The Paowallahs of Mumbai

What is Mumbai without its pav? Vada-pav, pav-bhaji, maska-pav, bhajiya-pav and just plain old chai with pav. The humble pav is Mumbai’s icon, it is uniquely and typically Bombay, it exemplifies the bindaas attitude that defines the City of Dreams.

The word ‘pav’ does not come from the alleged practice of bakers using their feet to knead the dough! No bakery in Bombay is known to do this (at least I hope not). The word ‘pav’ actually comes from the Portugese ‘pao’, which means bread. The technology for pao-making was brought to India by the Portugese in the late 15th century.

After the Portugese took over Goa, that state fell into economic ruin. Many Goans migrated to Bombay, and settled in a place called Cavel, near Dhobi Talao in South Bombay. One such Goan was Vitorino Mudot, an enterprising young man from the village of Assagao. In 1819, he set up the first bakery in Cavel, and started making Portugese-style pao.  Vitorino encouraged his fellow Goans by giving them jobs in his bakery and by helping them set up their own bakeries. Vitorino Mudot became a rich man in the process.

In 1843, one of his own assistants, Salvador Patricio de Souza, forcibly took over the business. He in turn grew rich and powerful, and diversified into banking, real-estate and cotton. Under his reign, Goans monopolised the bread-making business in Bombay. After he died in the late 1890’s, the Goans were undermined by the aggressive Iranis. The pav business in Bombay is now dominated by north Indian muslims, most of whom are in the Grant Road area.

The golden age of the Goan pao-makers is long gone, but the nickname given to them still remains – makapao. It’s not a polite nickname, but the easy-going Goans take it sportingly (usually, but not always!)

So the next time you bite into a spicy vada-pav, don’t forget to pay your respects to Vitorino Mudot, the young baker from Assagao.

Cheers … Srini.

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Ae nargise mastaana …

She was told by RK Nayyar, the director of her first movie, that her forehead was too broad for her face. Irked, the girl from Sindhi Camp created an iconic hairdo to cover her broad forehead. Fifty years later, in fancy 5-star beauty parlors and roadside barbershops alike, that fringe hairdo is still named after her – the Sadhana Cut.

If one were to make a list of the ten most beautiful women to grace the Indian silver screen, Sadhana Shivdasani would be right up there.

Sadhana was one of the few actresses who successfully moved from black-and-white to color movies, and was perhaps the only actress who could move back and forth between color and monochrome movies and still wow the audiences. In her first color movie, Mere Mehboob released in 1963, she appeared on the screen in a burkha, her face entirely covered except for her eyes. With one glance, she had Rajendra Kumar, and the entire nation crying, ‘Phir mujhe nargisi ankhon ka sahara de de’. 

And her very next movie, Woh Kaun Thi, a suspense thriller made in 1964, was deliberately made in black-and-white to emphasise its scary storyline. The opening scene of Woh Kaun Thi was truly terrifying. That was the scene in which Sadhana, with an innocent but chilling look, uttered the line that scared the wits out of us, “Mujhe khoon achcha lagta hai”. (“I like blood”)

From her first leading role in Love in Simla, to her last appearance in Geeta Mera Naam in 1974, Sadhana hardly delivered a flop. During the 1960’s she was the female lead in several hits  – Mere Mehboob, Mera Saaya, Woh Kaun Thi, Waqt, Ek Musafir Ek Hasina, Aarzoo, Hum Dono, and many others. Some of these movies were in color, some in monochrome. But that was Sadhana. Her beauty and allure remained unaffected, with color or without.

In addition to her hairdo, Sadhana is also the pioneer of the skin-tight salwar kameez in Bollywood. Only Sadhana could carry off this tantalising new look and she did so with style in the 1965 multi-starrer hit, Waqt. 

A chronic thyroid problem compelled Sadhana to get treatment in the US and cut short her career. In spite of that, she made a comeback in 1969 and delivered two silver jubilee hits, Inteqam and Ek Phool do Mali, before gracefully retiring in 1974.

After the death of her husband RK Nayyar, Sadhana lived a reclusive life in a Bandra flat owned by Asha Bhonsle.

Sadhana passed away on December 25, 2015 at Mumbai.

After her retirement, she refused to let herself be photographed, since she wanted to be remembered as the Sadhana of Mere Mehboob and Aarzoo.

And that’s how fans like myself will always remember her, as the stunning beauty from Sind, about whom we won’t stop singing, ‘Abhi na jao chodkar, ki dil abhi bhara nahin’. 

RIP Sadhana.

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My name is Bond … Sanskari Bond!

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Screw the libtards of India. It’s just one kiss that was cut short. Just one lousy kiss. I just cannot see why the libtards made such a huge ruckus about it. The film’s producers shouldn’t have applied for a U/A certificate in the first place.

Bond is Bond. An aborted kiss and a couple of deleted profanities have no effect on the impact left on you by the twenty fourth Bond movie.

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One lousy kiss!

Spectre is the one of the best Bond movies ever made, no question. Three years ago, I wrote the same words about Skyfall, but Bond just keeps getting better with age.

When Daniel Craig first appeared as 007 in Casino Royale, I was one of millions of Bond-fans who howled in disbelief. Four Bond movies later, Craig practically owns the role, and one is actually sorry that Craig says he will not play Bond again.

Well, like Craig, Sean Connery also said “never again” after Diamonds are Forever, but he did make a comeback didn’t he?

Spectre has everything that a Bond-nut like me expects from a Bond movie – and then some.

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The traditional gun barrel sequence is restored to its rightful place, the opening sequence is heart-pounding and without doubt the best I have seen, the opening credits are as sexy as ever, the pace is thrilling, the cinematography breath-taking, the locales exotic, the suspense nail-biting, the climax thunderous, and the denoument comes with a spine-chilling twist.

The digital sound is crystal clear, the entire theater shakes as the villain’s den is blown to pieces in the time-honored Bond tradition. The CGI is slick and seamless. Nowadays it’s hard to tell where reality ends and CGI begins.

What’s a Bond movie without hyper-muscular henchmen, car chases at terrifying speeds, high-tech gadgets, ear-blasting pyrotechnics, and skimpily clad Bond girls?

The car chases are indeed terrifying, even if half the gadgets in Bond’s custom-made Aston Martin DB10 do not work, to his disgust. The high-tech gadgets have been toned down, but effective nonetheless, as they were in Skyfall.

The skimpily clad Bond girls of the old days are passe, alas. Now, we are told, they are no longer Bond’s arm-candy. They are, we are informed, women of substance, or some such nonsense. What rot. Bond girls are not supposed to have PhD’s. They are supposed to have dangerous necklines. There. I said it.

Her truncated kissing scene with Bond notwithstanding, Monica Belluci’s blink-and-miss appearance was a considerable disappointment. As a long-standing and very ardent admirer of the exquisitely endowed Ms Bellucci, one was keen to see more of her – literally.

Lea Seydoux as Dr Madeline Swann is the afore-mentioned, non-skimpily clad PhD woman of substance, and she is well, passable. But then, I’m comparing her to my all-time Bond-girl favorites – Ursula Andress, Halle Berry and Olga Kurylenko. I suppose one can give Seydoux benefit of the doubt.

Naomie Harris is back as Eve Moneypenny, to my delight. Oh, that sexy British accent! She should have been given more screen time. Ben Wishaw has grown quite well into the role of Q. Looks like Wishaw will take over from where Desmond Llewelyn left.  But what is missing from Q is the dry wit that John Cleese brought to the character.

Ralph Fiennes does impress in his second appearance as M. He doesn’t quite measure up to Judi Dench, but he’s getting there. Pro-wrestler Dave Bautista as Mr Hinx, looks like a scary hybrid of two old-time Bond henchmen, Jaws and Oddjob.  Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, does a good job but is not as chilling as Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Raoul Silva in Skyfall.

With Spectre, I think Bond has come full circle and Ian Fleming’s legacy comes to a graceful end. Bond confronts his life-long nemesis for the last time, lays his ghosts to rest, demolishes everything that needs to be demolished, and drives off with his lady-love at the wheel of another Bond icon, BMT 216A, the Aston Martin DB5 that made its first appearance in Goldfinger back in 1964.

db5Hopefully, this means a re-boot of the Bond character.

Craig’s Bond while brilliant, is a bit too dark. Gone are the wry one-liners of Moore, the suave ruthlessness of Connery, the smooth and deadly charm of Brosnan.

John Cleese feels that current Bond movies are made for Asian audiences, that do not appreciate typical British humor and instead prefer brute action. Sadly, I have to agree.

Bond is quintessentially British. The character is so much more than a blunt weapon. One does hope that future Bond films bring back the British flavor to 007.

Or as Bond would have said, “Keep the British end up, Sir”.

We’ve been shaken enough, Mr Bond. Let’s stir things up a bit, shall we?

Bottom line: Screw the libtards, as I said. Go watch Spectre on the big screen and enjoy yourself thoroughly. And thanks to the CFBC, you can take your kids along.

Cheers … Srini.

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Dhanavantari … and his leech.

Dhanvanatari, at Art of Living ashram in Bangalore. Note the leech in his lower right hand.

Dhanvanatari, at Art of Living ashram in Bangalore. Note the leech in his lower right hand.

Today is Dhanvantari Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Dhanavantari, patron-god of Ayurveda and the healing sciences.

Bhagvat Purana tell us that Dhanvantari emerged during Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean.

Dhanvantari’s anniversary falls on the thirteenth day of the dark half of Ashvina, two days before Deepavali. Hence, it is called Dhantrayodashi. This day also honors the goddess of wealth, and is also called Dhanteras.

Ayurveda is the world’s first organised system of medicine. Acharya Charaka’s Samhita is the first written compendium of Ayurveda and dates back to 800 BCE.  Acharya Susruta, the world’s first surgeon, compiled his Samhita during 600 BCE. But the actual practice of Ayurveda goes back much further.

Dhanvantari is accepted as an incarnation of Vishnu and is usually portrayed with four arms. In his upper arms, he holds Vishnu’s Shanku-chakra (Conch and Discus). In his lower left hand, he holds a kamandal (copper pot) containing amrita and more important, in his lower right hand, he holds a leech.

That’s right. A leech.

Known as ‘jalouka’ in Ayurveda, leeches have been used in India since Vedic times. Susruta describes twelve species of leeches, of which six were used by him for various ailments.

Over time, leech therapy spread across the world. Leeches are still used in modern medicine. What is significant is that leeches are still used for the same ailments that Susruta used them for, two thousand years ago.

Leeches are used in reconstructive surgery, varicose veins, psoriasis, thrombophlebitis, arthritis and gangrene. Leech saliva has several proteins with medicinal properties, notably anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, vasodilation and anticlotting.

There are just a few temples in India specifically devoted to Dhanvantari, most of which are in Kerala. However, in almost any major Vishnu temple, like the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam for example, you will find a Dhanvantari shrine.

And he will invariably have a leech in his lower right hand.

Many ‘modern’ discoveries that the West lays claim to, originate from India. Leech therapy is a typical example.

Om Dhanavantaraye namaha!

Cheers … Srini.

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Tipu’s summer palace – strictly avoidable.

tipu-1-2When one visits a site of historic importance, one looks for authenticity. What’s the point in visiting a heritage building that looks like a parking lot?

For that is what Tipu Sultan’s summer palace in Bangalore has become. A parking lot – with a couple of nice-looking toilets attached.

Built during the late 18th century, by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, this modest palace does have interesting features, like the carved wooden pillars and the wooden plinth that support the structure. Wooden staircases lead to the upper floor, but are to be taken with caution. There is a sort of museum in one of the private rooms on the ground floor, with a few unimpressive artifacts from Tipu’s time. Most visitors hardly glance in.tipu-1-4

Go around to the back of the palace, and you will find rusty ladders, poles and other building material lying around. The indifferent paint job on the walls make this heritage palace look like an urban slum.

The chap at the ticket counter and the security guards are polite enough, but there are several surly employees in the place, and they are rude to visitors – especially non-local visitors who do not understand Kannada. Why does a small site like this have so many employees hanging around the place? Seems to me that many of them aren’t even employees. Just localites who wander in for time-pass. Certainly none of them had an ID card on his person.

And why are there so many private vehicles parked inside? A foul-mouthed person deliberately parked his motorcycle in front of me, as I was clicking pictures, and refused to move it.

There is a lawn of sorts, with notices saying “Entry restricted to lawn area” – whatever that means. Nevertheless, you see employees strolling all across the lawn, while yelling at visitors to stay off it.

No wonder there are few visitors to Tipu’s summer palace. If I want to see a parking lot in an urban slum and get abused by random strangers, I just need to step out of my home.

I won’t bother to give you directions to this depressing and avoidable “historic” site. It’s in Bangalore, that’s all I can tell you. Look it up on google, if you really want to inflict pain on yourself. Better that you just give the place a glance as you drive past.

I’m sure Tipu Sultan would have done the same.

No cheers … Srini.

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