|Ustaad with his rangeen photos|
I would often cross the sweet shop on my way to lunch. The smell of fresh jalebis inviting me from way ahead. I would always stop to wish 'Ustaad'. He would extend his elbow to me to shake. Hands covered in jalebi mix. And then, from behind the swarthy moustache, the squeaky voice would say "aap mujhe rangeen photo dena".
I had given him a black and white print out of the post I had written about him. But 'pehelwan' (or wrestler), as some called him, wanted coloured prints. Something we had forgotten in the age of Picassa and Flickr.
Today, on my last day at Fort, I fulfilled my promise.
I don't know know what made me fall in love with Fort the way I did. Was it the approach to Fort? The poetry of Muslim architecture by the J J Flyover. The Victorian Majesty of VT, the BMC and Times of India buildings. The chutzpah of the art deco buildings by my office. An office building which was inaugurated by a certain Sjt Subhas Chandra Bose in 1938. Opposite a shop opened by Bal Gangadhar Tilak when he raised his cry of Swadeshi (self rule) against the British. The same British who had helped plan a charmed business district with enough trees or shade for the weary traveller to rest by. Was it the winding walks with each lane opening into a new wonder? Stumbling into a Garden of Eden one day. Also known as Horniman Circle? Or the parking lot guys who would park my car when chubby, my driver, was bunking. They were all from the same gaon or village apparently.
The friends I would meet, old and new? Amba, Kaniska, Gia, Mama, Ranjit, Viraj, Ashish, Berges, Andrea, Shaheen. Drawn to Fort like bees to a honeycomb. Or was it the many afternoons of getting lost? Of 'hearing one's inner voice' as Tony Bourdain once put it.
|VT or CST|
|Tilak's Bombay Stores & the art deco buildings|
|An Irani cafe in Japanese building|
Was it all the fresh, wholesome, honest food with prices from another century? Dhansak at Ideal Corner. Ironically my first and last lunch at Fort. Their atheli chicken pateta and gun powder pork. Ulundu and Mysore Sada Dosa, kick in the butt filter coffee at Swagath. The breads of Yazdani Bakery. Apple pies and Christmas Cake too. Apoorva's stews, appams and Gassis. Banana leaf vegetarian meals at Deluxe with delectable Surmai fries. Beef and paratha at Rahmaniya. Deepu's sandwiches. Madhukar's Lassis. Muzzafar's palak bhajiyas. Puris at Puncham Puri and Mathura Sweets.
|Suresh's Palak Bhajiyas|
|Chicken stew at Apoorva|
|Chicken fry and parota at Garden Plaza|
|Those jalebis again|
|Banana leaf meal at Deluxe|
|Moti Lassi with malai|
|I had most of my lunches here|
|Ideal Corner's dhansak my first and last lunch at Fort|
|Evenings at Swagath...Mysore sada dose|
|Puncham and his Puris|
|Kick in the butt filter coffee at Swagath|
Or did the spell of Fort lie in its people? Parvez Irani and Tirandaaz Irani of Cafe Ideal Corner and Yazdani Bakery who broke the myth of grumpy owners of Irani Cafes. Krishna, the owner of Apoorva who would often sit down at my table to chat with me. And hand out a ten per cent discount. Dipu the big hearted sandwichwallah who would wave at me every day. The last person I said goodbye to today at Fort as I handed him a printout of the post I wrote on him. The scion of Mathura Sweets, unshaven with an ear stud, wishing me in perfect English. Muzzafar and his colleagues at Suresh's Batata Vada shop, smiling at me when I would go by. As would the bearded man at the counter of Fountain Plaza opposite. Or Madhukar the Maharashtrian lassiwallah at the Punjabi Moti Halwai, who posed for me one day.
My regular waiter with curly hair at Swagath Udipi. Patiently explaining to me the difference between set and ulundu dosa. As we got to know each other he would wrap my coffee glass with a tissue paper, the way I liked it, when I sipped on a hot filter coffee on the road. His colleagues at Swagath, all excited to see the blog post on them on their 'Idea Mobile' (no not a plug). The three waiters at Cafe Ideal who would always serve me with care. The waiter from Udipi at Aoorva who would take my order with a bashful smile, embarrassed when I shook his hand after new year. The waiter in the AC section at Deluxe who would meticulously explain each item in the Keralite banana leaf thali. Getting me steaming glasses of rassam on the house on days when I wouldn't go for the full meal. "Have it. It is fresh". The waiter at Puncham Puri who told us about the fact that the venerable Mr Puncham had set up his puri shop way before CST station existed. A rare breed in a city of restaurants with inept untrained staff.
|With the Yazdani Bakery Gang. Photo: Shaheen P|
|The folks at Swagath read the post on them|
|Muzaffar at Suresh's|
|Our man from Udipi at Apoorva|
|Intense discussion with Krishna of Apoorva on Thai food|
|Madhukar at Moti's lassis|
|Tirandaz Irani of Yazdani enacts the Rin ad shot here|
|Third generation scion of Mathura Sweets|
|Dipu the sandwichwallah with the heart of gold|
|The every smiling Parvez Irani of Ideal Corner with his merry band|
Or were it the bakers from UP at Yazadan Bakery? Posing for me not once, but twice when I came in for shoots.The earnest father and daughter who ran the humble Pradeep Gomantak? The cart owners at Khao Gulley who posed for me one day as I took photographs. Or the trips to Colaba? To Ling's and Johnny and bacon pot rice and pork belly. To Olympia and its super fantastic kachhi biriyani and mutton masala fry. Or to Samovar and its parathas.
|Biriyani at Olympia|
|The super sweet Johny at Ling's Pavilion|
Would it be the strangers I shared tables and conversations with at Rahmaniya, Garden Plaza, Deluxe, Yazadani, Ideal Corner, Swagath and Apoorva? Strangers who became lunch mates for a few magical moments.
Or was it just all about Ustaad and his fresh, hot jalebis?
|Ustaad. AKA Pehelwan|
Gosh, I must have done something really good to have deserved this. Maybe there is an angel looking after bloggers.
I bid my goodbyes at Fort today. To Ustaad. To the dhansak at Ideal Corner. To the folks at Swagath.
As Jim Morrison said,"When the music's over ... Turn out the lights"
|When the music's over|