Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bombay quickie

I stepped out of the plane into a Mumbai airport far sexier than I remember. Parts of it are a tad too multi-colorful for my tastes (maybe just for Diwali?), but it's definitely swanky enough to impress for a major global air hub. One unexpected advantage of night-time flying into India during Diwali week is seeing fireworks from above, as they went off all over the city.

The ride to Vashi was long, but keeping my eyes fixed skywards got me a constant view of more fireworks. I arrived late (by Vashi standards) in the night, but I had a little time for a classic dum biryani and Haywards 5000 at a seedy old Sector 17 haunt, along with a local nightcap.

I spent pretty much all of the next day with my aunt and uncle in Vashi, catching up on the last few years over wholesome home-cooked treats, including delicious kanda poha (top center) and idli (left).

We took a circuitous walk down to and around the old holding pond, hitting a chai stall on the way back.

Late in the night, I made my first trip to Navi Mumbai's CBD Belapur area to sample some local nightlife. Rockville was the only live music place I could find in the neighborhood. I can't say I was blown away by the musicians; they were individually decent, but they could do with more some practice together to get the duo thing working in harmony. Anyway, the place had some awesome spicy russet potato wedges.

The next morning, I joined the rest of the wedding party on a trip to Pune for the reception, enjoying the smooth ride on the express road, and taking in the view of the rolling hills of inland Maharashtra. The hotel was also close to the river, so I took a walk across and about in the evening before the wedding, enjoying a hot vada pav and chai at a dhaba while a light evening rain fell around.

I slept early that night because I had to meet one of my MBA roommates the next morning, at the famous and consequently busy Wadeshwar vegetarian restaurant on FC Road. While catching up on events since our last meeting, we indulged in some delicious, fresh, and atypical (at least for me) breakfast items like buttery set dosa (top right) and aappe (bottom right). While the schedule of my short Pune trip did not allow a full Maharashtrian meal, I was able to get at least one dish in from the cuisine: kothimbir wadi (bottom left), a sort of coriander fritter with a great herbaceous bite to it. It's fine, though; I guess I can always just cook the cuisine up myself if needed.

After finally making it back to Mumbai later, I quickly checked into the surprisingly nice Hotel Airlines International before meeting a friend and heading to Mathuradas Mills Compound, where I would spend most of the rest of the evening. We started with a place I would visit just for the name: Sweetish House Mafia. There, we had a bite of sweet-salty melt-in-the-mouth Nutella with Sea Salt, their signature cookie.

Sipping at the Barking Deer next was my first ever microbrewery visit. Not so micro though -- it was actually quite large inside. We were also in 1+1 happy hours, so we each had one pint each of the mild light and strong dark specials, settling on those after sampling out of shot glasses.

Dinner followed at the nearby Jai Hind, a popular seafood spot. We were the first customers for dinner service, to boot. As a starter, we each had bombil -- also known as Bombay Duck -- rolled around prawns and fried (top right). The bombil has a lot of bones in the flesh, but these are small enough to be ignored. I can't say the taste was particularly distinctive (I should probably have it by itself, and cooked simpler to decide on that) but I liked the texture. For the main course, we enjoyed a delicious -- and extremely spicy -- helping of pomfret (top left) cooked "pulimunchi" (with tamarind and chilli).

I enjoyed the Comedy Store show at the Blue Frog much more than I thought I would. I guess I have been keeping tabs on developments in India more than I estimated. I even got the references to Savita Bhabhi (and there was more than one). Some bits went over my head all the same, especially if they were not in English or very simple Hindi. Others, though, I found quite relatable e.g. Atul Khatri's bit about "Worli creep" vis-a-vis Dubai's "Jumeirah creep". There may really be a common big city experience that transcends countries. Khatri (bottom left), by the way, was great, and emcee Anirban Dasgupta (top left) was pretty good too, as was that 10-minute-set Marathi guy (bottom right) they had on after the break (his name escapes me, though).

To end the night on a sweet note, we went to Marine Drive and had a little dessert at Bachelorr's (sic), a Chowpatty institution famous for ice creams, shakes and fresh fruity concoctions. Competing with dozens of parked car occupants to place orders, we got ours in, with me enjoying a small but scrumptious serving of their special kaju draksh: a perfect creamy scoop shot through with raisins and nuts.

I rarely took the trains much when I was in Navi Mumbai, having relied on the buses that had to pass through Vashi on their way to various destinations across the bridge. This was, however, the best way to get back to the hotel at the time. Ticket purchase also seems to have been automated with vending machines, which I'm sure was a welcome development.

After breakfast with my parents the next day, I went back to my hotel room to do a little homework for the evening plan, then popping over to Bandra Kurla Complex to join another friend for a quick lunch at Cafe Infinito. Our main of "Big Bloody Burger" was alright, but what really made the meal were the courses before: arugula poached pear salad (top left) and chorizo honey ravioli (bottom left). A lovely local Sula Dindori Shiraz (top right) complemented the meal well, especially the chorizo.

Half an hour later, I reached the Kala Ghoda arts district in South Mumbai. It was a Monday, so the National Gallery of Modern Art was closed. Jehangir Art Gallery (bottom center) was still open, though, so I got a good look at some collections of works by Indian artists: the "hairy" mythology paintings of CD Mistry, the finely textured abstracts of Abdul Salam, and the excellent colors, lighting, and detail in outdoor scenes and palace/temple courtyards by Kailas R Jadhav. I also caught the last day of Aspi H Patel's Architecture Beyond Platitude architectural photography exhibition in the Terrace Gallery.

I then spent almost an hour at Delhi Art Gallery, and I don't think that was enough. Captivating early Bengal oil (sometimes also gold) paintings were the mainstay of the Indian Divine exhibition, consisting of modern art depictions of Hindu and Christian mythological scenes and icons. The application of modern art techniques to classical themes and motifs produced a beautiful result, including some abstract neo-tantric and expressionist pieces. A few iron and bronze sculptures also made appearances in this 5-storey space.

And finally, a stop at the renowned Kalaghoda Cafe. No jazz on a day like this, of course, but what a dinner. The crispy cafe special sandwich was perfect, with just a dash of their whole mustard sauce. Their dense-yet-fluffy dark chocolate cake was one of the best I have tasted. I loved how wholesome their ingredients and condiments were, in addition to their reasonable prices and great service.

On my way back, I took a walk through the bustling and heritage-rich path from KG to CST, enjoying the Diwali lighting and checking out the myriad items street vendors had on display.

And last, but not least, my Indian debut in stand-up, at the Big Mic comedy open mic held at the venue and art space known as The Hive. The place is tucked away in by-lane Khar, and the performance room, part of which was under a staircase, was packed -- it doesn't get much more underground than this.

The event began with a show by local improv artists (top right). It was mainly WLIIA-style short games, but I would love to see their scene work someday. Several stand-up comedians (bottom left) then took stage for (with one exception) 4-minute sets. Some of them had really great material, and I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that reminded me of open mics in the US. The emcee, Aakash Mehta (bottom right), was great entertainment in particular.

As for my set, I had by now accumulated quite a bit of India-specific material I could finally use, and I'm happy to say that it seemed to have been generally received enthusiastically; it was the first time for me to use any of it, though, so it was a bit shaky on delivery. I had a great time at the event overall, and it was a lovely end to my tiny Mumbai trip.

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