Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Living amidst Gujaratis in Mumbai
Mumbai, as we know, is a cosmopolitan city. Gujaratis comprise a rather large section, with some pockets of Mumbai characterised by a sizeable presence of Gujaratis. A major part of my childhood was spent in a locality with many Gujarati families. 
 
I continue to be amazed by their entrepreneurial spirit and a strong value system. Many people consider Gujaratis to be shrewd in their approach but one thing that cannot be denied is that the Gujaratis are a very cohesive community. They have the ability to endear themselves to others and have superlative persuasion skills. 
 
My home was close to a Jain temple and it was remarkable to see many of our neighbours visiting the temple early in the morning in traditional clothes, carrying a a small metal box. In the evenings, women would spend time telling stories to children or playing indoor games. As an outsider, I never ever had an opportunity to enter the precincts of the Jain temple, though it was a landmark to find our house. Whenever a relative got lost we just had to rattle off the directions, adding, “It is the fourth building from the Jain temple”. Occasionally the aroma of puris and shrikhand would waft in the air when I rushed to college in the morning. 
 
I am extremely fond of Gujarati dishes like thepla, papdi, dhokla, and undhiyo and I attribute this to the inherent bond that I developed with the Gujarati community right from my childhood. Some of the Gujarati dishes are calorie rich and I feel that when it comes to matters of food, the Gujaratis are the gourmets of Western India, like Punjabis in the North.
 
I think one has to appreciate the way Gujaratis maintain their home. I have visited the homes of a few people in the neighbourhood – though with different purposes though. A cup of adrak (ginger) tea was almost guaranteed in every home. Their hospitality is legendary. Many families lived in one-room tenements, but the way they maintained their homes was amazing. Everything would be so neatly stacked and arranged. 
 
My mother used to send me for errands like buying homemade pickle or papads from a woman in our neighbourhood. Whenever I visited the house of the woman who used to sell them, I was dumbstruck with the impeccable manner in which things were laid out even though the area was so small.
 
Let me add here that I was often pained by the lower prices shopkeepers paid to these women who supplied them with snacks like dhokla, kachori, and thepla while charging a premium from consumers for selling the same items. 
 
Many of the lower middle class Gujarati women supplemented their family income by making homemade pickles, theplas and papads and their hard work is worthy of emulation. Some of these women sold milk in the mornings while some assisted their husbands who were tailors. 
 
Some of these women also sold sarees at reasonable prices. There were women who used to fill in for their baniya husbands when the latter had to go sourcing merchandise for the kirana store. It is admirable that despite having minimal education, these women realised the need to be financially independent. 
 
The mention of Lijjat Papad evokes memories of many empowered Gujarati women. Movies like Shyam Benegal’s Manthan (1976) and Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala (1987) portrayed Gujarati women who were strong and independent – intrepid and rich in character. 
 
Today many of these women from the middle class also double up as beauticians. Come summer and these women were always busy drying papads, preparing mango pickles and homemade masalas. Navratri festival was celebrated with gusto in our locality and the garba dance was a treat to watch. 
 
Now it is a different story. There was a time when the songs that played out during garba were immortal songs like – “Main toh arti utaroon re santoshi mata ki” (Jai Santoshi Maa, 1975) or “Main toh bhool gayi babul ka des” (Saraswatichandra, 1968). In fact, Saraswatichandra was based on a Gujarati novel and was regularly telecast in Mumbai Doordarshan.
Once things like ‘disco dandiya’ started gaining attention and traction, melody took a back seat. Today the less said about the songs played out during garba or dandiya the better. Readers may recall that the movie “Kai Po Che” (2013) (based on a novel by the prolific Chetan Bhagat) revealed the dark side of the Navratri festival. 
 
Two qualities of Gujaratis deserve mention here. If you develop a bond with them, they will respect the bond all their lives. Secondly, Gujaratis are persevering and demonstrate a never-say-die attitude and undying optimism. Let me recount a real life instance from the mid-70s.
 
in those days, we lived in a one-room tenement that faced an industrial colony. As a child, I was a keen observer. There were railings in the balcony. It is funny to recount how my father installed a grill on the balcony.
 
One morning my father was leaving for his office, located in Apeejay House. This meant an arduous train journey lasting more than an hour, followed by a walk of close to 20 minutes to reach office. He saw me waving to him from the balcony. The balcony had no grill. My father was alarmed. He returned home immediately and applied for half-day’s leave so that he could contact the fabricator. By evening, the grill was fixed. 
 
The balcony had an opening at the floor level with railings on it. For a child of 5-6 years, it was possible to sit on the railings and observe the world outside (in this case, it was the industrial colony opposite our home). I would merrily dangle my legs outside the grill. It was a blessing for my mother as she could concentrate on the kitchen.
I attribute my modest creative abilities to this childhood experience of mine – something that children today are deprived of. There were no gadgets or smart phones or video games then. A swing that my father had purchased was a luxury for us and that was something that I loved as a child.
 
We lived on the second floor and diagonally opposite our flat was a Gujarati family that lived on the first floor of the industrial colony. The family comprised the husband, wife, two daughters and a son who was polio stricken. It was a perfect family picture - save for the fact that the son (may be 3-4 years) was handicapped. 
 
I have vivid memories of discreetly watching how both the mother and father took turns to caress the child and massage his legs with oil. This was a regular affair for a few years and I remember seeing the couple along with their daughters and son going for an evening walk after the husband returned from office. The couple would carry the son in their arms. The couple made a lovely pair and their images are still etched in my memory. The camaraderie between them was amazing. 
 
After we shifted to a new place in 1976, I lost track of this Gujarati family. I believe that they too shifted to their own pad. The industrial colonies then did not have a toilet within the home. Families had to share common toilets housed on every floor. I did hear from some of my friends who lived in these colonies that families took special efforts to maintain them and keep them spic and span. 
 
I was delighted to get a fleeting appearance of this couple in 1980. The son had grown up and was also able to walk on his own. It was a real miracle and I recall coming home and excitedly telling my mother that I had seen them and that the son had recovered from his ailment. I was so glad that the son had got cured! I can only imagine the anxiety that the parents would have faced; yet it is remarkable that they took some action rather than simply brood over the problem.  
 
Today many of these colonies and older buildings have vanished, thanks to the redevelopment spree that has gripped Mumbai in the last few years. But the memories can never fade away. I visited Ahmedabad for an official visit in 2010 and I could see that the city was no different from Mumbai. It felt like home. The culture was so familiar. 
 
 
For five years, I lived in Mulund West (the most happening suburb in Mumbai today), a predominantly Gujarati locality, in a building that housed many Gujarati families. The way they celebrated Holi, Diwali, Navratri and New Year together deserves special mention. 
 
Neighbours behaved like one big family. Women used to organise Gayatri mantra chanting sessions. I remember the occasions when the women used to celebrate Jalaram Bappa Day to commemorate the saint’s birthday. My impression about Gujaratis got reinforced during these five years that I lived amidst them. I found them so enterprising on all counts. They are definitely a gregarious lot.
 
A neighbourhood kirana store that I used to frequent suddenly sold a portion of their shop. This happened in the ‘90’s when I had begun working. When I asked him the reason, the shop owner replied, “My son wanted to pursue further studies in the US. I had to fund his higher education. There was no other option”. 
 
 
There are several such examples that I can narrate when many of these shopkeepers who were managing the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores or kirana stores were particular about educating their children. Some of them became chartered accountants, engineers and doctors. But there is a distinct change in the trend today. 
 
Earlier – especially during the ‘70s and ‘80s – it was a common practice in Gujarati families to get the daughters married off passing out from school. But today many Gujarati families are realising the need for educating their daughters too and marriage is considered only after the daughters secure a job or after they complete their higher education. 
 
Way back in the ‘80s, when satellite television had not entered our dining rooms and Doordarshan reigned supreme, it was not uncommon to watch Gujarati families going for a leisurely dinner after watching the Sunday evening Hindi movie telecast on Doordarshan. The neighbouring Ratna and Sadguru restaurants served delectable fares that would be lapped by these families.
My father’s friend who ran a ration shop in our neighbourhood used to often remark, “What are we earning for? We need to spend too as we have to enjoy life”. His statement is characteristic of a Gujarati family’s value system and philosophy about living a well lived life.  
 
 
Even now, if you visit Mumbai and happen to walk on the streets where  there are Gujarati households, you cannot miss the energy and enthusiasm with which these women do their chores – whether it is washing clothes and drying them, buying milk in the morning, cooking, haggling with the vegetable sellers or gossiping with neighbours.
 
What cannot be denied is that business is in their blood. 
 
(Venkatesh Ganapathy is at present pursuing his doctoral research in supply chain management from Alliance University, Bangalore. He is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. In this column, he shares the memories of his childhood in the ‘70s.)
 

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COMMENTS

Ezhilmathi

4 months ago

The article is very interesting. I enjoyed reading it. The childhood memories were nicely expressed.

Deepa Mandal

4 months ago

Superbly expressed!!

Mohd Shamsheer

4 months ago

Sir, it is a wonderful article to read about the culture of the different cities in 90s. thank u for posting it :)

Shony Cyriac

4 months ago

Nicely written sir, being someone born in the 90's i really enjoyed this piece of yours i have heard a lot about the 70's from my parents but those were are all about southern India, I am glad that you shared your memories, i really enjoyed the read. :)

francis sebastian

4 months ago

A very well framed article touching upon the various incidents that leave a picture behind in our mind. Surprisingly, I grew up in Gujarat til i was about 6 years old . The Navrathri season , the kite festival are still some once in a life time experiences we should'nt miss..
thanks for sharing sir it does bring back some beautiful memories..: )

Ritu Chopra

4 months ago

That's a great article Sir... very well written like always!! Love reading your write-ups. I could picture your writing. Would love to read more 😀

Mubarak mallapur

4 months ago

Wonderful blog sir.
This will give an overview of Gujrati Families and there food habits which I wasn't know. You have beautiful childhood memories sir.
Thank you for sharing

Muhzin k

4 months ago

Good blog sir
The memmories you shared was awesome. I also start thinking about my childhood

sreenidhi sree

4 months ago

Hi sir,
well it was very good to read the culture practice and traditional of Gujarat was found to be awesome, and the memories you shared about your childhood was good. you also mentioned about Saraswatichandra novel one of the best story to read written by GovardhanRam later this was made serial. Hoping for more blogs in coming days.

Kandukur Srinidhi
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Muhammed Irfan

4 months ago

Well explained your childhood sir, I started thinking about my childhood sir. Very good blog

Gaurav Muley

4 months ago

delightful article about your childhood. I liked it

Shabeeb Mohammed

4 months ago

Very nice blog sir
Your write up draged me to my child hood memories......

Muhammad Rameez .k.p

4 months ago

Sir, I applaud the column of your wonderful blog on memories of your child hood. It's a good reminder to look back to our child hood from today’s daily challenging life. An excellent read sir…

Vivek Naik

4 months ago

an excellent read

Coconut Oil: Games vested interests play to label it as ‘health demon’
Until the 1930s, even bread in the US was made using coconut oil. Things changed and the ghost of cholesterol rose to flourish as the best business. Several so-called experts and organisations continue to label coconut oil as bad for health. However, one blog, FoodBabe, has exposed the nexus between these experts, organisations and industry players. 
 
"When it comes to health information, we must ALWAYS consider the source (and examine it well!). Even if advice seems to come from a perfectly respectable organisation on the surface (like the American Heart Association-AHA) – research who they are, who funds their work, and what types of health claims they’ve made in the past. This is something I do when reading health-related articles – and in today’s age of political and industry propaganda and manipulations, it is imperative that you take this step to be your own health advocate," says Vani Hari, food activist, creator of FoodBabe.com and author of 'The Food Babe Way'.
 
 
Some recent headlines in the US media once again try to term coconut oil as unhealthy. This includes, "Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” (USA Today), “Nutrition experts warn coconut oil is on par with beef fat, butter” (Chicago Tribune), “This popular health food is worse for you than pork lard” (Daily Star) and “Coconut Oil Isn’t As Healthy As We Thought, According To Depressing New Study” (Elite Daily).
 
 
 
Ms Hari says it seems the entire Internet freaked out at this “news”, and for good reason. "But I would be remiss if I did not remind you  all to be very careful about health advice reported in the media – because some well-meaning reporters fall for basic industry tricks like this one that has just happened," she added.
 
 
 
Prof BM Hegde, a renowned doctor and a Padma Bhushan awardee, has maintained that coconut oil is in fact best for treating skin diseases as well as Alzheimer’s disease
 
Busting the myths propagated by doctors and nutritionists over coconut oil, Dr Hegde had told Moneylife, “I am surprised when people say coconut oil is poison. If a doctor says that it contains cholesterol, it means he has not gone to a medical college. First thing they teach you in any medical school is biochemistry, where students learn that cholesterol comes from animal source. How can a plant like coconut could then be a source of cholesterol?”
 
“After realising this mistake, they (doctors and nutritionists) started saying that coconut oil contains saturated fat and hence it is bad. The larger question here is that one should inquire what coconut oil contains and not directly label it as bad,” the “people’s doctor”, had said.
 
According to Prof Dr Hegde, coconut oil and mother’s milk are the only two things that get digested in the mouth of a baby. “Both coconut oil and mother’s milk contains sodium monolaurate, which is monolauric acid and forms the basis of human immune system.”
 
Coming back to Vani Hari's blog, she says the American Heart Association (AHA) had released a new Presidential Advisory recommending that everyone avoid coconut oil, stating that it is high in saturated fat and raises ‘bad’ cholesterol levels – which they believe leads to heart disease. 
 
"AHA is the same organisation who told us for years to eat margarine (which was notoriously high in trans fat) calling it ‘more heart-healthy’ than butter because it contains ‘no dietary cholesterol’. They started this recommendation back in the 1960’s and continued it for decades, while the primary ingredient in margarine was partially hydrogenated oil full of trans fat. Well, we now know that the trans fat in partially hydrogenated oils are responsible for upwards of 20,000 heart attacks every year – which spurred the FDA to finally ban it from our food (effective in 2018). It’s rare for the FDA to ban anything! Boy, I’d say the AHA was way off on that recommendation, wouldn’t you?" Ms Hari says in the post.
 
According to Foodbabe.com, AHA and Big Food are long time best friends. It says, "Over the years, their sponsors have included a who’s who list of the worst Big Food brands out there, who fill their foods up with soybean oil, canola oil, processed meats, and sugar. This includes Kellogg’s, Pepsico, General Mills, Nestle, Mars, Domino’s Pizza, Kraft, Subway and Quaker."
 
"The AHA is also raking in upwards of $15 million dollars per year from drug and healthcare companies – including over $3 million from Pfizer (the maker of the statin drug Lipitor that reduces cholesterol). Could this be why the AHA recommends that millions more Americans be prescribed statins, even healthy older people with no history of heart disease? The members of their research committee are raking in industry dollars too… receiving tens of thousands from drug companies to fund research, make trial appearances, and serve as consultants – which is a blatant conflict of interest," Ms Hari says in her blogpost.
 

 

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COMMENTS

shadi katyal

4 months ago

How the USA keeps changing the usage ofoil is a mystery to most of us.Linseed oil which is commonly used in India is labelled as not for consumption. Similarly we have seen recent changes in other food consumptions like Coffee etc.Coconut oil now is considered as the best cooking oikl after Olive as it has Omega 3 and thus healthy

Ankur Bamne

4 months ago

Coconut oil, just like any other oil is a refined and processed food. It is impossible in nature to fall in a pit of coconut oil. If one has the entire coconut, he/she gets the fiber along with the phytonutrients, not just the oil. Whereas coconut oil is the highest concentrated form of energy (9Cal/gm). It is highest in saturated fat and contains no essential omega 3 fatty acids. Its not a health food. No oil is. Not even oilve oil. Apply it externally and its good. Dont drinkit or fry in it.

REPLY

Ravi Chandra Vattipalli

In Reply to Ankur Bamne 4 months ago

Dear Ankur ji ,
Coconut oil is good as it contains Medium Chain Triglycerides, which are absorbed right from our mouth and cause early satiety. They can get converted into ketones thru salivary lipase and form alternative fuel to the brain. Coconut oil also has a high gas point and is suitable for re heating unlike other oils. The idea of the article to my understanding is only to be ware of AHA recomondations which could be market driven rather than being solely in public interest.

Raji Aunty Goes Shopping to Dadar
During the ’70s, we lived in an apartment complex in one of the western suburbs of Mumbai. There were 15 flats in our building. Each of us knew every other family in the building. There was lots of gossip with neighbourhood aunties speaking nineteen to the dozen and evenings were filled with laughter and banter. Despite petty differences among neighbours, there was great bonhomie and bonding among the residents.
 
My dad and other male members had a two-hour card session in the nights, from 9 to 11 p.m. On Sundays, the card sessions went on till midnight. There was no television then and Vividh Bharati was the sole source of in-house entertainment. Going to Juhu beach was like a picnic then.
 
Raji Aunty, who stayed on the first floor with her family (which included a number of children), was full of verve, energy and chutzpah. She was vivacious and the memories of her innocence and naivety are fresh after so many years. Her laughter was infectious. She was loquacious and often lost track of time when chatting with neighbours. In the ’70s, neighbours in Mumbai were more than relatives – unlike today, when one does not know who is staying in one’s neighbourhood.
 

One day, Raji Aunty was busy conversing with her neighbour. So immersed was she in the conversation that she forgot that she had kept oil in the gas stove for frying appalams (papads). Soon, the oil got over-heated and caught fire. Our building was located bang opposite an industrial colony. All of a sudden, the colony’s residents started shouting “Aag, Aag” (‘fire’ in Hindi). Raji Aunty and her neighbour were curious as to what the hubbub was all about, until it dawned on Raji Aunty that the fire had erupted in her own kitchen. That was Raji Aunty for you.
 
One particular incident deserves mention. In those days, women in the neighbourhood had the practice of going on shopping expeditions together – in particular grocery shopping. The Malad market was famous for pulses and edible oils that were available cheaper than at the neighbourhood kirana store. The housewives in our building decided to go to the Dadar market to shop for vegetables and fruits. It was an idea that caught the fancy of the womenfolk in the building.
 
They decided to travel by the Mumbai suburban rail network. Long distance bus journeys in Mumbai can be boring and tiresome. The group decided to catch a slow train to Dadar. Maybe they had not anticipated the peak hour traffic. So when the train arrived at the station there was a rush to board the train (as it always happens, even now). By the time the women had boarded the train, it began moving. Alas, Raji Aunty was the last to board the train. She firmly clutched my mother’s hands trying to hop onto the train.
 
My mother was standing on the footboard. One of the fisherwomen travelling in the compartment hit my mother’s hand. Raji aunty fell on the platform. Fortunately, she did not get hurt as the pace of the train was slow. As the train picked up speed, the fisherwoman explained to my mother that had she not intervened, my mother would have fallen from the moving train.
 
Now the housewives were in a dilemma. They did not know what to do. What was the fun in shopping if one of the group was not with them?  Anxious about Raji Aunty, the housewives decided to wait for her at Dadar station. They expected she would join them at Dadar by catching the next train. 
 
The wait proved to be interminable -- Raji Aunty was nowhere in sight. There were no cell phones in those days. So the group had no clue about the next course of action. After waiting for a good one hour, they decided to return home without shopping, as they were hardly in a mood to shop. They also worried about how they would face Ramachandran Uncle (Raji Aunty’s husband).
 
When they reached home, they went straight to Raji Aunty’s home. When they rang the bell, one of her children opened the door and what they saw shocked them. Raji Aunty was comfortably sitting on the floor and sorting out the vegetables. She saw us and exclaimed, “Oh, all of you have come back. How was the shopping?”  The group was left dumbstruck.
 
What had happened was that Raji Aunty had caught the next train to Dadar. This train happened to be a fast train that reached Dadar earlier than the train the group had travelled in. Not wanting to waste time, Raji Aunty had made enquiries about the location of the Dadar market and went about shopping as usual. She thought that the group had already left and so she caught the next train back home. 
 
There were similar such hilarious incidents regarding Raji Aunty. But, apart from anything, it was her innocence, kindness and charm that bowled everyone over. She had an inimitable style of speaking Tamil and was a mother figure to everyone in the building. This was what made her special. For a long time after Raji Aunty moved to another house, the residents felt a void that was hard to fill. 
 
(Venkatesh Ganapathy is presently pursuing his doctoral research in supply chain management from Alliance University, Bangalore. He is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. In this column, he shall be sharing the memories of his childhood in the 70's.

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COMMENTS

Najim Bagathariya

2 weeks ago

I accidentally fell upon this piece. Actually i was looking for current number of gujarati population. But i kept on reading and reading and reading on. Well done!

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