Monday, September 05, 2011
There are some very fond Memories attached to my City of Birth and Residence---and most of these are interlinked with certain Mumbai Landmarks---the most famous of these being the Taj Mahal Hotel---the pride of Mumbai since 1904--when it first opened it's opulent doors!!A dream Project of Sir Jamshedji Tata--- the great Indian Industrialist and Founder of the huge Tata Empire,he vowed to make a Hotel that would rival the World's finest---and would never carry a Sign at the Entrance"Dogs and Indians not allowed"!!The Landmark ---The Gateway of India---opposite this huge Palatial Structure was built to comemorate the visit of Edward the Fifth to Bombay in 1925 ----21 years later!!!
This beautiful Hotel has been a part of my Life since childhood---and I loved it's beautifully Carpetted highly polished Staircase the most--my favourite pastime was running up and down it as a child!!The hushed Opulence and Grandeur were overlaid with a Stately ambience--and the Polished Italian Marble Floors--the Old Victorian Furniture made it a Palace of Dreams---and the view from the Sea facing windows---just breathtaking!!!It had (still has) a cosy little Book Shop called "Nalanda" and this was my favourite haven--to browse through beautiful glossy paged Books---for it held many Coffee Table varieties of Books as well as the usual Best Sellers and Classics.The scrumptious Buffet Lunches in the Ball Room and Crystal Room would have Tables groaning with varieties of Global Cuisine--and of course Formal dressing was a must those days to enter these hallowed Portals!!
My father's older brother--Gopal Kaka--lived a stone's throw away from the Taj and the Promenade opposite it was one of our favourite spots for our regular evening Walks.Those days there used to be large flocks of Pigeons---and many Visitors would exclaim at these---and we'd buy packets of Seeds and sitting on the old Stone Benches near The Gateway of India scatter handfuls of these on the Pavement---just to see the Pigeons swoop down and walk their mincing gait around us--while pecking these up!!There also used to be lots of Horse drawn Carriages called "Victoria"s pulled up in queues at the Promenade---and many times we'd hire and ride these--the Route taking us from the Taj to Marine Drive and back for a few Rupees!!I remember the feeling like a Princess--clip-clopping languidly through the Traffic--Mistress of all I surveyed!!Unfortunately both the Pigeons and the "Victoria"s have dwindled in number today!!
After I got engaged to Sudhir our favourite pastime was driving on the Rainswept Marine Drive towards the Taj at Apollo Bunder---and this became our most favourite spot for a Meal---specially one of the windowside tables at The Sea Lounge on the 1st. Floor----our regular haunt!!Many are the wonderful hours we've spent there--specially during the Monsoon--sitting across from each other---just gazing wordlessly out over the wonderful sight of the endless expanse of the Sea--and the metallic Sky merging seamlessly into each other on the Horizon!!The crashing Waves would sent showers of Surf shooting up each time they banged against the Promenade Wall---drenching the crowds walking there--enjoying the Rain.Our children too became a part of our regular visits and Tea Time jaunts on Weekends meant luscious Pastries and Sandwiches---a must have in the time honoured tradition of English Tea!!All of us were extremely fond of their creamy Soups and crisply fried,melting in the mouth Fish'n'Chips served with Tartare Sauce!!The craving for these would drive us there on Sunday Mornings and we'd return home in the evenings after a scrumptious Tea as well---just snuggling down in those wonderfully deep Armchairs!!
The horrendous Terrorist Attack on the 27th. November 2008 had our daughters frantically calling us---to ensure we weren't caught at the Taj for Dinner!!We'd been to the Taj just a day earlier---- to visit the wonderful "La Patisserie" Cake Shop on the Ground floor---another favourite for a variety of great Salads,Cold Cuts, Savouries and Patties,Fruit Tarts,Macaroons,Pastries and Cakes--the luscious all Chocolate Dutch Truffle and rich Plum Cake being the most favourite Items all the year round---perhaps the Best in the World!!!On hearing the News from the Girls we quickly switched on the News Channel--and our mouths gaped open in horror--the Beautiful Dome of The Taj Palace was alight and burning furiously!!! Flames were pouring out from the beautiful Bay windows---and Gunshots echoing in the background!! All the beautifully polished old Burmah Teak,Mahogany and other old Wooden Artefacts caught Fire and burnt down to ashes--taking a lot of Memories with them!!The Old Wing of the Taj burned and the battle continued into the next day--till finally the Commandos managed to control the Situation and eliminate the Terrorists!!!The "La Patisserie" opened for business after 6-7 months after the Attack but the Hotel took longer---- as it was lovingly restored by Ratan Tata and his team to it's former Glory!!After a gap of almost 3 years I visited The Sea Lounge again for my Birthday on the 3rd.---and sat on our favourite Table to feast on creamy hot Soup and my favourite Fish 'n' Chips---while gazing at the wonderfully Rain washed View!!For that period Time stood still and the years rolled back as replete and well fed I slowly descended my beautifully refurbished Grand Staircase to the Ground floor--feeling once more like a Princess--just as I used to during my childhood!!!
A TRIBUTE TO THE TATA EMPIRE
Throughout the period it was shut the entire Staff recieved full pay each month--and generous Compensations were paid to the families of those who lost their lives. Ratan Tata himself attended each and every Funeral and has formed a Trust to look after all the Educational needs of the children of all those people who lost their lives in those Attacks---be it in The Taj,The Sheraton,at The CST Railway Station,at Cafe Leopold----all have been covered in his generous act!!The Scion of the Tata Empire has emerged as a true Philanthropist---a man who followed his heart---and performed his generous Deeds without any Fanfare!!!
Sunday, September 04, 2011
The 10 day period would be full of plenty of Fun and Life---and even the Immersion on the 10th. day echoed the merriment!!We'd all make our way ceremoniusly along with the Idol to Chowpatty Beach---and once there would hire a Fisherman for the Immersion in the Sea.I'd have a strangle hold on the tiny hands of as many children as I could grab---we'd have the neighbours' kids with us too!!After performing the Rituals and singing the Hymns He'd be borne aloft and carried into the surging Waves---and our eyes would follow Him avidly till He disappeared beneath the Waves---leaving each one of us in tears!!The surging Crowds,the huge Idols borne in open,decorated Trucks and accompanying huge Crowds of People,the reverberating beat of myriad Drums accompanying these huge Crowds was both exhiliarating and terrifying at the same time!!!The whole Scene even today has to be seen to be believed---it's magnitude is such that perhaps it is the largest such gathering of any Community in the World--thronging Mumbai's Beaches in impossibly huge numbers!!!The routes are fixed and the City is declared at high Alert during this period!!The fervour is growing with each year!!!
The period between the late 80s and early 90s meant the Girls growing up , getting married and moving away.The first was Alpana in 1988,Sharmila in 1990,Shilpa in 1991,Sonal in 1992 and Lotta in 1993----5 out of 6 Girls married!!!This affected our Workforce now reduced to the 3 boys and Sayali---and ofcourse the domestic Staff as well!!!Alpana,Sharmila and Sonal ---all moved to the Statres after their Weddings---while Shilpa and Lotta remained in Bombay---bound by their own Family Traditions!!Besides Atya passed away on 27th. November 1994---and the balance shifted somewhat!!By the year 2000,both Aamod and Shilpa had moved to Bangalore,Lotta and Sayali to the States and Babu to Delhi----the Celebrations became quieter,more sedate and Milind's own death on 24th.February 2001 changed things forever!!!The Festival became a very quiet and private affair----shorn of all the liveliness and bustle associated with it!!A new orderbegan as Babu first brought Ganapati in his Delhi home and we scrambled to make it at least for the first day!!!After Babu shifted back to Mumbai a new Pattern established itself.We bring home Ganapati and install the Idol with due propriety.After a beautiful Vegetarian Lunch we disperse to visit various Friends homes to pay homage and thereafter visit as often as possible to pay our respects to Lord Ganesha----and finally on the 10th. day leave by 4 p.m. to immerse the Idol in the Sea with traditional propriety before the rush begins!!!
This year Sayali was back for Ganapati after a gap of 11 years---and a lot of things have changed in those 11 years!!The experience was a bitter sweet one---she was happy to be here but found everything was vastly different from what she remembered----and it was a shocking jolt for her!!For us the change has been gradual and maybe we don't miss the old order that drastically---for to tell you the Truth---- the new order suits us just fine!!!Today we all are much older and definitely do lack the physical capacity to match the way things used to be---so have to indulge in Nostalgia to conjure up the "Good" old days!!!
Friday, September 02, 2011
This year Sayali was back in Mumbai after a gap of 11 years---and was very excited to be home for Hartalika Pooja and Ganapati Festival!!Both Kartik and she had missed the Festival and Ganesha is Sayali's best loved Deity and she was
looking forward to her favourite "Ukadichey Modak" or steamed Fresh Coconut stuffed in Rice Flour Dumplings---a must have as an offering for "Ganesha" since these are His favourite Food!!!I will now relate the Experience through Sayali's eyes-----Past and Present!!!
We have been getting Ganapati for more than 62 years now---the Idol was first brought home at Sudhir's brother Milind's insistence during their childhood.Those days this was a huge Clan----a joint family of 4 brothers,their wives and children as well as their Grandmother all living together!!As Time passed Sudhir's grandma separated each of her sons because she felt that quarrels among the children would cause misunderstanings between her daughters-in-law and spoil the relations amongst her sons.Though now separate the entire Clan would descend for Ganapati and the the entire period of 10 days would turn into a Food Bonanza!!!Later during my childhood I remember attending the odd Ganapati or two in Bombay-----it used to be great fun---specially if you were a child!!Those days Friends and extended Family would visit to pay homage to the Deity at their leisure---the entire day and till late night it would be "Open House"---with people streaming in and joining the Family for whichever Meal was on---there was always plenty of Food to go around!!!Slowly things began getting more organised----and certain days would be set aside for entertaining different groups of People---extended Family,Friends,Court Associates so on and so forth.There would be 10 different Menus devised for these 10 days----and with the help of her large Domestic staff every evening would proceed like well oiled Wheels----perfectly orchestrated!!!
After Baba's death Milind continued with the earlier format---and after Sudhir and I married I became a part of it too.
These 10 days meant arranging Flowers in beautifully co-ordinated Flowers arrangements flanking the Idol in the Drawing Room.The Decorations would be made from many various items---Wires would be bent to form Trellises and these would be adorned with Satin Ribbon or Crepe Paper Hibiscus Flowers.The Deity would be seated on a Silver stool called a "Paat" and surrounded by silver oil Lamps in varied sizes.Silver "Modaks" would be arrayed in piles in front of Him---offered to Him by various members of the entire Family--extended included!!The scent of the Incense would linger on the Air after both morning and evening "Aarati" or singing of Hymns.The most enjoyable of all the evening Soirees was the "Mothi Aarati" which was the gathering of our entire Family and Friends---it would be an extremely enjoyable event!!!
This day meant everyone staying back for Dinner and that then would be a one Dish Meal----the most popular being Atya's Spicy "Khichadi" made with roasted Dry Coconut Masala and Green Peas!!!The Snack Menu used to be extensive too---fresh Green Peas "Usal"---these would be literally peeled by the Kilos each day--the entire Family and Staff pitching in and the Peas too were of a special quality from Saswad---a small place near Pune famous for this strain of short,stubby pale Green Pea Pods with tiny dark Green Peas inside.Each Pod contained barely 4-5 Peas---and that made this even more difficult---for a huge number had to be peeled to feed more than a hundred people---besides everyone took seconds!!!Along with the Usal there would be 3-4 different Varieties of Snacks----and Bone China Plates would be filled and refilled with maximum speed!!It was such a relief as the children began growing up---for that meant extra hands initially and finally all 9 of them took over---and were Kunda,Suhas,Neena and me relieved!!!It was literally back breaking work!!This meant that finally we did more than just smile and say "Hi" while serving the Snacks or a "Bye" while the Guests were leaving---for there was no time to sit and chat!!Besides the Snacks,there would be huge Churns of fresh Mango or Custard Apple Ice Cream too--and Silver Tumblers of hot Milk spiced with Cardamom-Nutmeg powder and flavoured with Saffron threads--chock full of slivered Almonds and Pistachioes.
This was an annual event which brought the immediate and extended Family together---and News as well as Family Gossip would be exchanged!!The evening would culminate with the "Aarati"---and there would be a lot of pranks being played during the period it would be sung!!The Harmonium,Tabla as well as the "Taal" or tiny Brass Discs would be clapped together to produce a ringing sound---there'd be scuffles over who would clang the Bells---and the beautiful ambience of Camaraderie and Fellowship would be so palpable so as to be felt physically!!!
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