A nostalgic food walk down Colaba. Catch it on The Finely Chopped on YouTube

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It was the end of the year a few days back. I was felling nostalgic and headed to Colaba to relive old memories and share them with you on The Finely Chopped, my YouTube channel.

So when did I fall in love with Colaba?

Possibly during my first stay there. This was my second trip to Mumbai. I had come to distribute placement brochures for my B School to offices in the city. I was staying with Kalyanda and Tokaidi and their son Kushal. A Bengali family who were related to my neighbour in Kolkata. I didn't know them and nor were they aware of my existence till Biswaranjan Jethu from Kolkata rung them up and told them that I would stay with them for a week.

They adopted me and made me a part of their family. Kushal gave up his bed room so that I had a room to myself during my stay. This was my longest stay away from home at that time and yet I didn't feel alone thanks to their love and care.

Every evening I would say bye to my class mates and walk down the buzzy lanes of Colaba Causeway to my temporary home at Harbour Heights. There was a big city buzz to the Colaba causeway which reminded me of Lindsay Street at Kolkata to an extent and was yet grander and of course the sea-front made it so much more special. There was the colourful side to Colaba and a seedy side too. Being surreptitiously pimped and chased by drug peddlers made one feel pretty grown up

I didn't get to try out any of the restaurants in Colaba in that trip. That's because every night Tokaidi would have a lovely dinner ready for us. And such variety too. A continental chicken bake one day, noodles another, fried prawns one night with prawns bought for a princely 100 Rs a basket (1996) from the Koli fisherwali who came selling fish, and one night rohu curry, in mustard sauce. My mom never made rohu in mustard sauce and this dish opened my eyes to the variations which were possible in Bengali food. 

One evening I met my Sanjiv Pai, research guide from my summer project who had got me over to Mumbai earlier in the year for my first trip to the city. He met me at Leopold's this time for a beer and it felt like crossing a rites of passage for me.

I came back to Mumbai on a training stint after I got my first job. My office was at Dadar and I was put up at Bandra but Colaba is where my new friends and colleagues and I would hang out in the evenings. 

We would catch a movie at Regal or Sterling and then go to Gokul for cheap daroo (booze). I hadn't heard of the phrase 'dive bar' then. The air conditioned section was considered to be appropriate for mixed gender groups. Those were innocent days when one could smoke in bars and people in our group would stick to white spirits, Baccardi and Smirnoff, while I would hold on to my Kolkata roots and swill whiskey, Royal Stag. 

Post Gokul we would head to Bade Miya for dinner. The sheekh kebabs were chewy. The baida rotis disappointing after the Moghlai parathas of Kolkata. The tawa fries spice battered and not memorable. Yet, the experience of having dinner past midnight, slightly tipsy, before catching the last local home was an adrenaline rush so different from one's sheltered life in Kolkata

A life where mom's curfew would be on from 8 pm.

It was this whiff of freedom that possibly drew me back to Mumbai after I returned to Kolkata at the end of my training. I began to miss my friends and life in Bombay in Calcutta and applied for a transfer and came back, this time for good.

This was the early 2000s and Colaba was still the place to hang out in and Bandra was yet to come into its own.

Soon I met K and we began dating. We used to hang around in Colaba before heading back to our respective homes. We would go to Gokul and Bade Miya like I did with my friends in my early days. We discovered Martin's and its beef chilly fry and Goan sausages and pork vindaloo and would often head there for dinner. We would go to Leopold for its prawn fried rice and chewy beef chilli fry.   I loved Chinese food you see and would often pull K there. She, like a good Parsi, doted on 'continental' and we would queue up to go to Churchill and have the sugary Lipton ice teas, sausages in ketchupy 'Firecracker sauce' and heavily sauced prawn Newberg in penne served on melamine plates for her.  

There was no Theobroma then but we would occasionally go to Kailash Parbat for the jalebis K loved. 

At the start of the month, after pay day, we would allow ourself a tiny brownie to share at Leopold while making plans for a future together. Towards the end of the month, when money was tight, we would go to the grimy Baghdadi for huge rotis and super cheap beef kebabs.

No mention of Ling's you ask? We used to think it would be an expensive place for families then and never went in.

Our bank balances were pretty tight in those days but yet within our strained means we ate well and with joy and contentment without any worries. 

When we think back on those days of meagre resources, we sometime wonder whether happiness can actually be measured in proportion to the money one has.

I don't go to Colaba as often now but when I do, it feels special.

For Colaba is where I first fell in love with Mumbai.

During the Colaba shoot for The Finely Chopped
with the Ping team


Charukesi said…
Gokul! A blast from the past :)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
place looks the same barring a frankie joint that they now have outside Charu