Monthly Archives: December 2013

Santa – him or I?


 Update for week ended 20 December 2013

I could not manage to get into Auntie Maggie’s list this year and was instead suggested to try her cousin Auntie Philomena in Dadar. Philomena was not really an auntie (or at least I thought she was much younger than I expected. She lived with her daughter who had married into a Goan household that stayed close to the Portuguese Church. They were a more cosmopolitan Goan family – who used Marathi as their lingua franca; and sometimes stocked up on the delights from Saurashtra (a store selling snacks like hot cakes at Dadar’s busy Pigeon Square. Although their stock of pork or sorpotel never ran out – it was largely sourced from Michael’s butchery (a store nearby which had a thick cloth curtain at the entrance so as not to offend the Gujaratis who lived nearby) or from the regular supply from Mr Pinto – the owner of the famous bus travel agency, who would get it from Goa on his buses. So here I was in the heart of Dadar waiting for Auntie Philomena to serve me the much prized Christmas Cake and some goodies. I was in luck and I got the cake. I was trudging down her rickety wooden staircase when I heard the familiar strains of a country drum and gentle scrubs – just like I had heard a few weeks ago outside a temple. I peered from the grilled window that dotted the end of the staircase between each floor – and was not surprised to see a familiar figure walking the street below – with a bundle carefully balanced on the head and she was doing the slow rumbling scrub on the drum as she walked slowly. The jingle sound was also providing a regular rhythm. And this was no Santa Claus. It was Morya’s father and mother walking the street near the church neighbourhood trying to “take away the sins” of the street’s denizens. I walked down the stairs carefully with my arms laden with the sweet goodies of the season and cheer on my face while I walked down to watch the two people “who could never be cheerful as they took away others’ sins”. I tailed them as they stopped at the tall fir tree that was decorated for the season with tinsel and fairy lights. It looked tall, green and pretty and they stood admiring the tree and people. There were people gathered around who were also admiring the tree and Morya’s father quietly approached them for alms. Some dropped a few coins into his cupped palms, while others excused themselves. And the father just took what he got and before moving on, saw a little altar by the church side. He stopped there for a moment when he saw a small coin box for collections. And he fished out a coin from his cupped palm and dropped one there. He was not allowed to enter the local temples – with his “sinful” body, but he could always thank his Gods with an offering. I was stunned. Here is a person who does one of the worst jobs I have heard of and yet he was humble enough to thank God for it. Before I got misty eyed, I crossed over to the Christmas Tree. 

 The season of decorating the tall Christmas tree had arrived. The D Boyz were all ready to see the fairy lights in green and red alternate itself on the tree. The cool breeze blowing through D Street also forced the Boyz to get their jackets out. Keeping with the Christmas theme, they wore the reds or the greens and that is how the Street favourite, the SENSEX behaved. Sometimes green, sometimes red, but always cheerful. Even if the buyers from across the shores tightened their purses, the D Boyz took that in their stride and took their SENSEX along with them on a ride from 20715 to 21079. It was not a straight ride one way – it was down at times  – like my climbing down the stairs; or upwards like the towering green fir tree.

 

You are Morya’s father, right, I asked. The father was taken aback, and he answered in the affirmative. Why, he asked, concernedly. Nothing, I said. I just looked at him and asked him if he ate eggs. He was slightly puzzled with my question. I looked at the cake in my hand and asked him to take it. He hesitated, but I nudged him with a head nod. He did not know what to do. I smiled and asked him once again. I told him that it was a cake for him and his family for Christmas. I also asked him to promise me that he would share it with Morya and his sister, and his wife too. He smiled and took the cake and looked at it like it was a treasure that Alibaba found in the cave. He also held it like treasure – carefully taking it to his wife. He looked back at me and almost touched his cloth whip on his shoulder. I shook my head asking him not to whip himself. I felt happy that he was happy. With both happy faces, I was not sure who was the Santa of the season. Was it I for gifting him a cake? Or was it him who gave me a smile on my face? I was getting misty eyed and I smiled and quickly walked away. This is the season of giving and spreading cheer, isn’t it?

 

Have a great week and Christmas ahead! Cheers……. Hope Santa grants your wishes and you share it with your near dear ones!

Auntie Maggie and Auntie Gertrude


Update for fortnight ended 13 Dec 2013

Auntie Maggie had a busy day ahead. She had to complete mixing the fruits with the flour and eggs and take it to Bushy’s bakery in the Bazar lane. The cake bakes were the highlights of her busy Christmas season. She had inherited her business from her mom-in law, Auntie Gertrude. Auntie Gertrude had a legendary reputation among the East Indians of Bombay. There were rumours that she even sent a cake to the Queen of England when she had visited India. Her English puddings and ribbon and sponges were lip-smacking and people swore that that the English who made these would not have been able to better Auntie Gertrude. In fact at Charles and Maggie’s wedding, the hush-hush grapevine of the parish wondered why Gertrude chose Maggie for her son. She was not pretty and was plump. They all surmised that it must have been for culinary skills, as she had an excellent hand in beating the eggs so light that her coconut macaroons were melt-in-your-mouth wonders – felt like coconut air. But no-one dared asked Auntie Gertrude lest they be struck off her cake order list. Auntie Gertrude did not prefer frills, like icing on cakes, or experimentation with cake shapes and styles. Her cakes were – sponges were always round and pound cakes were in loaves and ribbon cakes always sliced. But the daughter in law Maggie tried her had at different styles and textures. So she improvised on her mother in law’s cakes with different styles of icing – Royal, American, Cream, Butter and even with decorations on the cakes. Although Auntie Gertrude did not approve of it – she never stopped her talented daughter in law. So the traditional Christmas bakes would be done by the mother in law, while special occasions would be the daughter-in-law’s forte. The traditional marzipan, guava cheese, kolkols and date rolls were always done the traditional way. It had been years since Auntie had passed away and Auntie Maggie was the head of this home bake business. Although Charles worked in the merchant navy, he ensured that he was always home during the pre-Christmas season. If not to help his wife get the ingredients carted from Crawford Market, to at least be at home to savour the aromas of baking and frying. And this year, Maggie was trying her hand at a mint and chocolate cake. Something she saw a participant bake on a TV chef show. So she got the green mint flavours and tried different versions – in the cake, in the chocolate frosting and even in the frosting between the layers. She also experimented with the right green colour. She finally went with a rich chocolate cake with green minty filling and chocolate frosting and glaced cherries for decoration. The green mint in the middle of the cake would be the surprise. She had made the first batch and then after its success, she decided to do the rest in the evening. Auntie Maggie had sifted the flour and cocoa thrice to get that airy cake, and she had started beating her eggs – first the yolks with the sugar and then the whites. She had to get it so stiff that it would not fall off an upturned bowl. She mixed it all together – lightly, gently so that it would turn out into that airy cake that Auntie Maggie was famous for. She popped the trays into the gas oven and went about the mixing the frosting for the filling and the cake top. That was when the electricity went out. Now she had to depend on the dim light of the candle to finish her process. She had just incorporated the peppermint essence and extract into frosting, and was about to drop the colour. She had to continue and so she just reached out to the little labelled bottle on the table and with her dropper, syringed up the liquid colour and dropped it into the frosting and mixed it. The electricity returned much after she had got the cake batch out of the oven and she had frosted the cake in the dim light. She was about to decorate the top with chocolate bark and glaced cherries, when the lights came back. That was when she noticed in horror, that instead of the green colouring for the mint frosting filling, she had dyed it a deep red. What could she do now? She had already finished the cakes.

D Street was also preparing for its annual tryst with the Cheerful Christmas Season as it expected the Santa to bring in the goodies. The D Boyz were looking forward to the Christmas treats of their eggless cakes (many of the Boyz followed the strict Jain Religion, you see) and marzipan. And when someone got them a taste of the new sensational minty chocolate cake, they were thrilled to eat a chocolate and cherry cake with that smacking green minty flavour within. The mint helped them feel ecstatic and heavenly as they prodded the SENSEX to an all time high of over 21400. And all the Boyz then ordered for more of the cake and waited for more of Auntie Maggie’s cakes. And what they got was the red mint – which was tasty but not so appealing in colour – and this caused the SENSEX to fall to where it was at the beginning of the month – at 20715.

Auntie Maggie had no option but to tell her customers that the minty green was a fiery red, but her faithful clients were forgiving. They knew that Auntie Maggie’s s would be tasty, airy, festive for the chocolate shavings and the carelessly strewn cherries atop the cake. This was reason enough to give it a pride of place on the Feast Table. Even after they had gone home and were ready to celebrate for the festival, auntie Gertrude decided to make a batch of chocolate cupcakes and she would now use the correct coloured mint frosting for it. She peppered the top with crushed mint candy and after making a few dozens, she rested them in the fridge. She would hand deliver them to each of the families who had ordered her chocolate mint cake that went wrong. She had to right herself and she did not sleep that night till she was sure she had enough for all the families, including a few for neighbours, the Jones who were not wealthy to have a large feast, but would have a modest meal. The extra batch was especially for them. She knew that they would not accept the cakes without paying for it, so Auntie Maggie would promise to take the guavas that grew in their garden, though she knew that they were of an inferior quality and she would not use them in her guava cheese. After all, this is the festival of sharing and spreading cheer all around.

Have a great week ahead and fantastic cheery season. And if any of you are ordering form Auntie Maggie, then please do invite me to you house for the feast or party!

The Red Vermilion Dot on the Forehead smeared with Turmeric


Update for month of November 2013

Morya was a boy not more than four and a half feet tall. His determined steps indicated his confidence beyond his age. Morya did not know how old he was, but that did not matter to him, as he had casually asked me what it meant. I was taken aback by the casual way the young boy asked me this question. I first observed him as he was climbing down the stairs at the Dadar station bridge. He was walking besides an older girl in a worn salwar kameez with a cloth bundle on her head and a crude rural drum strung across her shoulder – crosswise. She must have been a couple of years older so I fathomed that she was not his mother. I followed him and his “sister’ till they disappeared into the crowd outside the station that spilled onto the flower market under the road bridge flyover. I was on my way to the temple for my weekly obeisance to the creator. It was also an opportunity for me to thank him for what he gave us and ask for general health, prosperity and good biding. And as is the usual practice at Hindu temples, I would drop some loose change or a few notes into the slotted donation box placed strategically in front of the deity – so that devotees can pull out little coins or notes from their little purses or clenched fists to drop into the box (lest someone forget the “purpose of the visit”). I usually then walk across to the market nearby to stock up on my weekly groceries and veggies. But that day, I stopped outside the temple as I saw Morya again. He was with his “sister”, however his clothing had changed. He was wearing a long red skirt – and was shirtless and his tonsured head was covered with a red scarf. I still recognised him by those steady mature, yet vulnerable eyes and his forehead that was smeared with yellow turmeric, and punctuated by the large red vermillion dot at the centre of his forehead. He was walking upto devotees who were either waiting for their taxis or just standing by the road nibbling on their little prasads. Morya was carrying the whip made of cloth and had draped it like a python across his shoulders. He was seeking alms and if someone refused, he quietly walked away – unlike the usual beggars who would pester those with food to part with at least a piece or two and leave after getting their “dues”. His sister followed him with a slow rumbling scrub of a bent stick on one side of the drum. This was only to attract attention now, but when Morya would perform, it would become his rhythmic beat. Her head was balancing a small stool coloured red with a deity’s idol on it. The deity was smeared in red vermillion. I walked through the crowd to see the young boy and perhaps talk to him. As I negotiated the crowds, a long green bus came along and prevented me from crossing the street. But that would not deter me or would it?

The D Street had climbed its highs and the D Boyz on the higher floors were quite happy to have taken their beloved SENSEX so high. But then this young D Boy amongst them climbed down the stairs of the tall building structure and walked down to the busy marketplace street that operated during the day in these crowded CBD lanes. The boy wore a red t-shirt and slightly ruffed maroon trousers and his walk was with a purpose. You could notice the SENSEX also follow the red dressed D Boy till he mingled with the crowds in the markets where people sold more than people could buy. Don’t ask me how that happened, but this was a case where the consumer was not the King, I guess, not unlike the consumers at D Street. And in the bargain, the SENSEX dropped from lofty heights of 21200 points to as low as 20196, but end its trip for the month to just 20791.

The green bus passed and I crossed the street. Morya was headed to the grocery store that I frequented. I hastened my steps and quickly caught up with him. I did not want to startle him, so I walked past him and stood near the entrance to the large grocery supermarket. I tried to look busy. The young boy, as was his usual style, walked up close and looked at me through those purposeful steady black eyes, mature yet vulnerable, and mumbled something that I did not catch in the traffic and market noise. I turned around and saw the boy. He looked younger than I thought and I asked him his name. He looked frightened and almost walked away, but I softened my tone and quickly tried to open my manpurse, strung around my shoulder. He stopped and awaited his alms. I pulled out a few coins and before I could place them in his cupped hand, I raised my eyebrows again – asking him his name without talking. He silently murmured “Morya”. I asked him about his sister (she indeed was his sister). He was a sin taker. A sin taker? Yes, he whipped himself in public to take on the sins of the person who gave him alms. No – I could not do this to the young boy. I almost felt like taking away the money that I gave him. And that was when I saw this young lady – perhaps in her thirties looking at the boy and walking towards the sister. She wore a worn out green saree with a maroon blouse and also had a drum strung around her shoulder. Her saree was draped over her head and her nose rings and large vermilion spot on her forehead indicated that she was perhaps his mother. She was worried and was talking to the sister. I let Morya go after thrusting a currency note into his hands. Perhaps he could have a tea and few snacks with his mother and sister, and I just let him go.

How many Moryas do we know? How many times do we pass them by. Some are part of a syndicate of beggars and many will grow up on the streets and perhaps die there. Would you give alms to seek sin cleansing? Could I have done anything different? I have som many questions this week. Perhaps you would help me with a few answers

Have a good week ahead and I wish Morya and many others like him also a good week ahead!