Musings Circa 60’s! Eateries in my life!

My friend Suresh wrote something about canteens in COEP, on our WA group;  that took me back to my childhood and college days. My first visit to an eatery that I remember was when I was a child; I had gone with my mother and other family members to a place on Tilak Road, in Pune, called Jeevan! I was on the 7th cloud and I ate a Ghavan! Now I am not really sure if it was a dosa or the ghavan, both very thin roti type of bread, made of completely different batters. Later, I asked my mother a few times if we could go to Jeevan again. But she did not even bother to reply. Eating out in those days was something very rarely done. Then, of course, there was Diwadkar’s batata Wada (Patty) eaten during travel between Bombay and Pune. I used to eagerly wait for Karjat station to arrive. I think they used to give garlic chutney also along with hot wadas! This was the beginning of my journey about eateries, in 50’s.

My schooling was done in Bombay and I used to live in Dhobi Talao behind Metro Cinema. I used to go to school by us. Monsoon was the season I would eagerly await. I would cook a story that due to heavy rains buses were delayed and I had to walk home, a distance of about 25 minutes! Those four annas were used to eat Masala Dosa at a place called Kelkar or Batata Bhaji, yes only bhaji, no puris! This bhaji was the speciality of a place called Kulkarni’s, bang opposite our school at Prarthana Samaj in Girgaum. Both these places have gone away with time.

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One iconic place near our home in Dhobi Talao was Kyani’s. (The photo above) Bun Maska, chai, pastries and Omelette was their speciality. But how much money could one pinch from home? Once I managed to pinch money for an Omelette and a few times for bun Maska/chai, a couple of times for pastries. Ten years back I went there and had a full feed of everything, finally. Kyani is still around. My Mumbai story will not be completed without writing about Milk Bar behind Elphinstone College; custards, puddings and jellies and what have you! The last one in my list was Napoli Bistro opposite Brabourne Stadium. We used to go there during my Telang Memorial hostel stay on C road at Churchgate. We used to get expresso for a princely sum of Rs.1/, which we used to have once in a while. There was a jukebox in the restaurant which made us hang around for some time. One naughty guy called Nitin Khot took a bet with someone and somehow managed to pinch a chair from the restaurant. It was returned the next day!

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That brings me back to Pune of my engineering college days. Good Luck is like Kyani’s of Mumbai and served the similar foodstuff. There used to be a little more money in pockets during this phase which allowed us to eat chicken masala and roti! Wow! Mouth still waters! Bowing to the father time, now they serve Idli Sambhar also. Another joint for us night owls, was Olympia opposite Pune Corporation. We used to be awake with our other studious guys but most of the time was spent on serious discussions of the world at large, with special reference to girls! When we had some time free from these discussions, we would be busy in Rummy or Teen Patti (Flush). These serious activities would make us hungry past midnight and the only option was Olympia, famous for its Baida Masala! Boiled eggs cooked in a lovely curry! A couple months back I ate this dish at Fountain hotel near Vasai but I could not remember where I had eaten this beauty before! Of course, it was Olympia!

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Modern Café was our main Adda! Modern Café kept our gastric juices in control by providing us with piping hot Shira (something similar to porridge) and coffee at 5.30 am after all-night sessions of Teen Patti! In the afternoon the cafe would provide us with Idli, Dosa etc. At night around 10 pm we would go there for a cup of tea, theoretically to keep us awake for studies; oh yea! I also managed a Master’s Degree in Engineering too! Our main sessions in Modern Café were during our annual day functions. Preparations were done for a couple of months! I used to take part in these activities to hang around as Jaya used to play major roles in dramas. I was kept busy doing the backstage activity. Modern café had created a new facility at their backside called Bamboo House! This was a real cosy place where they had a charming manager called Shekhar. He was very talkative, we used to regularly have parties where someone from the group of 15 /20 of us would pay. Shekhar used to keep track of who had not paid for a long time and remind us that person’s name. The advantage of these parties was we could skip food in our common hostel mess! The money saved was money gained, which was fruitfully used on going to movies.

Out COEP hostel mess was very famous for the quality of food. Students and their relatives, friends from different colleges would come here for the Sunday feast. There were messes based on veg/non-veg food. Two of them, A & F were famous for non-vegetarian stuff. C was Maharashtrian, D was Gujarati type, E was Maharashtrian Kolhapur style hot food. Then later was born O club which had a mix of everything. A & F usually had the cosmopolitan crowd and the so-called Bombay crowd. I was in A club for two years. We had a guy called Aziz who used treat us to some lovely Biryanis and chicken Masala. Coke with Ice cream was the famous dessert of those times. I was friendly with all cooks and head waiters from all clubs. So, we could always “borrow” something from other clubs. My 3rd and 4th year were in C club. I was not admitted to this club in the first year because I was wearing a bold striped shirt for the interview. Medhekar and I used to be the first guys every day for breakfast for our morning quota of eggs. Another interesting thing used to be carrom games in the mess hall. There were some guys who used to be experts. But Bhave and I used to be Killers and we would beat the so-called champs. Just at the entrance of the hostel was a canteen run by Seva Sadan! It was really inexpensive and would sell home-made laddoos and Shankar pale! Next to that was table tennis room where would spend a lot of time. Even after marriage, we had opted for packed hostel food during exam time! We got married while we were doing our Masters!

Our major past time used to be watching movies! This would take us to different parts of Pune. Bedekar Misal, Sweet Home Khichadi and burun and tea at George’s in the camp were some of the famous places we would visit in those days before or after a movie! Pastries at NCR, opposite Jangali Maharaj Temple, were a treat. Near mandai we used to go Asara for very hot chicken! For us COEP gang Vaishali was just coming up on the horizon and was the place to see the Fergusson College girls!

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I could go on and on! But I must mention two places in camp! First one was Dorabajis where one of our gang, Nayan, Sharad, Ashok and others used to go for breakfast to celebrate birthdays! It was a real ritual. We used to sit in the area on the mezzanine floor. Then there was Latif’s. This has a special significance. Jaya and I used to go there as we were almost sure that no known persons will find us there. For Jaya from Sadashiv Peth to Latif’s was a big cultural jump! Until I told my friends, during my first year of post-graduation, about our marriage,  nobody had any inkling of our courtship. Latif’s was a great place “away from everything” in those days!

Let me find out if Latif’s still exists; its high time Jaya and I went there!

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COEP! Incredible Days!

A couple of days back, during a discussion on 1971 COEP batch WA group, a friend Sailesh reminded others how he was taken by me to my brother in law, Dr. Biniwale, for some treatment during college days. I used to stay in hostels in Pune, in those days. My mind veered to those times in late sixties! Were they different? Of course, I am old enough to say, “In our times”! Let me assure you, the world was different then. India is now rich poor country but, in those days, it was poor, poor country! There were shortages galore, food rationing, poor quality wheat under PL 480 and so on. But youth is such a stage in life that nothing ever matters! Youth always has fun, limitations don’t bother them. They live life without any botheration! We did the same. 

At the end of my tenure, it was a surprise for me to find out that I had learned some engineering too! The personal transportation in those was a bicycle or walk; some came by bus and in the college, there were about 15 to 20 students who came on two wheelers too! This is about 1 % of all students. Out of those five were girls! ( and there were not more than 30 girls in the college!) Since that time, we knew the meaning better half or was it better off! In those times friends were called by surname or short name, like Panvalkar was Panya and Dilip was Dilpya! There was an interesting issue, my cousin Abhay Panvalkar was two years junior to me. When he joined COEP, we used to have food in the same mess. Friends resolved the problem of the same name conflict by calling him Semi-Panya! Relations with ladies were very formal in those days and that too only for some specific work/study related things.  

The groups got established; I was in many groups like sports, dramatics (Jaya and I had a very cozy relation since our initial meetings) and main activity was TP (time pass) where of course I used to lead! This group had one major activity that was to see movies. We sometimes used to attend two movie shows one after another in a day, in nearby theaters. Another important activity would be to go to a restaurant late at night for some special egg dishes! A restaurant called Olympia was a favourite joint of students who wanted to snack after midnight! Staying awake past midnight was quite routine under the garb of studies! Another important activity was to go to see different sports events to support the college team. We used to easily go 10 to 12 kms, one way, for such events on bicycle.  

There used to be some real funny incidents! One of our friends used to be very friendly with girls, outside COEP. He would share a few anecdotes with us. Over a period, we realized that when he got friendlier with them, the girl would get engaged to be married to someone other than our friend! He was then named “Khadawa”! Khadawa are wooden slippers worn by Ramdas Swami, a Hindu saint who ran away from the marriage pandal just as he was about to be married! But one thing for sure was that our friend was very consistent, in ensuring marriage of the girls he was friendly with!  

Another funny incident I remember was when two of our friends planned to go for a movie for evening 6 pm show. By 7 pm both of them were back in hostels! Then we saw a bit of skirmish between them. Both had reached the correct movie show but the only problem was that they were at different theaters about 5 kms away! Then there was another film buff. He liked the then superhit movie “Aradhana” so much that he saw three shows 3/6/9 pm in a day for three consecutive days! He entertained us for next two weeks by play acting both hero and heroine’s roles!  

In those days there was a concept of parasites! Some students who were not authorized to live in the hostel, stayed there for all of fours years. In a room where three students were authorized, fourth would also live there. Main reason for this was the financial difficulties. These were unofficially resolved by such help.  

Having food in the hostel mess was great fun. Food style was based on the type of food that was prepared Maharashtrian, Gujarati, then Kolhapuri. There were two messes which were cosmopolitan which cooked food to suit non-Maharashtrian types. But our gang used to have great fun. We were friends with ALL the cooks and they would allow us to eat interesting stuff from different messes, irrespective of the fact that we were members of the Maharashtrian mess.  

Post exam, there would be “celebration” which meant drinking alcohol. My friend Raju and I, were non-drinkers. Post drinking there used to be a charade of going for food outside the hostel. In those days there never was any restrictions like curfew! 8 or ten of us would go out. One of us used to be at the front and the other at back ensure that the gang did not stray! We used to have a similar binge at a friend’s place as his parents lived far away from Pune. But mind you, some of them drink heavily even today! God bless them!  

Top of the chart fun was going in Ashok’s car for a spin at night. He was a Puneite and they had a bungalow off Prabhat Road. We would go to his home late at night when his parents were traveling, push the car out so that his siblings and neighbours won’t know about this. Then we would pile in the car and drive at night and across Katraj ghats at break necking speed. Ashok was a champion driver. Our money allowed us to eat only dal and rice at a restaurant called Apsara!  

Friends I could go on and on but as usual everything good has to end. Of course, we still remember these things when friends meet; alas Ashok passed away long back but most our gang is still around but our meeting frequencies are very low but let me assure you that while writing this blog I felt as if I had physically traveled back 50 years! I wish this could be achieved just once!  For now, at least I should cross the Katraj ghats and check if Apsara Restaurant is still around! 

       

Notabhai! નોટભાઈ તમે કોણ છો?

નોટભાઈ તમે કોણ છો? This is written in the language Gujarati! In English, it means Notabhai who are you? I have chosen this title as  recent elections in Gujarat brought out this issue forward! Bhai in Gujarati is Brother! I do not write about political stuff as I do not understand many things from that arena. But this is about a procedure in our elections and its significance. What is NOTA? The Supreme Court, in September last year, upheld the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting the elections, saying it would go a long way in cleansing the political system of the country. The apex court directed the Election Commission to have an option of ‘None of The Above’ (NOTA) on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and ballot papers in a major electoral reform.

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This NOTA facility was available even before Electronic NOTA option. But in that case an individual was required to meet the polling officer, make entry in a register, fill up a form saying that you want to select option “None of the above”! Why people want the NOTA option? This indicates, that the voter finds none of the candidates are worth his vote.

In the recent Gujarat election, it was observed that besides three political parties NOTA option was fourth in the list based on the number of votes captured. That is not a small number, in fact it is a sizable number. In % it was about 2% total valid votes! What is the meaning of this option?

The NOTA option on EVMs has no electoral value. Even if the maximum number of votes cast is for NOTA, the candidate getting the most of the remaining votes would be declared winner. But then why have NOTA when it has no electoral value? The SC said, negative voting would even encourage people who are not satisfied with any of the candidates to turn up to express their opinion and reject all contestants.

It further said that negative voting will lead to a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. If the right to vote is a statutory right, then the right to reject a candidate is a fundamental right of speech and expression under the Constitution.

This momentous decision will go a long way for any democracy! There is no doubt that India is the largest running and thriving democracy. We have been stealing thunder under all the advanced countries in the world, the way we conduct the elections in India. For the most technically advanced country USA, there have been nightmares about voting, counting and in its systems. It seems Florida specializes in them. There have been fiascos in 2000, 2006 and 2012! In one election Supreme court had to intervene and order the recounting to be stopped. Somebody had jokingly said, “Checkup if the counters can count between 0 to 100!” Or was it a serious statement?

You may find this article interesting.

http://www.madrasnow.com/2012/11/us-elections-why-fiasco-in-florida-vote.html

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Politics all over the world has been dirty line of work; you are always under scrutiny. But still the politicians have the penchant for foot in the mouth disease! From bribery, secret funds or not so secret love lives, these guys are capable of doing everything! The other day I read during the discussion on “Me Too!” campaign about sexual harassment, a comment was made that in USA if you are lucky to survive sex scandals, you are likely to become the President of USA.

The population world over is fed up of type of people who take part in politics. When all candidates in a constituency “qualify” now we have an option of NOTA! This is a sign of maturing population who may lodge protest by selecting to press NOTA option. Though NOTA vote has no value, it may so happen that without NOTA, candidate A could have won instead of B! Hopefully this will have effect on political parties. They may think twice before forcing certain candidates on populace. Ultimately trying to remain on the winning side is the name of the game! Remaining in opposition, keeps these folks in wilderness of the power game, with “huge loss in income”!

Are the people really serious about offering to serve the nation? Are they so much driven that they are very keen to uplift the society? In India at least, such statements will be a big joke. The dynastic approach in politics indicates otherwise and politicians are here just to loot the system. At least most of them are. If you read about the wealth amassed by such people in a short duration, it is simply shocking. When Income Tax department takes action, there is a hue & cry about political vendetta!

Will NOTA improve the system? It is a positive step in the right direction. There has been discussion of banning candidates depending on punishments meted out to candidates by court of law. But the law itself is such a maze, that we have known of candidates who fought elections from jail! What if one has made an appeal against the punishment? What if one has completed its jail terms? There are always good and bad sides in any democracy. Mind you the other option of dictatorship is simply not on. So, let us hope that we vote in an election in such a way using NOTA, that so called popular candidates are beaten by not so famous candidates!

I will share one small anecdote. Times of India’s correspondent Chidanand Rajghatta from Washington D C, was invited to speak about Indian Election system. Audience was amazed when he shared the details. He was asked, “What can America do to improve its systems?” He smiled and said, ” Please sub contract your elections to India?”