come out of the expensive and elite gallery spaces, and into a place where it can dialog with people. Street art is such a powerful (not to mention potentially subversive) medium. We're just beginning to see street art in Mumbai. Maybe over time the people of the city - the ones whose walls and streets are being decorated - will become more engaged. It would help if the effort was more participative somehow. It isn't enough to just take art to poorer, dirtier parts of the city. There's got to a be a more two-way process if this whole exercise has to have any meaning.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sheera special at Ram Ashraya, Matunga

- By Aishwarya Pramod

Ram Ashraya in Matunga is more than 70 years old. It's well-loved not just for idlis and vadas, but its array of sheera flavours.

Pineapple, strawberry, guava, grape... they make different flavours on different days.

This picture is from my mom's latest visit there: pineapple, butterscotch and chocolate flavours... sweet! I've even seen jamun sheera on the menu once. The daily sheera special is listed on the whiteboard outside, so check out the flavour and see if it tempts you to walk in :)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Heritage" is for everyone. Or should be.

- By Deepa Krishnan

Recently a lady from Business Standard interviewed me. She asked me the about preservation of Mumbai's heritage buildings; and whether the common man was aware or interested in it. 

I replied that there is a small, highly educated, elite group in the city which is interested in heritage preservation, but the common man of Mumbai has far more pressing issues in life and doesn't really care.

Then last week, we did a Fort Heritage Walk for a group of women from very low income backgrounds. None of them had a college degree. It was also the first time we did a tour in Marathi. So far, our heritage walks have been in English, which is the language of the elite in India.
This group of 24 women came from Pune by the Sinhagad Express. They were brought to Mumbai on a picnic by Yojak, a non-profit that works in education in Pune's slums (Renu who runs Yojak is in white in the centre). The women are teachers, they teach small children in their respective neighbourhoods, in an after-school learning program. For which Yojak pays them a monthly salary.

I found that our guests were highly interested, engaged, and motivated by the beauty of the monuments they saw. They wanted to listen to the details. They wanted to hear the stories. It opened my eyes to the fact that "Heritage" is really for everyone. You just need to talk about it in a language that everyone can understand. You need to make it accessible.

It's time to demystify "heritage management", time to make it less elitist. Time to take it to a larger population. And language is the key, I think. I am now considering offering the walk in local languages.

Maybe this is the next mountain I should climb?

For this group of 24 women, we did a free tour. Later when I thought about offering this tour commercially in Marathi, I felt that these women probably would not pay even Rs 50 per person for such a walk, and would much prefer to use those 50 rupees for their families' basic needs. So to take heritage to the public - many of whom do indeed have other pressing issues to think about - I need to find a creative way. Ideas, anyone?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Plaza Cinema, Dadar, Mumbai

- by Deepa Krishnan

Somebody in their wisdom has decided to redesign Plaza Cinema in Dadar. I am not happy.
Here is the old design that I used to like much better. More fun and interesting. And it acknowledged the beauty of the stupa at Sanchi, not to mention the big role of Ambedkar in reviving Buddhism. Ambedkar's chaityabhoomi is nearby in Shivaji Park. 
I understand the desire to turn it into a multiplex. Single screen theatres are not going to make money. I just wish the new design was not so "modern".

Also, it has all these little holes that are going to suck in dirt and I predict it will soon be a cobwebby mess. The dust and smoke at Plaza cinema signal is no joke. The rectangles sit oddly on the curved facade, if you ask me. The vegetable vendor in the sculpture thankfully is spared this modern thing, since his back is turned to it!
Plaza has a history of makeovers. The famous movie director V Shantaram bought it from a Parsi owner in the 30's. Several of Shantaram's hit movies ran here successfully. After his death, the theatre was leased out and became run-down. There was a bomb blast at the theatre in 1993, then it was shut down for 3 years. It was acquired by the Shantaram trust in 2005, redesigned and opened again, but has probably not been making much money since then. The trust has now again sold it to a corporate entity who has converted it to a multiplex.

Anyway - after this I consoled myself with a good home-style thali at Mama Kane. That is another old Dadar institution, and one which has not changed much!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hara Chana Roast, Chor Bazaar

- By Deepa Krishnan

One of the pleasures of wandering around in winter in Chor Bazaar: this is Hara Chana, roasted in hot sand, over a chulha (wood fire). They're lightly salted. Simple and super-yummy. What a pleasure to eat them hot!
Chickpeas are available all round the year, but usually in dried form. The fresh form is only there in the markets for a few short winter months. Make the most of it! You can make the most awesome chaat with it. You can add it to salads. You can sprout it. In recipes that have peas, you can replace the peas with chana. I'm even putting them in upma. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why Loiter: Matunga on a Sunday Night

- By Aishwarya Pramod

Why Loiter is a campaign that anyone can join from anywhere. The idea behind the campaign is very simple: it encourages women to loiter aimlessly about their city and make use of its public spaces :). In the face of victim-blaming and increased restrictions on women’s mobility, the campaign wants to create a sense of a community of women in public space, so that we can remind ourselves and other women that we are not alone.

This Sunday, I was going to meet a friend in Matunga. I saw the campaign on Facebook, so I took some pictures and hashtagged them #whyloiter.
I took a short bus ride to bustling Maheshwari Udyan (King’s Circle) and met my friend for dinner at Spring Onion. The starters were especially good. We told ourselves we’d come back there some other day and eat only 3 or 4 starters, no need of main course.

Then we wandered around near Five Garden and chilled… some photography happened there. Turns out my phone is not great at night photography (or I haven’t found the correct settings). There were many other people - many young people - walking, sitting around, hanging out.

We walked back to King’s Circle for dessert at Natural’s Ice Cream (one berry and one coffee-cinammon/coffee-walnut mix). Strolled around the circle for a bit - stopped to look at a street book stall (open quite late - around 10 pm). Families, college students and many others also loitered there, enjoying the night air. Finally, I then took the bus home.
I love lazing around at home, sometimes even more than going out. But when I do go out, chilling in Matunga is one the nicest things. It has pretty streets and buildings, good food, street book stalls, gardens, and optimal crowds (not too few people to be lonely/deserted, but usually not so many people that it becomes very crowded).
It’s widely accepted that Mumbai is the most women-friendly city in India. Bombay girls are the most bindaas (carefree, without restraint). Women who move here from other cities are sometimes heard to remark on their newfound liberation. I myself love Mumbai. But even in Mumbai the freedom is not absolute and not something we take for granted.

“Why Loiter” is also a book (published in 2011) that explores the ways in which the women negotiate and navigate the streets of Mumbai, in a larger culture that thinks women and public spaces don’t do together. I’ve read part of it – it was great! – and plan to finish reading it soon. It’s a refreshing, inspiring take on gender, public space and freedom.
Why Loiter is a call for an end to fearmongering and for women to openly and confidently claim the streets. Loitering – taking up public spaces while doing absolutely nothing – is everyone’s right. 
It calls on the government and society, not to provide paternalistic ‘protection’ by asking women to stay at home, but instead to begin providing the infrastructure (for example good public transport, street lights, public toilets) for women to feel safe. The book has many other interesting suggestions too. The final aim is freedom without fear.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Archaeology of Food: An Ancient Indian Meal

- By Aishwarya Pramod

Recently I attended a very interesting workshop on food in ancient India, hosted by Rushina Munshaw Ghildayal (culinary expert) and Dr. Kurush Dalal (Asst. professor of Archaeology, MU). The combination of food and history was fun. I learnt about India's food heritage, met many like-minded people, and got a delicious meal in the end.

The workshop began with a talk by Dr. Kurush Dalal.
Dr. Kurush Dalal
Grave from Mehrgarh. The bumps
around her legs are the remains of
five goats buried with her.
He spoke of the changing relationship between human society and food, from the Stone Age to the industrial age. He told us about the fascinating tools and techniques archaeologists use to find out what long-dead people ate.

For example in Mehrgarh (an Indus Valley site), ancient people are buried alongside goats - so we know they were probably shepherds consuming milk and milk products. Lots of traces of barley (and some wheat) show that they had domesticated these grains and were farming them.
Both the Harappans and Vedic tribes ate cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables and meat. Spices like coriander, turmeric, pepper and cumin were used. Sounds like our modern Indian food? Not so fast :)

Ancient Indians did NOT have access to so many things: no cabbage, cauliflower, potato, tomato, chillies, groundnuts, corn, rajma, cashew, chikoo. No tobacco, tea or coffee. Today we can hardly cook without tomatoes or chillies, and we certainly can't give up tea and coffee.

The predominant grains we eat today are also different. For example, lots of barley and amaranth were eaten in ancient times, unlike today. Millets (which were a major staple as recently as 50 years ago) are losing ground to to wheat and rice. Plus, hybrid and uniform crop-types are taking the place of localized, diverse varieties of each grain.

Lastly, oil, salt, sugar and spices are widely available in modern times but were rare commodities for our ancestors. This made a huge difference to their cooking methods and recpies. I also learned that in ancient India, a spice called long pepper was widely used - now we mostly use chillies and black pepper.
Long pepper has a stronger, earthier taste than black
 pepper. Rushina used roasted, powdered long pepper (top).
The talk was followed by a cooking demonstration and buffet, by Rushina Ghildayal. Rushina conceptualized and cooked the whole meal, using only those ingredients and methods that were available to ancient Indians.
Rushina stir-frying ambadi (gongura/roselle) and later on,
 chaulai (moth/amaranth greens)
Some close-ups of the food:
Panchamrit (with grape juice - hence the colour).
 It had lime, fruit juice, honey, water and rock salt - yum.
A sharp, refreshing drumstick broth with garlic,
ginger and curry leaf
Snacks: dried and fried karela (bittergourd),
gawar (guar bean) and makhna (foxnut)
A slow cooked jowar and bajra porridge
 with lamb, fish curry, and rice (unpolished)
Brinjal stuffed with minced lamb
Here's the full thaali (photo credit to Rushina's APB Cook Studio)
All in all, I came away very enlightened and very full!

APB Cook Studio does lots of food events (and cooking classes) throughout the year. Rushina celebrates regional cuisines, revives almost-forgotten recipes, and also teaches cooking.

If you want to know more about ancient Indian food, here are some links/books:

  • Indian Food: A Historical Companion. by K. T. Achaya
  • The Food Industries of British India. by K. T. Achaya
  • If you can't get the books, Achaya's work is summarized here and here
  • The Eternal Food: Gastronomic Ideas and Experiences of Hindus and Buddhists. by R. S. Khare
  • Food From the Mouth of Krishna: Feasts and Festivities in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre

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