Some things can’t be shared!

I do not remember when I ate my first meal! I am sure nobody does!!

But I realised it is a big ceremony to feed a child its first meal when I went to Guruvayur temple in Kerala. I saw some families had brought their children to the temple for this ceremony. I am sure that in my case it would have been a simple ceremony at home; my mother would have called a few relatives and neighbours [in the fifties, neighbours were part of your extended family] and done it without making it look like a ceremony.

My first memory of eating my meal is of eating my dinner. We stayed in a big house that had an ‘outhouse.’ It was a house with a colonial design where the kitchen and store room were placed separately and away from the main house which had large dining, living and bed rooms. I remember that every evening my mother would sit with me on a zula [swing] and feed me my dinner which comprised curd rice and an occasional papad. She always sang two Marathi songs, both of which are not available these days. These songs introduced to me to the music world and created very strong association with certain tunes as I realised later.

She sang very well, but she would hum it on the swing. One of the songs was ‘Ja saang laxamanaa saang raam-raayaalaa.’ The song is about Sita’s desertion by Ram. Laxman takes her away from Ram on the latter’s orders and Sita tells Laxman her message for her husband with a heavy heart. In the song Sita gives her message. I never knew why mother never sang a happier song, but I developed a general disrespect for Ram which I am unable to shed even today.

The second song was ‘Tuzhi ni mazhi preet jashi re devharyateel jyot.’ This was a nice song, which she hummed so well. Two songs were perhaps enough to complete my dinner.

Several years later, when I was in college, I heard a Hindi film song with a strikingly similar tune. I discovered it was ‘Dil aaj shaayar hai, gum aaj nagma hai...’ from Gambler. After my mother passed away, I once overheard this song being played at a restaurant. I entered it and sat there listening to it with tears in my eyes. The tune had taken me several decades back. I relived a few past happy moments.

This association with music has stayed with me. Just as a film has a sound track, my memories have a song track! And sometimes they have flavour of the food.

We used to stay at Saimal, in a small colony in the Khandala ghat on Mumbai-Pune highway. So sometimes my father drove us down to Khopoli where we would eat batata-wada at Ratnakar’s. The owner was known to my father and was his patient. This restaurant became increasingly popular and some film stars often drove from Mumbai. It was for the love of a long drive and good snacks. Our family often went to Mahad Temple, one of the Ashta-vinayakas, on a Chaturthi. There was always somebody who hosted the dinner free for all at the temple. We prayed and ate there. The temple now has been renovated and we see more commercial activities there these days. The temple now has marble floor and its area bigger. But I have never eaten there. It is just not the same feeling anymore.

When you went a few miles towards Mumbai from Khopoli, you came to National Restaurant at Taloja which served very delicious Biryani. As luck would have it, my employers decided to set up a factory in Taloja and I was part of the project team that handled this job. We rarely ordered Biryani from National Restaurant. The new highway took you to Mumbai via Navi Mumbai and it completely skirted Taloja. As a result the clientele of National Restaurant had changed from big spenders like movie stars to truck drivers. The Biryani must have been adapted to their taste; it no longer was the same.

We moved to Mumbai in the late fifties. Eating out was never heard of by us. I remember one evening when we were driving back from the city to our home in Chembur, my father stopped the car in front of the Irani restaurant which is next to Sion Bus Depot. He picked up some samosas and ice cream for everybody in the car which made our evening very memorable! This Irani still operates much the same old way even today.

Talking of Sion, I must say that I was one of the first customers of Hanuman Coffee House which is so popular today. Dosa was priced at 15 paise then and Masala dosa at 25 paise. Eating dosa on our way back was the ultimate form of enjoyment in my life then! As a school boy I faintly remember ‘Gurukripa’ at Sion, it was such a small joint then. Now it is doing roaring business. It is located a hundred feet away from my school, DS High School, but since we never ate at Gurukripa then I do not have any memories associated with it or its food.

With friends I sometimes walked from Sion circle [now called Maharani Laxmibai Chowk, sometimes just ML Chowk!] to King’s circle [now Maheshwari Udyaan] in the evening. A coke and ice cream soda combination taught us how to increase pleasure while reducing material cost! Tequila Bar where we spent our little fortune on coke and soda never served any beer or liquor then. I understand they now live up to their name and serve it. I have never entered it after my graduation and cannot imagine drinking beer there with my friends. Some things just do not go well with some things!

When beer became my favourite drink [it continues today too] we shifted to Netivali which is situated between Kalyan and Dombivali. I often got down from the train at Dombivali to go home. Very often I had my dinner [and beer] with friends at Durga Restaurant in Dombivali which had just opened then; it also served excellent Tandoori Chicken. I remember how I once went there with my father and the waiter, who knew me as his regular customer, came over with a bottle of beer and a menu card in hand! I acted as if I did not know him but the cat was out of bag, my father had understood what his illustrious son did in the evenings there!

We stayed at Kalyan then for twenty-five years but there was not a single restaurant worth the mention. The city’s special item was and perhaps still is ‘Khidki-wada.’ A poor family started serving batata-wada from the window of their house to make a good living. They then had everything going for them. The residents, largely office goers, picked up hot batata-wadas on their way back home. The wadas were excellent and piping hot. Reportedly the family bought the building they were staying in. After the immersion of Ganapati, we would buy batata-wada for our family members and conclude celebrations with it.

This story will not be complete without a story of scotch. My parents enjoyed inviting their friends at home for dinner. Occasionally my father would serve drinks. He decided that he would invite his two close friends and got a bottle of ‘Ballentine’ a scotch. But he passed away before he could host them a dinner. The Ballentine remained unopened in the cupboard. When I reminded them of my father’s wish which they were aware of, they politely declined mentioning that the scotch would not taste well in his absence.

I have realised that you may eat excellent food; but the time adds the memories and tears to it. Nobody will ever understand what it means to you. Some things just can’t be shared – memories about food too! 
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A post by Vivek Patwardhan who blogs at HResonance and Vivek Patwardhan's Blog

comment 3 comments:

Mandy on September 15, 2010 at 7:12 AM said...

I can't agree any more on the same.... Food n places have a strange connection to people and the time spent with them. The same comes out very strongly after the loss of a person. Every joint that u had been to or every dish u used to ve moves one to tears...

mmb on September 15, 2010 at 2:28 PM said...

You shared and more so, conveyed a lot in your 'somethings can't be shared!'. It took me to my few personal interactions with you in Kalyan as well as the time spent driving together to Kalyan during tumultuous phase. ... the memory lanes.... the deep... unknowingly engraved impressions and impacts!

sushobhan roy on September 26, 2010 at 6:20 PM said...

wonderful way to present the nostalgic memories and sharing with the readers.. Loved reading it.. :)

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