Today, I chanced upon this snap in the archives.
There we were, in Pebble Beach. California. Or thereabouts. Driving through a Californian summer. Now and then, stopping to soak in lung fulls of the Pacific air and indulge in uninhibited visual gluttony, soaking up the scenery and the sights.
I did what other tourists normally do. Click pictures. Eat like a pig. Click more pictures. Make funny noises. Click more pictures. And generally gape.
Which is when, the eye caught the old man running. He was doing a steady pace. Not that I hadn’t seen an old man run. I run with several who, with their enthusiasm and effort, drive shame into me with seemingly no effort at all. But then, it was 2.00 PM in the afternoon and this old man was running. No other runner on the road.
By Mumbai standards, well that is a step higher than ‘weird’! For one, the heat will vaporize you. Another reason could be, no actually, that vapourise threat is reason enough.
But this was California. Here was this man. Running a steady doddering run, with an adorable spirit and a certain incalculable antiquity.
Memories came sprinting back, as I looked at this picture today. Especially so because laziness has been coursing my veins for a while now.
Well, well, it’s a long story. I have formed part of the problem.
Several readers know that I enjoy a good run. These pages have seen how it all started with an innocuous ‘come see what we do’ invitation from a friend who was into running. It took about the time it took for your eyes to come down to reading this line from the line above. That’s all. That’s the time it took for me to commence running. I was running and enjoying it!
This year the problem compounded.
In a fit of demented bluster, I registered to run a full marathon to be run in January. That is 42 kilometers for the uninitiated. To those that have only seen the Kenyans run on TV and make it seem as easy as turning in your bed, I can only say, that running the full marathon, for bloated blokes with a sweet tooth and sorry food cycles, is like aiming for the moon with a Diwali pistol.
But then, like other good things with grand intentions, the registration was made in right earnest. As soon as the registration was done, investments were made. A new watch was bought. A watch http://pharmacy-no-rx.net/accutane_generic.html that displays kilometers run. Speed at which the running is happening, calories burnt etc etc ! By the way, as a bonus and almost as an afterthought, it also shows the time.
So I have all these details on my wrist. These days its not the tail that wags the dog. Details wag the dog! Somewhere, between all the calculations and math, the joy of running slipped. Damn, Numbers !
To exponentially compound matters, I realize that I have dutifully informed anyone who lingered in my company for more than two minutes that I am into running and the marathon will be attempted this year.
Typical responses have followed. Always preceded by a sympathetic look and a shake of a head, that seem to indicate the unspoken words of ‘oh, what has befallen you’.
‘It will be ok’. They say. Accompanied by an arch of an eyebrow and with as much energy that a scintillating bureaucrat puts in his face while dealing with a cyclone victim.
My runs have taken a nosedive over the last couple of months with an elegance of a Olympic diver. Slowly and steadily, lethargy has pitched a tent. Inches in the waist have grown like wild grass at the first sight of rain. These days, I feel the weight of a large earth moving equipment juggle in me, every time I run !
But you see, I haven’t been sitting idle. Ofcourse, I have been busy. Weekends have flown by like aircrafts doing practice sorties. Some have also crashed.
But all that is in the past. Today, this man woke me up. This old man that I caught half a glimpse of on a bright and sunny afternoon in another part of the world, has shaken me up.
There is one goal now. As far as the running, that is! To complete the marathon in January. Whatever time it takes. To run with no ‘time’ in mind. Running for fun. Running to just enjoy the course and see how far two legs can take me. That suddenly seems doable.
For all those, that have a sudden outpouring of love and want to gift me with sweets, payasam and such else, hold on, till January. If you are insistent, well, I will have one bite. Only one. Ok ?
In the mean time, wish me luck and watch this space.
When such well intentioned requests are made, it would a gross dereliction of duty if such requests are ignored. So here is a post. On a hot thing that defines Mumbai in a particular way.
The Vada Pav.
The national food of Mumbai goes by the name of Vada Pav. Just before it sinks into the alimentary canal, this is how it looks.
The picture may not be pixel perfect, but that’s natural. If one hand is to hold a Vada Pav and another is to hold the camera and click and you expect a nice picture at that, well, you are the latest version of a cruel satan!
Its like putting a bone before a dog and asking it to stand on three legs to deserve the bone ! Only behavioural scientists do that. ( And promptly apply the results to man and being correct at that too. Quivering with joy before something as soulfully sinfully filling brings alive taste buds, that they almost jump out of the tongue, is a natural consequence of how an average Mumbai mind works.
A Vada Pav is a concentrated mega dose of mega carbohydrate. The next best alternative to carbohydrates being sold in a vial or something. Atleast that’s the image that comes to the mind. Its filling. Its fattening. Given those two attributes, it naturally follows that it is inviting and tasty as hell.
Its not as though its is a culinary delicacy, which is made by a chef sporting a huge white cap, aprons, gloves and such other paraphernalia. Vada Pav defines quintessential Mumbai : Fast, Quick, On the Go food ! Made by anybody, sold by somebody. Eaten by everybody. Almost everybody !
It’s a forerunner of the burger. Except that the bun is connected. Or perhaps, one bun split into two. Perhaps holding two buns, pav and getting into a train was a balancing act of some repute back in 1971 when the Vada Pav is purported to have been introduced. Or perhaps it was one more stock keeping unit to manage ! So there, one bun, cut into two, with a filling thrown in !
The filling itself is a deep fried mix of mash potatoes and gram flour! Make that DEEP FRIED. A zillion bubbles that surface in that hot oil as a practiced hand juggles all those potato and such else !
A Vada Pav is had, usually on the road. Usually, while waiting for the bus to arrive, with the tongue swirling with the vada while spitting out abuses at the bus driver who is late today ! Or as the train leaves. Or when the regular lunch has been eaten up by an empty conference call and all that remains is dreams of a ‘what could have been’ at lunch today ! In such times, the roadside Vada Pav is the saviour. Or many this is staple diet !
That is a typical roadside stall. The bun separated from the Vada, with old newspaper cuttings, which soon will be used as a wrap cum plate, before it disappears into the inner layers of a sedate body. After which the newspaper doubles up as a tissue. Now run !
In Ahmedabad, there is another version to this. Where they throw in cheese. Giant slabs of cheese are tossed on to hot plate, reminding you of thick slabs of ice in Antartica, that break off and fall into the sea and shown with immense clarity on National Geographic ! The global warming effect comes to the vada pav !
The Vada Pav is not necessarily a culinary challenge that an accomplished chef will warm upto. It is far more than that. It is a mix of culture, commerce, carbohydrates.
Yes. All of that, deep fried.
Dear P, that’s a hot thing that defines Mumbai. Ok ?
Now, you are either taking umbrage or laughing away at the nadirs of emptiness in the mind that i have reached. hmm Well, seriously… Take a look at this.
Not much technology here. Infact, age old recipe. Plain old flour coming from grain, going through different moulds to create basic designs. Of course, deep fried in oil or sometimes in mouth watering ghee !
There you go. Petals. Whorls. Plain surfaces. Labyrinthine mazes. A sight to the eye. All hoarding calories like a glutton engulfed with additional greed !
Invariably its the eye that spots these. The whorls and patterns draw the eye like parched land to rain !
The mind and imagination then kick in their work. The imagined taste of each of these awaken the slumber of hidden taste buds resting in the tongue.
The ears hear the crackle of the ‘murukku’ against the teeth, the melting of the ghee and the after taste after the murukku is long gone into the deepest recesses of the tyre !
( Yes, the mind allows thinking of the tyre to seep in only after the snack sinks into the alimentary canal ) !
And even as the mind is thinking of all of this, the eyes induce the hands to declare independence. The wallet comes out and in a while the rest of the world hears the crackle : the crackle of the murukku as the teeth work on them !
The rest is history !
Ah ! The eyes !
He walks around. In circles. Almost in synchrony to the command he nonchalantly receives from a man standing afar.
“There are new people who have come’. The man seems to say. Our protogonist must commence his walk again. On the beaten path. In the much treaded circle. He walks. He walks the rounds. There are levers at work. Circles of wood that spin. Juice that’s made. Raw. Sweet. And complete.
They havent seen anything like this before in big city Mumbai or wherever they came from. The sugar cane juice disappears from the glass tumblers like money in an inflation prone economy !
And him… Job done. He looks at the visitors. Almost asking if he must walk the path again. For them to soothe parched throats with more juice that was sitting pretty inside the cane !
They nod. He walks again. In that circle ! All for sugar & juice !
Sugar circles ! Ah ! The story of our lives.
In the world with walls, inclines and declines the South Indian way of eating out of a banana leaf offers a degree of equanimity !
In the modern times, a wedding or an ‘authentic’ restaurant tries to cater to the nostalgic South Indian mind with a leafy serving ! That said, it is easy to see that the banana leaf is perhaps the earliest version of common place ‘use & throw’ system. Natural. Bio-degradable. And green too.
I learnt my lessons rather well. And here it is : For a battle hardened veteran the field doesn’t matter ! Be it the plains of the green banana leaf or the shined walls of the Gujarati Thali containers !! Food is a great leveler. Leveler. ( Some word that is).
Of course. Two minutes on the lips. And a lifetime on the hips. And everywhere else too.
Think about it.
A few years back ‘a mouse’ was something that scurried around carrying plague. Not something that you would cradle in your hand helping you navigate a screen. A ‘screen’ was something that you adorned a window with.
And a window was something that had to be opened to let in some fresh air, and something that would never ‘hang’. And lets not talk of Gates.
‘Monitors’ were people in school, who looked over you. Not something that came in 14 or 17 inches ( or more. Or less ) that you peered into ! Back then, none of my class monitors were ever ‘flat’! Of course, ‘Printers’ were people who ran a business and a laptop was something to with your leg.
A ‘virus’ was something that infected people. Not machines. And when you meant ‘anti-virus’, you thought of a doctor! Not downloadable software! Those were the times when you could ‘enter’ without hitting any ‘key’. And keys themselves were made of metal.
Of course, ‘backspace’ was about space in the rear of the bus. Geeks were a spelling error, when you wanted to write ‘Greeks’ ! And ‘spellchecker’ at best brought back memories of the dictation test that you flopped in Ms.De Monte’s class.
Do you remember Yahoo? It was a jungle cry. And the closest people came to uttering ‘google’ was when they were either saying ‘gooey’ or ‘ogle’ !
Back then, plastic was looked down upon. Used only in the making of mugs, toys and such peripherals. And by no stretch of imagination, was it a stand-in for money. Money in itself was standing in. For gold that that governments kept! Gold Standard !
And we live in the best of times and in the worst of times. A time when money has moved from the gold standard to plastic. And ‘swiping’ is very much an acceptable mode of payment. ( or should I be saying ‘way of life’) !!
Life indeed has evolved. Don’t you think ?
And as usual, whats in season is in season. Like here. And so, she makes a dish which is called ‘Aam Ras’. ‘Aam = Mango. Ras = Juice’ she painstakingly explains. He tilts his head and tries to remember. This hindi word ‘Aam’ seems to be familiar.
This ‘Aam Ras’ puts him in a rush. He dips into the luxurious ‘Mango pulp – mixed with milk – served chilled’ (And so he thinks. And that’s the closest this blog has ever got to a recipe). And says, ‘Its addictive’. And means every intonation. Very much so.
And mangoes, this season seem to be everywhere. Or so it seems to him. Newspaper reports are much to the contrary. Some mangoes are pricey. Some cheap. But all, worth a little haranguing and a bargain.
And as he ploughs into one more scoop, there is a flash of recollection. With a flash of the Hindi education that’s in progress, he asks her.. ” ‘Aam’ also means ‘common’ right ? ”
She arches her eyebrows. Sensing that the devils company is set to show some results. ‘Aam Aadmi’ as in the political campaign means “Common Man”, right ?’ She nods her head. Half in disinterest. Half in irritation.
And then, the words escape his lips. “Or is it possible, that they really want to call the commoner a proper ‘Mango’ ?!? ” She face palms. ‘Incorrigible’. She says. And asks him if he wants some more. The head nods vigorously. ‘Upon one condition’. She says.
The second helping is had.
In total silence.