Back in the Bombay Groove

    It’s true that despite how crazy/upsetting Bombay can be, it can also be quite pleasant. The past few days have been hectic, but enjoyable. And even though I have had down days (with respect to poverty, misery, Delhi Belly, etc.), the pendulum is starting to swing the other way.

    Before I got here, everyone I had ever met who had been to Bombay had loved it. Okay, all except for one. Then, the first day that I got here, I thought, “where in the hell am I?” But now I’m starting to figure it all out, which is quite a relief.

    Like Seth Stevenson from Slate (who I’m sure read some of my blog before posting his Slate story…how could he know about my fave player Harbhajan Singh? Indian cricket is on a break this week…), there are plenty of things I’ve learned to like about Mumbai. Here’s a short list:
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    Ganpati Immersion Day on Chowpatty Beach

      Alternative names for today’s post:

      Taj Mahal, Schmaj Mahal, or
      So, This is What One Million People Looks Like

      Alas, the days of Ganpati 2004 are over, after an exuberant night of immersions, marigold tossing, and general revelry. The crowds were immense, estimated at 1 million with about 35,000 cops standing guard. Sounds like a lot of people, right? But really it’s only about 1/17th of Mumbai’s population. Claustrophobes would not do well here.
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      Barefoot in the Dark


        Every night of the past week has been set to a soundtrack of tablas and cymbals, with groups of men, women, and children dancing to the beat on the way to immerse Ganesha. Despite the heat and humidity, it really feels like Christmas, as there are lights strung up over roads, vendors selling holiday snacks, and a real sense of joy among kids. In fact, taking a tour of the Ganpati – the idols in the image of Ganesha – is a bit like touring Nativity scenes in December.

        This year, Mumbai’s Ganpati range in size from two feet to about thirty feet tall and are mostly made of clay – so they’ll break apart in the sea – but some are still of plaster of paris to environmentalists’ chagrin. A resident of a neighborhood in the Opera House district told me that his idol took about 10 weeks to construct, at a cost of about $2,000 (92,000 Rs.). Other idols, like the ones that people have been wheeling around on wooden carts, probably cost less than $100, but people obviously put in as much as they can afford. More than half of the people who live in Mumbai live in dire conditions making less than $1 per day, so an elaborately colorful, relatively inexpensive Ganesha statue is a real sacrifice. You can’t really fault them, either, if their Ganpati are usually made of plaster of paris, a cheaper material.
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        Mumbai Dining, In and Out

          Admittedly, I haven’t been the healthiest of eaters since arriving in Bombay almost a month ago. I’ve eaten well, of course, but I’ve also drawn a complete blank about what I used to eat back home. You see eggplants, tomatoes, and spinach at the market, but your context changes. At the moment, eggplant parmigiana seems impossible to make – where do I get mozzarella? where do I get good e.v.o.o.? Basil?

          It’s all available here. In fact, I know it is because I had pureed white bean soup with porcini mushrooms and a slice of snapper on a bed of polenta with tomato coulis at Indigo last week. It is one of the most expensive – and trendy – restaurants in Mumbai, but we still only spent about 20 bucks per person, including drinks.

          I’m also feeling lost because my kitchen tools haven’t arrived yet. I’m missing a good sharp knife, a blender, my stand mixer, TONGS. What did I ever do without tongs? It’s useless to buy those things here because I really don’t want to duplicate. So, for the moment, cooking is difficult.

          Of course, what do I care? One of the pleasures of living in India is having a maid. Ours cooks for us every night (if we want her to), and she does it well. My problem is figuring out what her repertoire is. At first, she made only very mild, very bland dishes, such as roast chicken and vegetables. Then, we told her that we also like Bhartiya khana – Indian food – so she has stuck to that. Frankly, it’s quite amazing that I come home to a freshly prepared Indian meal every night. There’s always daal, rice (yellow or white, but always perfectly cooked), and typically a vegetarian dish or two. I’m especially fond of the peas and paneer. But I’m ready for some variety – and am longing for the dog-eared cookbooks that I used to consult each night.

          I’ve always thought that variety was the spice of life….here, it’s more like spice IS the variety.
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