It’s been a fulfilling weekend in many ways. I’ll tell you about it in pieces. Here goes my first piece about it.
On Saturday night, a few friends and I elbowed our way through some classic human traffic at the annual Iftaari celebrations of the royally lit Mohammed Ali Road. As opposed to last year, this time I was determined to eat all the right things at all the right places.
So while we waited across the road from Chinese N Grill for their much heard of mutton haleem, a friend was kind enough to get us a parcel of the most delicious, most exotic jalebi I’ve ever had till today from Burhanpur Jalebi Centre. We were not to be defeated in our mission to eat it all this time around, so we were going to be damn smart and efficient about it; except we weren’t really, but I’ll get to that.
While the rest of them on that street were celebrating the breaking of another fast, I was celebrating the ever-intriguing disposition of my city, Mumbai. It has seasoned our hearts as well as cricket balls, this city of ours.
There were groups of people standing in a line, silently savoring their own delicacies, waiting for their turn to get a table, nodding away beggars. We closed our eyes to take in the aroma and sunk our teeth into the Burhanpur jalebis, which is the Prince Charming born of the blessed union of a gulab jamun and a jalebi. We felt the asli deshi ghee ooze out of it, let the perfect blend of two desserts pervade our senses and mechanically conveyed our rejection to the starving beggars who tapped our shoulders.
It’s a dance perfected over time. They tap, we nod, they try all the tricks of their trade, we ignore or tell them off, they go to the next person and the cycle is repeated.
As the beggars went to the next group of people huddled over falooda, we continued to rave over how the Burhanpur Jalebi was made by people who were no less than artists. The next batch of beggars came to us and we ignored them and continued to crib about how we poor starving people had been standing in all the sweat, flies and elbowing but still hadn’t got our hands on that haleem.
When these beggars come ducking their heads into our rickshaws every day, they have more of a chance at tapping our guilt and making us shell out a few coins, while we’re left silently cursing the red signal for not turning green sooner. There are those times of course, when we’re REALLY angry at the world and don’t have the patience to feel guilty. Then we have the whole ‘Jaao na aage? Ek baar mein samajh nahi aata kya?‘ weapon ready to shoo them away.
But at times like Iftaari on Mohammed Ali Road, when the whole city rolls up their sleeves to hog? NOOOOOOOO! No pity or guilt to be expected there. Those coins we would have reluctantly parted with at that signal earlier that same afternoon? Every one of them needs to be saved for one more flavor of rabdi that we haven’t tried yet. And that burger from McDonald’s that we were enjoying in that rick at the signal? We might give it to you with a heavy heart. But this leg of meat from the nalli nihaari that we waited a whole year to have? Not even my best friend, who is my jigar ka tukda, gets a ‘just because I love her‘ bite from it. Need I say more?
Last night, I saw as many beggars on that one street as I haven’t seen throughout the year anywhere in the city. The city has taught them the authentic quality of not learning from their mistakes and hoping against hope. They’re drawn to such places during such festive seasons just like insects are drawn to the light indoors during the rains. It’s season time for them.
They haven’t been taught the same math as us. Little do they know that the real gain is in taking advantage of the off season. Like our Goa trip plans in April. Or their higher success rate on other days at signals.
For now, we’ll sum it up by saying that we’ve all been taught well by our bustling metropolis. Of course, the syllabus differs according to our standard (Need I say pun intended?).
And it’s a very secular metropolis we have, mind you. We might not believe in each other’s Gods but we believe staunchly in everyone’s festivals and feasting. That reminds me, do try the malpua, if you happen to go in that area, which we otherwise believe is bad and best avoided by girls. Even watching those people, who we otherwise believe are unsafe for our daughters and sisters to be around, while they make malpua is like watching a masterpiece in progress. Right from cracking the millionth egg in the batter to frying it in the still melting colossal slabs of ghee, they do it like artists, these dangerous people.