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A Night to Myself

I realize now that I have been in desperate need of some “me time.” I have been operating on overdrive a bit, wanting to make the most of the short time I have in India. Unfortunately, about 3.5 weeks into various levels of daily social activity, a good pedicure + tv night is well overdue. This is scientific fact.

My feet constantly feel dirty because I’m walking in sandals all day exposed to the elements, including dirt roads and extreme heat. When I was at my faiba’s place a few weeks back she had a woman come to the flat to give me pedicure. (The man-power available in this country allows for any and everything to be delivered to your home: food, wine, yoga instruction, spa treatments, shopping, alterations, laundry, in home cooking, etc. usually for no extra charge.) That pedicure was great, mostly for its convenience. Unfortunately for me the pedicurist had only brought two rather unfortunate nail polish options so I was especially excited for pedicure number two in India.

Not sure if I mentioned this previously, but right next to Yogacara there is a small (and clean) spa, Rewa House Spa, with the same magnificent view. I scheduled an appointment and went yesterday after withstanding Tasneem’s abuse in yoga class. The space is very modern, with all the amenities you would expect to find in a stateside spa and a decent collection of nail polish colors. Big win. A small Indian man, with tattoos on his forearms, was assigned to my pedicure duty – you can imagine my initial concern. It turned out to be the best and most relaxing pedicure I’ve ever had.

I treated myself to a quinoa salad for dinner and streamed the season/series finales of The Mindy Project and Smash. Mindy continuing to kill it. Smash continuing to inspire. I suppose they did tie everything up very nicely and with a pretty bow but I still am very sad that Smash is cancelled. It’s an injustice – Broadway Here I Come.

Nevertheless, the evening was sublime.

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A Whole New World

I’ve been trying to see a show at the Prithvi Theatre, a very small community theater in Juhu started by Shashi Kapoor in the late 70’s, since I’ve gotten to Mumbai. For some reason or another it hasn’t worked out. Katie and I even attempted to go to a show two weeks ago but arrived to the theater ten minutes after the show had started. There was a sign posted on the locked doors that read “ABSOLUTELY NO LATE ENTRY.” Apparently IST rules don’t apply at the Prithvi. Noted.

We were able to salvage the night by enjoying a waterfront dinner at Aurus – it was quite romantic really:

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Fast forward to last night. I still have yet to see a show at the theater itself, however on the theater property there is an event space, Prithvi House, where the group Vikalp@Prithvi screens documentaries once a month. Katie, Kevin and I decided to go last night as they were showing two documentaries from Indian filmmakers on topics we hadn’t heard about before – we made sure to leave ample time to get to Juhu.

When we arrived (with 20 minutes to spare) we were asked to remove our shoes and climb a flight of stairs barefoot to get to the event space. They were screening the films in a rather small room. To fit all the attendees (about 150) there were blankets/rugs covering the floor where we would be sitting. Like “movie in the park” but indoors and a little cramped. It wasn’t the most comfortable but it was a really interesting crowd and the two documentaries shown were really great stories. Actually both films were stories about stories – totally meta – and both directors were present to introduce their film and answer questions after.

The first was a twelve minute film about Kutch tapestry artists entitled “Tanko Bole Che” – translation: “The Stitches Speak.” These artists take the stories and hardships from their lives and tell those stories through their tapestries. Kutch, after the partition was a sort of no-man’s-land in that it was a part of India but it lacked resources and thus was uninhabited. The Kutchi people pre-partition were living on the western border area and were told they could only come to India if they moved to Kutch. Despite a number of natural disasters in that region over the years, that had taken them back a few steps, they have built a life and craft and are happy.

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What was especially creative is how the director envisioned and told the story. She scanned all of the tapestries, then took each piece of the tapestry and animated it. She matched that up with the voices of the artists explaining the story in their tapestry. In Kutch they speak a mix of Gujarati, Sindhi and Kuchi so I could understand some of the dialog without the sub-titles; always a nice feeling. The director had brought a few of the tapestries to show us all and talked a bit about the making of the film and the women and men that she had met with. Their artwork is available for purchase through the Kala Raksha Org.

The second film that was screened was about the mobile theater industry (yes I said industry) in Assam, entitled “Where Othello Sets Sail with Titanic.” This film was close to an hour in length and followed seven-ish different mobile theater companies during their theater season which lasts nine months of the year. About 90 to 100 people make up a mobile theater company and they travel together, for nine months, away from their families, in cramped buses, to 60+ different locations throughout Assam bringing new stories to the region including to areas where the people don’t have televisions or even electricity. Mobile theater for these people is true edutainment (educational entertainment) in these parts. The companies set up their stages, backstage, orchestra pit and tent for seating in every location they go to where 2,000+ people to attend a single show. The documentary shows footage of some of the shows that have been put on – among them, as you might have predicted from the title, Othello and Titanic. The visual spectacle in Titanic, that they are able to create on stage is no small feat and all the more spectacular when you realize how low-tech it is. About 150 different plays are presented by some 40 different mobile theater companies in a single year. After the show the director was discussing the demand for good playwrights in that region. Right now there are anywhere from 5-10 playwrights having to churn out 5-15 scripts a year. Many of them resort to translating existing pieces from Shakespeare or Hollywood but they also write regional stories. I have many more fun facts but I’ll spare you.

I’m not sure if Vikalp@Prithvi did this intentionally but I really loved how both of these filmmakers were able to find and tell really unique and positive stories about regions where the news is often very negative.

To continue our night of culture, we opted to have dinner at The Irish House and enjoy Monday Karaoke Night with some friends. I chose to sing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. Now in my head I saw this turning into a group sing-a-long. Let’s just say that didn’t happen and I can never go back to The Irish House – my local friends said afterwards that they didn’t actually know what that song was. I clearly know the crowd pleasers.

I’m sticking to “Build Me Up Buttercup” for next time.

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Road to Relaxation

This past week has been playoffs in the Indian Premier League (India’s cricket league) and tonight, Sunday May 26th, the Mumbai Indians have won the final match against the Chennai Super Kings. Lots of celebration in the streets although there are a few key differences between Mumbai when the Mumbai Indians win the IPL final and San Francisco when the Giants win the World Series: 1. Mumbai is not even close to as contained as San Francisco, thus there aren’t any main streets that everyone goes to for high fives, riots and debauchery (I’ll follow up in the paper tomorrow…sitting in Worli I have no idea how wild people are getting in Powai ya dig?) 2. Fireworks. Everywhere. Big ones too. I was in Mumbai for Diwali two years ago, the same year Obama was in town. At that time there was heightened security and fireworks were said to be illegal, but even so, there were plenty of fireworks that night. Mumbai loves its fireworks. Legal or not, you better believe they’re going off. I’m never surprised to see them. 3. The IPL is wrought with scandal. Not the steroids kind – the match fixing/gambling kind, and there are A LOT of folks involved. Players, gangsters, family members of league executives, bookies, and so on. Every newspaper covers this story front page (and has been everyday for the last two weeks). The scandal has left the city disillusioned in many ways, causing some division in the celebrations.

On a related note, Sachin Tendulkar has announced his retirement from the league.

My parents left for the airport just before the game finished (It was really nice to have them here and I miss them terribly already). The weekend was another filled with family, food and fun. In my post “The Sound of Mumbai” I discussed my family’s M-O in India but this past Saturday we diverged from routine and for my parent’s last weekend in town we road-tripped to Pune with my faiba and fuva. A very packed yet relaxing day.

We hit the road around 6:40am on Saturday morning. The key was to get out of Mumbai before the traffic picked up. If executed correctly, Pune only takes two to three hours to get to. I can sleep almost too easily in moving vehicles, especially when woken before 8am, so I missed the gorgeous drive but by 10am we had in fact made it to Kathraj Jain Mandir, located on a hilltop overlooking the city (the Twin Peaks of Pune if you will). It was an incredibly serene location. We were warned about the heat in Pune, but unlike Mumbai, there was no humidity to accompany the heat, which I much preferred. The temple itself had a dharamshala on site (basic hotel rooms for travelers – just a bed and bathroom) so we temporarily used one of those rooms to freshen up before heading inside the temple for prayers. The temple itself was beautiful, despite on-going maintenance, with really intricate hand carvings and stone work everywhere you looked.

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Much to my delight, we enjoyed some fresh fruits as our post prayer snack – Mango (of course), chikoo!! and lychee!! (I’m getting spoiled with the fruits here) – before embarking on part two of our road trip.

The aim was to spend the afternoon lounging in Lonavala, a popular hill station in Pune district – but not before visiting one more temple and enjoying a fantastic lunch at the Kailash Prabat Hotel. This was my first hill station excursion and boy, was it a joy! So Lonavala is huge. I was imagining a “station” in the “hills” if you will. According to my dad, under British rule, during the summer, the Europeans couldn’t stand the heat so they “stationed” themselves in the mountains for the season – thus the term “hill station.” It’s a full on city or town in the mountains and Lonavala specifically is known for its chikki (chikki is the original KIND bar, but they’re usually harder to bite into – although you can get soft chikki).

My faiba’s friend is a member of Club Mahindra, an Indian time-share situation with 40+ resorts, so we were luckily able to spend the afternoon hanging out on their Lonavala property.

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Top right: Faiba, Fuva, Dad, Mom

The location was completely peaceful but getting there was another story. From the main road to the property is exactly ten kilometers. Unfortunately that’s ten kilometers that you’re basically off-roading since the one lane that has been built to get you to the resort is ridden with potholes and piles of rocks or other debris. It took us approximately 40 minutes in our Toyota Innova to drive that distance. No surprises here: It turns out that that particular road is government maintained, and the government won’t allow Club Mahindra to fix the road because they claim they will get to it. With infrastructure and the Indian government, crores of rupees will be set aside for fixing roads specifically, and then any number of things, except what has been planned for, will happen. One example – a plan is created for X number of potholes to be fixed with concrete. Instead Y number of potholes are fixed with sand and asphalt, and the rupees not spent, due to cheaper materials and less work, gets pocketed by someone – this temporary solution allows more dollars to be allocated to fix the same potholes next year and now we’ve entered an endless cycle. Everyone has a handful of stories ready to share about how the government is corrupt. Where it gets interesting is when you as a citizen are forced to compromise your integrity because the system as it stands is broken.

I’ve really taken for granted how straightforward the ‘right vs. wrong’ line is in the United States.

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Temple Run

No matter where you live in Mumbai, I would bet there is a place of worship (most likely a Hindu temple) within a five minute walk from your home. There are plenty of very large and well known temples/churches/mosques in each neighborhood plus every society (AKA housing complex – and there are A LOT of these) has at least one temple on its grounds. In addition I’ve also seen many smaller temples set up essentially roadside but tucked behind street stalls or next to buildings. Some of these smaller temples are not enclosed, so passers-by are able to see people as they practice their faith, exposed to the streets. I witnessed a group of men performing aarti while I was strolling the street stalls in Bandra around 7pm on a weeknight. I initially felt a little disoriented – Can I just walk by this holy ceremony? Should I be shopping here? Can I turn my back to the idols? etc. – but I do think it is nice, especially for those who believe in idol-worship, to have a convenient place to practice your religion everywhere in this city. This is a photo of the Jain temple in Walkeshwar:

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[Tangential thought: I have heard or seen enough commentary to make me very aware of the open intolerance of faiths that are different from one’s own. Most of this intolerance is rooted in tradition and comes out when discussing marriage and other such personal topics – this, while unfortunate, just doesn’t surprise me anymore. But some statements I’ve been completely caught off guard by – for example when a Muslim man is insulted that a Hindu singer/songwriter is performing a Sufi song, enough so that he makes a racial statement to express his ‘frustration.’ These are real sentiments expressed by educated, well read, globally minded people…

It goes without saying that there are also millions of people in this country who embrace our cultural and religious diversity. (Ah, Isha said to me the other day, in response to my indecisiveness about something, “Americans are so diplomatic.” I hadn’t noticed or thought of it before, but I clearly try to be.)]

So my friend Kishore was telling me about how he does yoga at 7am every morning by the Sea Link – basically where I live. “What kind of yoga?” I asked. His response: “I don’t know. It’s in a temple. Temple yoga.” The complete story is that a local yoga guru, who has started a trendy yoga studio out in Bandra, grew up in this run-down society in Worli. He gives back to his community by teaching hatha yoga every morning in the society’s temple’s kitchen-hall for a nominal fee – 500 rupees a month, 100% of which goes to the temple. You may be wondering, as I was, how one would find out about such hidden treasures. The answer is always ‘word of mouth.’

I get to work around 10:30am so 7am is early for me in Mumbai (I know I know. I can feel you all rolling your eyes.) but since I have been eager to try different classes while I’m here I decided this week to give it a shot. You may have read my “Finding Routine” post where I discuss Yogacara, this beautiful, tiny, clean yoga studio that I have been going to. “Temple yoga” couldn’t have been more opposite but was completely wonderful in its modesty. The kitchen space where class was held had the equivalent of three walls. The length of the room had half walls on either side. The no-wall-spaces opened to the temple. Large rugs were stacked in the corner of the room. As people walked into the space they worked together to cover the floor with these rugs and then lay their yoga mats, which mostly were large towels, on top of the rugs. Temple bells were going off occasionally in the background but no music. No fans. The instruction was really challenging. The students, maybe fifteen in the class, were mostly older men or younger woman. The older men had looser hips than me. The whole experience was quite humbling in the best of ways.

With that, I’d like to close the temple segment of this post.

Two quick highlights from yesterday:

1. Food trucks – Food trucks don’t exist in Mumbai. As far as I can tell it’d be hard to make them successful. There’s too much traffic, unbearable heat, zero parking, no open spaces for an Off The Grid style event, etc. (In truth, I doubt there’s a real market for food trucks – nothing beats India’s streets as far as delicious flavorful snacks are concerned.) What Mumbai does have, along the food truck line, is Sweetish House Mafia. A woman, who remains anonymous, has purchased a nano (covered in her branding) and hired a driver to go to a different Mumbai neighborhood every evening and sell her “cookie-of-the-day.” Yesterday we lucked out. The nano parked in front of our building! (We did get a good number of people to vote for Indiabulls Finance Center so maybe it wasn’t all luck.)

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Yesterday’s cookie was an egg-less dark chocolate truffle. Four cookies for 100 rupees. The packaging could stand to be upgraded but the cookie was delicious.

2. Coke Studio: Part 2 – Coke Studio at Blue Frog is becoming our Thursday night tradition. Two of the bands yesterday were so so great: Rang and Highway 61 if you’re interested (FYI their live performances were better than these recorded tracks but give them a listen anyway. They’re still excellent).

We ended up kicking it at Blue Frog for a bit after the show. Some of the members of the aforementioned bands were also just hanging out as well. Katie and I went to chat with the lead singer of Highway 61 who clarified that the shows we are seeing at Blue Frog right now are actually auditions for the main MTV show. June 6th is when they announce finalists and then THOSE final performances will be aired (something like that). Then we chatted with one of the two main vocalists for Rang (this band was the ‘well-known popular band’ of the night and their song “Jaan” is basically an anthem for Mumbai). I mentioned to him that I loved their final song “Jaago.” Well guess who now is a proud owner of the track? He emailed it to me on the spot. I officially have friends in high places in Mumbai.

Five of the six bands that we have seen thus far have had a streak of activism + positive messaging in their music. The two bands yesterday for example: Highway 61 dedicates many of their songs to resolving conflict in Kashmir (their main song writer is Kashmiri and many of their songs are sung in Kashmiri as well. There are so many languages in this country – every band I’ve heard seems to be from different region and sing in a different language! As a friend said yesterday, “every ten kilometers there is a different dialect in India.” This, seriously, is only a slight exaggeration). Rang has started a movement called “Quit Running” – which is all about breaking away from the accepted career molds in India and following your dreams; a central topic in the movie 3 Idiots as well.

It’s all just very noble.

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The Sound of Mumbai

Blue Frog might have been the first Mumbai recommendation I was given, and one that is consistently suggested to visitors. It appears to be a staple in the Mumbai nightlife scene…or at least its a right of passage. This restaurant/bar doubles as a concert venue, bringing local fusion and international acts to its stage. Thursday nights are “Coke Studio” nights. Coca-Cola sponsors three musical acts (one traditional, one new talent, and one popular group) to perform at Blue Frog and then the live recordings are aired on MTV. As opposed to having to choose one performer/concert without knowing any local musicians, Coke Studio is a great way to be introduced to the music scene here without having to do any research. This was perfect for me – needless to say, I attended this past Thursday’s.

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I love fusion music, and I say that confidently despite only having watched the three very different bands (singing in three different languages mind you – my comprehension of the lyrics was minimal). This is probably obvious but ‘Fusion music’ in India just means a band/beat/song uses a combination of rock band sounds – electric guitar, bass, drums, etc. – mixed with traditional South Asian instruments – tabla, sitar, sarangi, etc.

Quick breakdown of the three bands from last Thursday:

1. Category: Traditional – Band Name: Rajnigandha Shekhawat – Language: Marwari – She and her band have “modernized” Rajasthani folk songs – Sample Song – I just didn’t expect that ‘raspy-Rajasthani-woman,’  voice to come out of someone who looked so young. It’s gripping! Reminded me of “Tujhe Yaad Na Meri Aayi” from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

2. Category: New Talent – Band Name: Veda – Language: Hindi – These guys make what they’ve dubbed as fusion rock music – Sample Song – They were that group that just looked like they were having so much fun – lots of positive energy – that by the end of it, you too were having so much fun!

3. Category: Popular Group – Band Name: Winit Tikoo Band – Language: Hindi/Urdu – Winit, the lead singer, writes his own songs with heavy influence from Sufi poetry – Sample Song – Their band played a few of their songs with a sarangi player; twas spectacular! I couldn’t find a version of their music online that had this instrument up in the mix so you’ll have to trust that its addition made their already earthy-sound sound more dreamlike. By the end of their set, two of my friends were swooning over Winit and his dreadlocks. Sadly, he appeared to have a wedding ring. Sorry folks.

In hindsight, A.R. Rahman is totes popularized fusion (I’m sure you already knew this), but I’ve always lumped his stuff unconsciously into the Bollywood music category (i.e. Taal, Slumdog). Listening to fusion South Asian music, that wasn’t meant for the movie industry, made me realize that there’s a whole new genre to be explored here…so that’s what I’m doing – using Coke Studio as my guide. Turns out Coke Studio in India was really inspired by Coke Studio in Pakistan. I’m now following both on YouTube. Let me know if you’re interested in getting updates re: my musical discoveries OR if you have any leads on great South Asian bands that I should add to my list o’faves.

In other news, my folks are in town! They’re staying with my faiba in South Mumbai which is where I camped out over the weekend as well. All of my previous trips to Mumbai have consisted of, 70% of the time, visiting family members and eating, 20% of the time shopping for clothing, spices, trinkets, etc. and 10% of the time visiting Jain temples. That breakdown also applies to this past weekend. Because my parents are only in town for ten days, every meal of theirs seems to be planned for and much of the in-between-meals time has been reserved for shopping.

The one comment I will add with regard to this weekend is that I’m being overfed (To be clear, this is not a complaint. I know I am very lucky). Meals, especially when entertaining people, are over the top in India in terms of number of items that are served, and you better believe you must try everything on the table. On top of that, because mangoes are in season, generous helpings of ras are served with every meal no matter whose home you are at. As my mama (Mother’s brother) said this weekend, “Mango season mah, ‘put-on’ tho thyage.” Translation: “In mango season you will put on [weight].”

I willingly eat a lot when visiting relatives (the food, the food, the food!) and am happy to, but now I’m overeating while shopping. Sari stores will always offer you chai, coffee or water while they show off their latest inventory. Well in addition to that, one of the two stores we went to on Saturday brought us fresh sandwiches from Sandwizzaa, the popular Santa Cruz veg sandwich stall stationed outside. I obviously couldn’t refuse – the sandwiches are huge: three slices of bread, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, potatoes, cheese and chutneys galore. This was actually my first street food experience and I survived! I’m starting to feel more gutsy about the foods I’m trying (not pani puri gutsy but chutney + cooked street food gutsy). As they say, “When in Mumbai…”

Ok no one actually says that, but they do say, if you’re going to get sick from India, get sick IN India and not back home. Something about doctors in the states or Europe usually not being used to checking or treating certain diseases that are primarily only contracted by foreigners in developing countries – e.g., Hep E.

Stay healthy my friends!

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The Big Nasty

Joanne, one of my friend’s from work, had her birthday party last night and invited a few of us girls out to celebrate. First out to Lemongrass in Bandra for dinner – very yummy. I recommend the whole wheat noodles with black bean sauce and paneer – and then to a bar called The Big Nasty for general celebratory fun. With a name like The Big Nasty, I was imagining Bar None minus the games. Spoiler Alert – The Big Nasty is my new favorite bar in Mumbai. The spot is basically grunge chic. It reminded me of the sets for STOMP or Rent. Faux fence walls, concrete benches, stained glass windows, red-ish lighting, wooden tables, mismatched armchairs…you get it. When we arrived, the Mumbai Indians had just finished batting and the Rajasthan Royals were up – Joanne had reserved a booth area with a very large flat screen TV so we indulged in some nachos and beverages while watching the rest of the cricket match. Joanne had been pretty excited about dancing all day, which I too was excited about – but this place, with it’s sports watching crowd and tables/seating everywhere didn’t really seem like it would be that conducive to dancing. Boy was I wrong. Almost immediately after Mumbai won the game, the crowd was up and at it, climbing on seats, tables, benches to dance – where ever there was an open surface there was dancing. The DJ knew what was up; it was one of those nights where every song that comes on you think to yourself (or say out loud), “This is my JAM!”

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[From left to right: Isha, Praneetha, Me, Joanne, Katie]

The night ended with this Goan song that everyone knew and went wild over – Maria Pitache. People were grabbing paper napkins and waving them around as if they were handkerchiefs. It was seriously all the rage. I was completely lost but Joanne (who is Goan) was clearly SO happy. Stuti, another friend from work, confirmed that this song is often one of the last songs played at a bar/club (think Journey – ‘Don’t Stop Believing’) and Goan’s especially love it.

This morning, once we all had gotten to work, we took a short breakfast/chai/post-party-rehash break. Well last week I must have mentioned at lunch that Khandvi is my favorite Guj snack/savory treat. Vailina, who lives next to a Gujarati bakery – Vijay Bakery in Mahim – that makes and sells fresh Guj breakfast items every morning, thinking of me, brought some Khandvi to work for our group of gals to share. Of course it was delicious but I can’t get over the thoughtfulness (If you haven’t had Khandvi, come to Mumbai and it will be my treat! Now I know a great spot to get it). Praneetha brought mango cream, basically a frothy mango ice cream situation with chunks of mango inside, from the Haji Ali Juice Centre (double yum). Isha brought homemade powa. We all had chai. A superb start to the day I’d say.

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Mumbai is Mumbai Yaar

This past weekend included quite the diverse set of activities, which I will now attempt to concisely recap below:

Friday – I ended up staying at work late with three of my colleagues to attend a Krav Maga women’s workshop being hosted at the office (a workshop that was organized in response to recent news stories involving women being violated in India). It worked out to be 45 minutes of presentation about self defense and where Krav Maga fits into that – hint: violence should always be the last resort; 90% of self defense is all about prevention – followed by an hour of hands on Krav Maga practice. Krav Maga is an Israeli form of martial arts that preaches “Your body is your weapon.” In the hands-on segment of the workshop, we were shown moves to fend off an attacker and had to repeat them with partners. We were also called upon as volunteers and shown what not to do and why. I was expecting the workshop to be a mix of slow and cheesy but the instructor was surprisingly engaging and funny so I was happy I stayed.

On to Friday night. Neither Katie nor I had any plans so we thought we’d look up some recommendations online and go out to dinner in our neighborhood. Katie used Zomato’s list of the top 25 restaurants trending in Mumbai (Starbucks is number 1) to find this restaurant/lounge, Smaaash, nearby that was serving up some international cuisine. We got out our LBDs and heels and hit the town for our Friday night out. The taxi driver had to make a stop to ask for directions (This is pretty common – it turns out no one uses GPS or Google Maps out here except for me. Most people will get to the general vicinity of their destination and then just ask around). Well the man we ask for directions looks at me and asks, “Oh Sachin Tendulkar ki, restaurant?” This seems to make sense. Top trending restaurant owned by the Mumbai Indians’ star player. So, we get dropped off in front of the restaurant, which is seemingly in a huge warehouse, the outside walls of which are covered in posters of Mumbai Indian players. Interesting choice for a fancy restaurant…

Turns out Smaaash is a two story arcade-cum-sports bar complete with cricket batting cages definitely targeting families and 13-year-old boys. To say that Katie and I looked out of place in our ‘Ladies Night’ outfits would be an understatement – naturally hilarity ensued and we couldn’t stop laughing at ourselves. We decided to wear our most convincing “yes, we did intend to come here” faces and explore anyway. Honestly, Smaaash is rad. If we weren’t wearing the heels you better believe we would have hit those batting cages (maybe next Friday?). Instead we opted for life-size arcade Connect 4 and some dinner (the food was average).

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[Side story: Yesterday, after work, six of us went to Hard Rock Cafe (affectionately known as HRC – Everything is an acronym) to watch the cricket match – apparently HRC is a cool place to go to in Mumbai. Well there were maybe twenty or so big strong looking white dudes next to our table and one of them comes up to us and asks me if I know where Smaaash is. This is literally the one restaurant in Worli that I could actually give them directions to. It turns out they were in the British Royal Navy/Marines and they were looking to go dancing. I graciously let them know that Smaaash is not the right choice and my coworker Praneetha gave them a better recommendation. Katie and I are clearly not the only people misinterpreting Zomato rankings!]

Post-Smaaash we went to Shiro’s to go dancing – this was a recommendation from a future classmate so we knew we would fit in a little better here. Fridays are retro nights so we were rocking out to music that included numerous Abba songs, Staying Alive, and the Grease soundtrack. It was best. We ended up running into people I had met at Olive. Small city I guess? So, you know how when you’re out, there is usually a photographer going around and taking promotional pictures for that club’s website? Same thing seemed to be happening here – guy with camera comes up to our group and asks us to pose. We smile for a picture with the Olive guys. Two minutes and one hundred rupees later we end up with a hard copy photo + card frame; theme-park-ride style.

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The guys had just been telling us why Mumbai was their favorite place in the world. When the photo arrived, one of them simply says, Mumbai is Mumbai yaar. Friday was a special night.

Saturday – Mangoes! My family in India has an annual big homemade feast in honor of mango season (which is now). Indian mangoes win. They are perfection. (I think in California we usually get mangoes from Mexico, but don’t quote me on this).

I got to my faiba’s flat in South Mumbai in the morning and we spent the day cooking and lounging. Oh, look at how functional this is; little cutting board attached to a container to hold your chopped veggies – genius:

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My aunt made a mango ras with at least twenty mangos (ras is basically pureed mango pulp). She used Alphonso (AKA Hapoos) mangoes and Pairi mangoes to get the right taste and texture. In grade school in India, the kids had to learn about the different types of mangoes (there are a lot). Then the teacher would ask them – “Mango ki raja kaun hai?” and the kids would reply, “HAPOOS!” So now you know. Hapoos mangoes are the king of all mangoes.

Mangoes

Family started arriving in the afternoon. The day was great fun. The food was plentiful, fresh and just so so scrumptious!

Sunday – Katie and I enjoyed an afternoon snack at the Tea Center near Churchgate station. This place may be a bit of a tourist trap but the teas were delightful nonetheless. My favorite was a Blooming Darjeeling tea where the tea leaves were attached to each other in such a way that it looked like there was a flower in our teapot.

We had bought tickets to watch an Indian musical that evening. Tickets to basically any show or live event (sports, plays, stand-up, movies, etc.) can be purchased on Book My Show. Like any normal person, I love to be entertained, so as soon as I discovered this site, I started scoping out shows and featured events.  The rating system on this site is my favorite. Forget five stars – this is where it’s at:

Ratings

We had decided to watch “Blame it on Yashraj,” a play about how bollywood has influenced Indian weddings. When we attempted to purchase these tickets last week they wouldn’t accept credit cards that weren’t issued from an Indian Bank. We had to opt for the Cash on Delivery payment option. This actually ended up being shockingly easy, and the convenience fee was only 78 rupees, which we would have had to pay anyway if our online payment was successful. Katie left the theater folks our work address/work phone and two days later someone came directly to Katie’s desk with our tickets. She handed them cash and that was that.

The play was at the famed NCPA Theater at Nariman Point – lovely building and location.

theater

Highlights: The acting was great – the dialogue was mostly in English with some Hindi jokes mixed in. Some political context was required to understand a few of the jokes but without that background I still thought the show was funny. There were some musical/song-and-dance numbers that were entertaining but didn’t quite fit into the story line. Also, there was huge flat screen on the stage that was used to complement the set and aid the audience in determining where the actors were at any point in time (i.e. if they were at home, the picture on the flat screen was of a living room) – the use of this flat screen categorized the production as high-tech. During intermission that same flat screen was used to show commercials from the show sponsors. Random…

Intermission involved a mad rush for chutney sandwiches, samosas and chai – perfect mid-show snacks.

The second half of the play consisted entirely of wedding planning scenes. In one of the scenes the couple attempts to hire a “Modern Pandit.”

Groom: “During the wedding, can you explain the meaning of the Mantras in English?”
Pandit: “Actually I don’t know any mantras, I just want to show off my body”
Groom: “Well how have you convinced people that you’re a Pandit?”
Pandit: “No one has any idea what a Pandit is actually saying. As long as I sound official, no one questions me” [Pandit proceeds to sing Jack and Jill sounding EXACTLY as if he were chanting a mantra]

I clearly can’t do this scene justice so you’ll have to trust that it was comical. (As it turns out, the Pandit was played by the director. I love when directors make cameos in their own shows.)

Finally, the play ends with a wedding. Well, the final dance performance at this wedding had the bride, groom and their families dancing to ‘Gangnam Style’ a la Puja + Manan’s wedding. Felt just like home.