Mahabaleshwar Jaunt!

This week, we had a quick family jaunt to Mahabaleshwar. We are in mid-April, and we were there on weekdays. The “season” apparently had not started. We had all the Mahabaleshwar to ourselves. There was no rush, no crowd, the atmosphere was peaceful, everywhere. I went to Mahabaleshwar after about three years. One thing I noticed was cleanliness. Where ever I went, to main market road, the “points” there was hardly any sign of Kachara. The hotels and restaurants where I went also were spick and span in this respect. I hope that this is a sign of things to come in future.

We visited the Kshetra Mahabaleshwar where there is a Mandir. The place is the source of five rivers Krishna/Koyana and others. Let me say this in advance that I am a little away from Mandir circuit and I may or may not enter all the Mandirs where I go. I do not want to say something to disturb anyone’s feelings, but I write about my observations. Outside this Mandir, on the left side, there is dry gutter with a sloping wall of a house. Every time we go to Kshetra Mahabaleshwar, I rest there while others visit the Mandir. It is an enjoyable place, and it has almost become a tradition for me to lie down while others go to the Mandir. This time I treated myself to a selfie!

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It was quite warm yet peaceful because there was no crowd. Though I was pleased personally, it must have been tough for shopkeepers, restaurants and business people in general. The place is generally choc a block with people. While I was lying down, I saw someone coming with two plastic bags full of small plastic empty bottles used for serving water. (especially on flights) These were delivered to a shop. Priya gave me an update that these are used by shopkeepers to sell “holy water” from the source of the river! I smiled. Priya did not buy.

I had “my time” for two consecutive days for slightly more than an hour. I left the hotel room at around six am. I had my cell phone with me on both occasions but only as a habit. On the first day, I walked to Kate’s point. The path was covered with tree arches with my friends chirping away to glory. On the second day, it was a lawn in the hotel, with a prominent raised platform where I could sit; no one else had woken up at that time when I sat in that place for an hour, I could distinguish at least 15 different bird species chirping. There may have been more, but my hearing capacity may not have been adequate to distinguish. There were trees around with a lot of flower plants. I went and checked each flower for details. Was I meditating? No, I had my eyes and ears open, and all I could hear was nature. The rustling of tree leaves, faint scents of flowers, beautiful mix in colour Kaleidoscope created by nature showing a vast range of colours. But HIS capability of producing so many shades of green was what impressed me the most. While taking my walk on the first day, the different varieties of trees with unique shapes, some had a lot of leaves and others were bare. Some trees had thick branches which had become horizontal due to nature’s forces. I wished at that time that I was at least ten years younger biologically. I would have surely climbed up to take a nap on them with a cool morning breeze around. Surprisingly, even our ancestors, the monkeys, were also sleeping.  One more selfie!

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We decided to visit the Pratapgad area, without the climb as we had Rhea with us and the temperature was against us. It was noon. We were in for a pleasant surprise. A village depicting times of Shivaji Maharaj was created. They charged a fee which was peanuts compared to what we saw. It was neat, the show was impressive. It seems that they have a small theatre where they show some films about Shivaji’s times. The statues they had created and the atmosphere were very impressive. The guide they had provided was enthusiastic, but she could have been trained better. The washrooms needed improvement according to Rhea’s report. I will suggest all my friends to visit this place. I have seen such a show for the first time in India; we have a lot of cultures and should create similar ways of letting others know about our history.

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On the spur of the moment, we decided to drive down to Kolhapur to go and take darshan of Devi Ambabai, before coming back to Pune. Our driver suggested that being a Friday, there could be a bit of rush, but it was manageable. I went to pay obeisance to Ambabai after a few years. Apparently, with the security situation prevailing, there are some changes made. Why all the visitors were told to remove footwear outside the premises, was not understood by me. It was around 3 pm; there was a scorching sun. There were some mats thrown in to walk on, but they were not adequate. Walking with no footwear appeared to be compulsory penance. What about very old and young? Even I had difficulty walking, but nobody seemed to mind. It is a practice to sit inside Mandir premises for 5 to 10 minutes. I feel that it is the correct practice. When you come to any Mandir, you should keep some time for HIM! It is not like you go to a restaurant, take a quick bite and go away. Unfortunately, there was no place to sit. Some people were sitting on the bare floor, luckily covered with a Shamiana to shield people from the Sun.

I always feel a bit out of place in any Mandir. I bow to God, I do Namaskar to God; people follow many different rituals. Whether they do it knowingly or unknowingly, I am not sure. While I was sitting in the Mandir, there was some chanting going on in another part of the Mandir. I asked a few people around to understand what was going on, but nobody seemed to know. Then I asked a lady running a shop about the chanting. She said that on every Friday, a Pujari chants one thousand names of goddess Ambabai. At least two hundred ladies were attending the chanting. They had a plate in front of them. I was told that they have a Yantra, a holy replica of Chakra in the dish. With each chant, the ladies were applying a small portion of Kumkum or Vermillion to the Yantra. I asked the lady what, what is the purpose of doing it, she smiled.

In India, we have a fascinating combination of modern way of life and traditions. I feel that whatever one’s belief’s, one must visit different parts of India to understand and see this great spectacle. Yes, in Ambabai Mandir too cleanliness was excellent but for a few pieces of plastic bags etc. I will share with you my experience of a visit to the Golden Temple many years back. Outside the Mandir, there is a vast empty area which was very clean. While we were waiting for our car to arrive, I saw someone drop some paper on the ground. Nobody said anything to that person. The moment that person was away, a volunteer came and picked up the trash. They did not argue with the person nor did they humiliate him. They call it “Kar Seva”! In Hindu temples also we should start the culture of Kar Seva. Let us spread the culture. For those who do not know about Kar Seva, the volunteer services are offered by poor people as well as wealthy people on their own. God brings everyone to an equal level!

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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!