When I was a kid, my dad would take me and my siblings to make cookies with our Great Aunt Lee in the apartment she kept, a short drive away. My memories of that house are hazy at best. There’s my Aunt Lee sitting in her chair—I have zero memories of Aunt Lee when she’s standing. I remember her huge and white and blue: a big blob of a woman in a white dressing gown with a sharp, bird-like face and even sharper blue eyes, and tight curls of wispy snow-white hair. Her hands were pale, her fingers tapered, her veins blue ropes. In the kitchen, beneath a big window, blindingly white, a tray of cookies—snowballs—fluffy semi-domes of sweet dough dusted with confectioners’ sugar. When I picked them up off the tray, I would almost always get overexcited, breathe in sharply, and choke on the sugar dust. (more…)
When I want to buy cucumbers, which is often, I don’t need to go more than twenty-five steps from my front door. At the end of my dead-end lane there’s a guy named Pankaj who mans a pushcart loaded with vegetables, one of the 420,000-odd hawkers working the streets of greater Mumbai. From his cart, I can buy cucumbers and bottle gourds and eggplants, sweet limes and carrots and bunches of fresh dill or coriander. I can get bell peppers and string beans and, when I’m lucky, deep purple amaranth to fry with garlic and fresh coconut (ingredients, alas, that I have to buy elsewhere). It’s a quick, easy transaction. I rarely spend more than two hundred rupees in one go (about $3.20 US), or buy more than I’ll use in the course of a day. I don’t need to; I can just come back tomorrow. If I don’t have exact change, I can always bring it back later. Pankaj knows me—he’s my vegetable guy, my subzwalla—and that’s still how these relationships work. (more…)
Until this year, Mumbai didn’t have a single boutique hotel. There was the Taj Palace, with its iconic confectionary grandeur; some characterless, midrange hotels scattered around Colaba, the core of historic South Mumbai; the Oberoi and the Trident in their 1970s concrete boxes. But there was no hotel that captured both the rich visual heritage of historic Bombay and the intense aesthetic energy of contemporary Mumbai. Now, there’s Abode.
Every day at 4 pm, Ramchandra Charosia leaves his home in a seaside shanty with a ten-kilogram aluminum tray balanced on his head. He walks up the hill to Mt. Mary Road, unfolds a lightweight cane stand and readies his supplies. He’ll stay here from 5–10pm, peddling snacks called chaat for rs20 each to domestic staff from nearby apartment buildings as well as the wealthy residents who live there. At 10 pm, he’ll go home, eat dinner, and sleep. He has done this every day for the better part of forty-three years. (more…)
The workshop is so small I can’t even step inside. Bolts of somber suit woolens and bright white shirting cottons line the walls. Rafiq Shaikh cuts a neat figure in what little space remains. Dressed in traditional white kurta pyjama (the long shirt and loose fitting pants worn by men across the subcontinent), tape measure like a doctor’s stethoscope around his neck, he stands over a length of charcoal wool hieroglyphically marked with chalk in two shades of blue – the abstraction of a suit jacket. (more…)