Guavas or Peru


One of my most favorite fruit in Mumbai is the Guava, commonly referred to as peru in Hindi. It is generally found in the summer/fall seasons and is a great, filling, and wholesome snack to have at anytime of the day. In the last one year of living in Mumbai, I have developed a deep fondness for the fruit and have learned to appreciate its tarty flavor and nutritional value. More importantly, I have come to appreciate the way in which it is consumed in Mumbai.

If you have been to Mumbai at this time of the year, you will find hand carts loaded with perus at every street corner. Each cart has different types of perus, all having a various price range. You can see what I am referring to in the picture below:

The peru cart and the vendor

The peru cart and the vendor

You will notice above the distinct demarcations of the perus. You may purchase one for as little is Rs. 3/- to as high as Rs.6/- In the evenings, there are always people stopping by the cart to pick up a healthy snack on their way back from work. What is most intriguing is the way in which peru is consumed in Mumbai (and I am sure in other parts of India as well). You will notice in the picture below, a box containing a peach colored mixture of sorts:

This, my friends, is a sublime and delectable mixture of salt and red chilli powder! I have often avoided this mixture thinking it would taste awful and I often wondered how ludicrous people could be to apply this mixture on their perus…….until I tried it myself last week. I was passing by a peru cart and I mustered the courage to buy a peru and this time, instead of just giving the man the money and walking away, I waited for him to ask me the question, “Do you want masala on the peru?” I said yes.

The old man proceeded to smear a thin layer of this mixture on each quarter of the peru that he had cut open. I dared to put a piece in my mouth and was pleasantly taken by surprise when I discovered a medley of flavors in my mouth. It was a really strange but welcome experience. I asked the man why people eat their perus this way and he explained to me that the nutritional properties of the peru are such that they tend to create “cold” in the body, which means that, people tend to get colds easily if they eat too many perus. However, if consumed with the mixture of salt and chilli powder, one does not tend to catch a cold. Yes, in India, we have a panacea for every dilemma.

I checked this out with my next door neighbor who swore by this idea and was aghast at how I have been eating perus without this divine mixture. I have to say, I have been missing out on this unique taste of “tarty meets salty meets spicy” and look forward to eating many a perus with the seasoning.

So the next time you are in Mumbai and it happens to be Peru season, do stop by and indulge in a little piece of heaven!

SAMSUNG

November 18th – Mumbai at a Standstill


If you have been following the news on India, you would have come to know of the massive paralysis the city of Mumbai experienced on the 17th and 18th of November. Mumbai was at a standstill over the death of Mahrashtra’s political supremo, Bal Thackeray. In all fairness, Thackeray was not a politician, neither did he have any political hold over Mumbai. But, what he did have, was a great deal of power over the masses, especially the Maharashtrians, who believe that Thackeray did a whole lot for their social and economic well being and upliftment.

Bal Thackeray

Bal Thackeray

I do not want to go into the history or the biography of Thackeray. You can look it up yourself on the internet, where there is no dearth of information on the man, by any stretch of imagination. I do want to share my experience as I witnessed, first-hand, the quickened pace at which Mumbai went into shut-down mode, within a matter of hours.

Thackeray has been severely ailing for a while, and was believed to be clinically dead a couple of days before Diwali itself. On November 15th, there was rumor about his impending demise, and by 12 pm that afternoon, the hustle and bustle of the city was reduced to pin-drop silence. I was amazed how, just upon the suspicion that he may be dead, most of the shops had shut down, people ventured into and stayed in their homes, even chaiwalas (tea vendors) abandoned their stalls, and the main roads were laden with police. It was unusually quiet, and some of my own clients who had appointments with me, did not feel safe to make it for them, even in their chauffeur driven cars.

That was the 15th and the next day everything was back to normal because his followers thought that he was OK. It was not made public that he was barely surviving on a ventilator. On the 17th of November, which was a Saturday, I was at Marine Lines (in South Mumbai), at an electric shop, exchanging light bulbs. I stepped out to indulge in some street food and the vendor told me he was in a hurry to shut down his stall because they just got wind that the great one had passed away. While he was making the food, the lanky, tall man, stopped a few feet from the stall and started yelling at the vendor, cursing him in Hindi and telling him that he needs to shut down his stall immediately. This guy was obviously one of Thackeray’s goons, more politely referred to as a Sainik or member of the Shiv Sena, Thackeray’s party. It did not matter to the man that a lady was standing there. I was amazed by what I witnessed around me…people running helter-skelter, shutters of shops being slammed shut in a matter of minutes, people scrambling for taxis or any kinds of modes of transportation to make it back safely to their houses…even the grocer stores and convenient stores had to shut down, which meant that, if you did not have any food or milk or other basic necessities in your home, you would have to wait till Monday to get them. Mumbai was going on a bandh (literally means to halt or stop or shut down). Only hospitals and medical stores could stay open.

It took us 2 hours to get home, a ride that usually takes us about 45-60 minutes. Here is a picture of the traffic jam and the cars that moved at snails pace, all in a hurry to be safe in doors:

We finally got home and found that we had just enough of food to tide us over Saturday and Sunday. I have seen Mumbai slow down on the weekends, but have never witnessed graveyard silence in the mega metropolis. One asks, why was there a bandh? Why did Mumbai, the financial capital of India, come to a standstill over the death of one man? A lot of people are asking if it was out of fear or respect. I believe it was out of pure fear.

The newspapers read, “Shopkeepers were not asked to shut their shops down, but did so out of respect for Thackeray”, a man who is believed to have done a lot for the state of Maharashtra. I say that is bull shit – it was all done out of fear and even the Mumbai police could not do a thing about it. By Sunday morning, when the funeral was to take place, 20 lakh (2 hundred thousand) people from all over Maharashtra, had made their way to Mumbai to pay their final respects to the their beloved savior (even the funeral of Mother Teresa did not attract such masses). The streets of Mumbai were empty and not a single shop was open. I have never witnessed such a sight in Mumbai and was beyond shocked to see how people did not dare to get out, unless they really needed to.

What was even shocking was that the man was given a State Funeral, something that even Mahatma Gandhi was not given. He was wrapped in the Indian flag, and on what grounds, I will never know. Thackeray was neither a politician, nor a leader of the country; he was a mere mortal who was a splendid orator and was responsible for many a controversies in Mumbai. I am not denying that he did do good for the locals, but I believe he did so at a heavy cost which the common man had to pay (again, you may do your own research and come to your own conclusions on the man, who incidentally, was also a great fan of Adolf Hitler).

In the tri-color flag

In the tri-color flag

It is the 18th today and Mumbai is back to life and fortunately, there were no riots or hooliganism that broke out because of the throngs of people that invaded the city. Thackeray and his followers, his principles and his conduct, will always be controversial, and Mumbai has always been and will be in the grip of fear, every time something concerning the Shiv Sena party occurs.

This experience has really re-defined democracy for me, which clearly, we are lacking in India. If one has to shut down his/her shops for fear of losing their lives, how is this a democracy? This sort of rubbish was not be tolerated in the USA and people would not have been forced to stay in lock-down, where even the police appeared to be crippled and useless.

It’s a War Zone in Mumbai!


I officially hate Diwali, as celebrated in Mumbai. While I appreciate and understand the significance of the festival per se, I cannot, for the life of me, understand how and why Mumbaikers celebrate it the way they do. It is disgusting and I have become agitated by the same.

Imagine this: it’s 6 am on a Tuesday morning and you are fast asleep in the comfort of your bed, when outside you hear bomb like noise that awaken the day light out of you. And in your sleep you are confused as to what is going on. My first reaction is, just like last year, has Pakistan finally invaded India? Why does it sound like Mumbai is being put through massive carpet bombing? Is there a blitzkrieg? Should I run for my life? And then it bloody well dawns on you that the noise that sounds like incessant bombarding, is but only the noise pollution caused by huge firecrackers and bombs. Yet, it feels like a freakin’ war zone.

I have been exposed to this kind of air and noise pollution since Monday night. It is a Wednesday night, around 23:40 hours, and people are still bursting missile like fire crackers all over Mumbai. Last night, I was ready to sleep by 10 pm, but only made it to bed at 12 am because of the firecrackers. I kid you not, it sounds like I am in the midst of a war. Even the street dogs are running helter-skelter, trying to find refuge underneath street cars and building compounds, worrying for their lives. The birds are also flying about and it is quite apparent that they are disturbed by all of this. My poor cat, that has never been subjected to such auditory atrocities in the USA, has been hiding under the sofa for the last couple of days. The air is densely coated with smog and the rusty smell of gun powder. I hate it and my windows have been shut tight for the last 3 days.

One of the most noisiest crackers are the 1000 wala garland crackers. It literally is a string of a 1000 crackers that go off in one go and sounds like a heavy duty riffle gun in action. I can’t explain it any better, so hoping this picture may help:

1000 wala garland crackers

1000 wala garland crackers

A recent article in the newspaper quoted Minesh Mehta, the joint secretary of the Mumbai and Thane District Fireworks Dealers’ Welfare Association with the following:  “The sale of loud crackers has fallen by 60% this year.” If this is true, I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like a few years ago.

It really saddens me to think how much money people spend on fire crackers every year. Even the “poor” people seem to be able to shell out money for the sole purpose of firecrackers. All I know is that Diwali, the “festival of lights” is more like the “festival of deafening noise” and I hate every bit of it!

T’is the Season of Giving!


No, I am not referring to Christmas, the season that engenders the spirits of kindness and generosity. I am talking about the “season of giving” as I experience it in Mumbai. The festival season started with a big bang with the onset of Ganesh Chaturthi in late September. Post that, there have been several other national festivals and holidays, such as Gandhi Jayanti (birthday of the Father of the Nation), Dussera (Festival dedicated to the Goddess), Navratri (the nine nights preceding Dussera), Karvachauth  ( a North Indian religious holiday where married women fast for the longevity of their husband’s life {and you’ll never catch me doing that, unless my husband does it for me}, and now we are headed to the famous and most celebrated Hindu festival, Diwali (the festival of lights).

In the last few days, I have been noticing a certain phenomena a lot more, something I believe is related to this Hindu holiday season: begging in the name of religion! Now I am not saying that you don’t get beggars who plead for money in the name of religion otherwise, but there appears to be a certain surge in the level of exploitation and the use of “religion” during the holiday season. I have seen people beg on the streets and ask for money claiming, as if they heard directly from the divine herself, that god will bless the good-doer with either a “long life” or a “generous progeny” or (if single), “a loving and handsome marital partner”. Then you have an entire family, each playing a distinct role, who walk around Mumbai with calves or very young cows that are lightly decked in golden and orange/red fabric, with powdered color smeared on them, enticing people along the street for money in the name of religion.

Below are some pictures of what I am talking about. As you already know, the cow is thee most sacred animal in Hinduism and is highly revered. Hence I used the word “exploitation” above, because I believe this antic is an exploitation of the commoner’s religious sentiments (and of the cow, of course). I have taken these pictures from my balcony window:

Lady with a young bull, asking people on the street for money.

Lady with a young bull, asking people on the street for money.

While one member of the family will actively beg, other members will play musical instruments to attract attention. This morning I was awoken by the jarring sound of a father playing the shennai (an Indian musical instrument that originates from the flute family) and his young son (could not have been more than 6 years old), playing a drum:

 

Man playing Shennai

Man playing the Shennai

 

And finally, here’s a picture of a mother and her child petting the cow and giving the family some money (suckers!!):

Unfortunately, even in the big bad city of Mumbai, there are plenty of suckers who fall into or give in to this religious trap. So one can only imagine how wealthy some of these beggars may actually be.

So there you have it! The spirit of giving is certainly heightened in the festival season. But try giving these same people some food or clothes and, chances are, they will snub you, and snub you to the point of a rude awakening!