Friday, June 30, 2006

Vijayan's Rani

Rani, the stray featured in the photograph alongside was run over in the most terrible manner outside the VSNL building at Fountain by a taxi and then a BEST bus last Monday. Vijayan, her owner called us in a panic and our volunteer Prerna reached there in 10 minutes to take her to the WSD kennels. She had bled excessively and thus could not make it.

Rani was Vijayan's shadow and used to live with him outside the Standard Chartered bank at Fountain where he polishes shoes. On that fateful day, she had followed him when he was on his way to the toilet across the street.

The sweet and gentle Rani was just two and half years old. If you passed by the Standard Chartered bank at Fountain you would have seen her perched up on Vijayan's boot polish dabba. Vijayan loved her with all his heart and she had a 'chaap' of belonging to a boot-polishwala as instead of a belt, she has a shoe lace tied around her neck. Vijayan who was acknowledged as a 'Stray Dog Saviour' by
WSD on Stray Dog Day had proudly brought her along to the function and she had shared the limelight with him on stage.
Rani was also special to everyone at WSD. As WSD's Rani had become old (she passed away later), Vijayan's Rani took over the mantle of being the demo dog at WSD' s SOS workshops. This was already a second life for Vijayan's Rani who had been earlier cured by WSD of paralysis when she was a puppy. Sadly, she couldn't get a third life.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Gujarati Thali and Friend's Union Joshi Club

Good Gujarati Thali has come a long way since Purohits which was located at Churchgate shut down. Everybody remembers how Purohits used to dish out good quality Gujarati food in real silver thalis and katoris and probably not too many Thali places come close to match the original Purohit food. (It used to be better before it closed down and re-opened only to close down again)

In Bombay, you have many choices if you want to eat a Gujarati thali. The good old Thackers at Chowpatty (Birla Krida Kendra) serves a reasonably simple non-frill Thali for Rs 80. One advantage is that you will always get place here. Then there is Aram at Mahim (Opposite St Michael's Church), Thackers at Marine Lines, Rajdhani, opposite Mangaldas market, Samrat at Churchgate. Golden Star Thali near Charni Road station and Shri Thakkar Bhojanalaya at Dadysett Agiary lane at Kalbadevi. Panchavati Gaurav (near Bombay hospital) and Chetna (Kala Ghoda) serve a Rajasthani thali. The thali at all these places is priced between Rs 100 and 180 but I would recommend Shri Thakkar Bhojanalaya for its authentic taste and very good quality. Their thali is priced at Rs 130 on weekdays and Rs 150 on the weekends and the place is always crowded. Anil P informs me that Rasoi in Mulund(W) is also good and costs half.

Some days ago, my friend L had told me that Govinda, the restaurant run by ISKCON has opened a branch in South Bombay in the lane opposite the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at Chowpatty. I have heard a lot about their Thali (not Gujarati) and we decided to meet there for lunch only to beat a hasty exit after discovering that they served pizzas, Chinese food and cheesecakes but no Thali. Thus, when L suggested Shri Thakkar Bhojanalaya, I readily agreed but as she had not been to Friends Union Joshi Club, we decided to go there.

Friends Union Joshi Club is located at Kalbadevi. You need to take a left at the Round Building junction (the junction on Princess Street where you have to turn right to go to Metro) and walk on the main Kalbadevi Road for 5-10 minutes and it's located on the right hand side on the first floor in an old building in Narrotam Wadi.

It is a no frills place and the dining room is a big hall with rows of tables with cushioned seating a and each table accommodates two. The place accommodates 60 people at one time. Like all old buildings, it has a high ceiling and huge wooden windows. The absence of air-conditioning is not felt as the place is well ventilated. We seated ourselves on the corner table and from our window we could see the hustle and bustle of the very commercial Kalbadevi road below. Just opposite the hotel, I noticed shops with signboards "Omega Dresses" and "Platinum Men's Attire"

The Thali here is served in a huge stainless steel thali whose diameter must be at least 18 inches. They serve 4 vegetables, one farsan, phulkas or bhakri (small but crisp and is called biscuit bhakri), dal (sweet or regular), dahi or chaas, rice or khichadi, chopped salad, 2 chutneys (I loved the tikha garlic one), fried chopped chillies (tastes yummy) and pickle. You get all this, unlimited for Rs 70. The sweet has an extra charge according to the one you choose. We had Gulab Jamun and Aamras and both were very good.

Like many other 'khanavals' in Bombay, Friends Union Joshi Club was started more than 100 years ago to cater to men who left their villages in Gujarat to come and work in Mumbai and missed home-cooked food. It is now frequented by businessmen in the area and is more crowded during lunchtime and weekdays.

Mr. Purohit, the owner whose father has been running the place since 1955 played a good host going around urging his customers to eat more. He came to our table and was offering me a phulka or bhakri. When I told him I was full, he said that eating here is about 'trupti' and not about being full and put the phulka into my thali anyway.

I was surprised when he told me that he was a Rajasthani (I always thought it was run by a Gujarati) and his father had taken over the place from Joshi. He had taken care to retain not only the taste and quality of the Gujarati food served but also the name because of the goodwill the place had earned over the years.

On our way out he showed us a newspaper cutting, which mentioned that the late Dhirubhai Ambani frequented the place, when he first came to Bombay and his wife Kokilaben was not in the city.

So if you happen to go to Kalbadevi and you are not planning to do any active work after lunch, do go and try the Thali here and then have a good siesta on a very full stomach.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chikki at Lonavala

You have gone to Lonavala for the first time ever and someone has told you that it's famous for chikki. So you wander around the roads parallel to both sides of the railway station and see the following Chikki stores…National, Maganlal, Rupam, Navratna, another Maganlal, Mahavir, Raval, another Maganlal, Super, Vaishali, another Maganlal, another Maganlal, Mangal, Panchratna, Coopers, Friends, Purohit, Santosh, Golden and another Maganlal and then you are left confused as to which place you should buy it from. You then try and compare two shops and you are bound to be confused further as you will get the same 30 varieties of chikki for more of less the same price per kilo. So what is the Lonavala chikki all about? Here is everything you wanted to know about the Lonavala chikki and didn't know whom to ask.

Origin of chikki in Lonavala

Lonavala was so named because of the word 'lenya' which means caves in Marathi. There are many rock-cut caves, which surround Lonavala. It was Shri Maganlal Agarwal (the fourth generation of Maganlal Agarwal's family is now running the chikki business) who brought chikki to Lonavala more than 125 years ago. His great grandson, Ashutosh Agarwal told me that it all started when Shri Maganlal began selling 'gurdana', a mixture of jaggery and groundnuts in a huge sack to the laborers who were laying tracks on the Khandala–Pune railway line. (Opened to traffic in 1858) He used to stand with the big sack, next to the railway line, literally outside where the Maganlal's main shop stands now in the market street on the east side and sold the 'gurdana'. 'Gurdana' is rich in protein and iron and the laborers used to consume it for the instant energy. Later, the simple 'gurdana' graduated to the groundnut chikki and over the years other chikki varieties were introduced. Nevertheless, the whole and crushed groundnut chikki are still Maganlal's bread and butter product making up for 70% of the total chikki varieties sold.

Choosing the right Chikki
Chikki is made from four basic ingredients… jaggery, sugar, liquid glucose (it acts as a binding agent) and the basic material (groundnut, cashew, til etc). If crushed groundnut chikki has to be made then a measured portion of the groundnut is roasted and then crushed after its skin has been removed. In a kadhai, over a flame, syrup of jaggery and liquid glucose is prepared. The crushed groundnut is added to this mixture and some sugar powder is added. This prepared mixture is pressed and rolled out on wooden planks to make a uniform thick layer, which is then cut square pieces with a cutter. This becomes chikki, which is ready to be packed and sold.


Chikki are available in more than 30 varieties. So choose the one whose basic ingredient you like. They have cashew, groundnut (crushed and whole), chana, kesar pista, badam, coconut, rajgira, kurmura, til, dry fruits mixed and permutations and combination of all these.
  • Some chikki which I thought were unique (may not be tasty) were ginger, honey peanut and mint crush.
  • The price per kilo starts at Rs 80 for groundnut, til, chana chikki to Rs 520 for kesar pista.
  • Some chikki like strawberry, mango, chocolate would be made without jaggery and would have mava and fruit pulp in them.
  • The calorie conscious need not worry, there are "low calorie and sugar free" chikki like Groundnut (whole and crush) available.
  • Jaggery is not added to some chikki like cashew as it becomes very dark and does 'not look good' in Ashutosh Agarwal's words.


  • With so little differentiation between different brands, it is very difficult to make out what makes a good quality chikki.
  • A good and fresh chikki will be crisp and not soft. The chikki sold on the trains may generally not be fresh so do look up the manufacturing date.
  • The color of the chikki should medium brown (groundnut), i.e. not too dark or light. If it too light then the manufacturer has used less jaggery to save on costs and if it too dark then it has been in the kadhai for a longer time than required.
  • The manufacturer might try and save on the costs of expensive ingredients like cashews, badam, pista etc by putting less of it in the chikki. You can make it out by just looking at the chikki as the distance between two cashew pieces will be more and there will be more sugar/liquid glucose added.
  • Some manufacturers may use materials of low grade quality (cashews, groundnuts, almonds etc).


As I have mentioned before, there are around 30-40 brands of chikki sold in Lonavala. So which one is the best? I generally buy chikki from three stores. Maganlal, National and A-1. Why these three. Firstly because the quality of chikki sold is better than the others. Secondly, one of them is the inventor of the Lonavala chikki and so is bound to be good (Maganlal) and thirdly, because these three brands were the ones that my grandfather, uncle and father used to buy for many many years, so check on word of mouth for recommendations.

And how do I decide which of these three I would buy the chikki from. This would depend on the time I have to buy chikki. When there was no expressway and the Bombay-Pune Asiad buses used to halt for a break at Lonavala, I used to quickly run across to A-1, as it was the closest of the three to the Asiad bus stand and buy the chikki. If I was going to change a train at Lonavala, then I used to buy it from Maganlal/National, as they are closer than A-1 to the railway line. If I was staying in Lonavala and had lots of time, I would buy it from National, Maganlal or A-1 in that order.

Maganlal also has many franchises and that is why you will see lots of Maganlal shops all over Lonavala. Thus, if you want to buy it from the original Maganlal, it is located on the east side (the other side of the Mumbai- Pune highway) and is between the National Chikki Mart and Coopers fudge shop.

Not just chikki

For all those who don't like chikki, Lonavala has more to offer…you can buy other stuff like fudges (try the Coopers chocolate walnut fudge at a princely sum of 600 Rs a kilo and go there early as it gets over pretty quickly), farsans, chivdas (try the corn flake chivda at National Chikki Mart), barfis and other stuff like pickles, honey, wafers, syrups and squashes which you will anyway get in Bombay.

And by the way, I am writing this chomping on three kinds of chikki… whole groundnut, crushed groundnut and cashew, all bought from the original Maganlal.

Friday, June 16, 2006


An adorable 2 month old kitten called Ginger is looking for a loving home. If you know anyone who would want to adopt this lovely creature, call WSD on 23733433 or e-mail

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Heterochromia - What's that ?

No, I can't touch up photos in Photoshop and so haven't changed the color of one of the eyes of the cat in the photo above. I came across this cat at Matharpacady at Mazgaon in Bombay with each eye of a different color and took this photo with my friend Mark's digital SLR. Having seen many cats with differently colored eyes and wondering the scientific reason behind this, I looked it up and found the following...

This condition is called "Heterochromia" and is used to describe a multi-colored iris within the same eye, or two eyes with distinctly different colored irises. This is commonly seen in cats, horses and some breeds of dogs but is rare in humans. In this condition, the vision is completely normal and heterochromia is not considered a medical problem.

Heterochromia in humans can be hereditary, caused by a disease or syndrome, or due to an injury. According to Wikipedia, notable celebs having heterocromia are David Bowie, Christopher Walken, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Seymour, Mila Kunis, and Kate Bosworth. For more information on heterochromia look up Wikipedia here.

The first time I saw a dog with such eyes was 7 years ago when I came across a female stray dog at Kemps Corner and took it for sterilization. Her one eye was blue and the other one was brown. She was really very sweet and readily came with me wagging her fantail. After we left her back I used to see her all over, sometimes on Hughes Road or at Walkeshwar or on Peddar Road and at her original location. She was quite a wanderer and the only way I used to recognize her was because of her eyes. Unfortunately, she passed away last week.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bombay Rains

Yes, the first rains did arrive before time this year. Bombay’s pace slowed down and brought back, the not so pleasant memories of 26/7. The rainy season may not be a favorite with Mumbaikars who commute over a long distance from home to work as they have to travel with wet commuters, trudge through pools of water, struggle to open their umbrellas in the wind and reach their offices very wet. Nor for people who live on the streets, slums and low lying areas as they are fearful of water rising and entering their homes.

But on the flip side, Mumbai rains do have its own charm and romance. Here is a list of things to do in the rains but as a true-blue Mumbaikar don't miss work and indulge in these activities. May be, on that Saturday or Sunday when it pours cats and dogs…

Get Wet (For the adventurous, in pouring rain)

  • Take a walk on Marine Drive, Worli Sea Face, Carter Road, Bandstand or the Gateway of India, You will get doubly wet with the sea waves splashing and the rain. (Dont lean or walk on the parapet,you could fall in with the strong winds).
  • Sit on the front seat of a BEST double decker bus in pouring rain leaving the windows open. (Don’t do this if there are other passengers sitting behind you)
  • Walk around in the ‘chikhal’ in any of the Maidans (Azad, Oval, Cross, Shivaji Park)
  • Play cricket in any of the maidans or gymkhanas. Yes, go around on a Sunday to any of these places and you will see many die-hard cricket freaks playing in the rain. Football freaks can play football.
  • Stand by at the door of a local train. (Be careful and don’t lean out, the wind and speed of the train will make the rain get to you anyway)
  • Just walk around without an umbrella/raincoat in your neighborhood.

Get Eating Out (For the adventurous, in pouring rain else it wont have the same effect)

  • Have chai and bun maska at an Irani restaurant or just plain chai at a roadside chaiwala.
  • Have some piping hot Manchow or Hot and Sour soup at some Chinese joint.
  • Have a Cream of Mushroom with Celery Soup at Café Churchill or Mocambo.
  • Have a garam garam batata wada with chai at a roadside tapri or at a Kutumb Sakhi outlet. They make very good batata wadas.
  • Have kanda or batata bhaji (fritters not subzi) at a roadside tapri.
  • Have garma garam kande pohe at Vinay in Girgaum or at Aaswad/Prakash in Dadar.
  • Have bhutta with masala and lime at any of the Chowpattys – Juhu, Dadar or Girgaum
  • Have hot coffee at a place where the rain almost comes in and hits you. Try the Cafe Coffee Day's outlets at Chowpatty, Just Around The Corner, Bandstand, Carter Road or the Barista outlet opposite the New Empire theatre and at Bandstand or the Mocha at Bandra and Juhu.
  • Have a toasted cheese sandwich at the local sandwichwala
  • Dine at an ‘open’ restaurant like the Star Lit Café, Prithvi Café,Koyla,Sheesha and Salt Water Grill.
  • Have some steaming rasam at Café Mysore in King’s Circle or at any other South Indian restaurant you love.

Get Outdoors (For the adventurous, not necessarily in pouring rain)

  • Go for a trek. Lots of places to trek around Bombay where you will see lush green hills and waterfalls. Go to places like Tungareshwar, Chinchoti falls, Palasdhari, Bhimashankar, Matheran, Khandala, Lonavla, Karjat, Malshej Ghat and Kamshet.
  • Take a walk at the Borivali National Park, Mahalakshmi Race Course, Aarey Milk Colony, Vihar and Powai lakes.
  • Take a BEST bus ride on a picturesque route like 123,108( Marine Drive), 398( through Aarey milk colony),82,89 ( Worli sea face)
  • Go to Esselworld for some wet rides or to Water Kingdom
  • If all of the above is too far, then just go to the nearest garden in your area and soak in the greenery. Go to Navy Nagar area, Hanging Gardens, PDP, Colaba Woods, BPT Park, Horniman Circle Gardens, S.K.Patil Udyan (Charni Road), John Baptista gardens on Mazgaon hill, Joggers Park (Bandra/Andheri), Diamond Garden (Chembur), Kings Circle Garden, Sion Circle Garden, Yogi Hills Garden(Mulund) and so on.
  • Go to Manori, Aksa, Madh, Gorai or Marve beaches. Don’t go swimming, as the waters can get very choppy.
  • Take a train ride to Khandala/Lonavla or Igatpuri. Get a window seat and absorb the the greenery and watch the waterfalls while passing through rain soaked tunnels.

Get Indoors (For the non-adventurous, in pouring rain)

  • Just stare out of your door, window, verandah, balcony and watch the rain.
  • Listen to music and play rain themed songs like ‘Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain, ‘Ab Ke Sawaan’, ‘I wish it would rain down’, 'Rain drops keep falling on my head', Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si' and the likes or if you love classical music, listen to some 'Raag Malhar' compositions.
  • Make bhajiya’s and chai and eat them whilst watching the rains or television
  • Read a book and if you want to read something keeping in tune with the season, read ‘Chasing the Monsoon’ by Alexander Frater.
  • Just stay in bed and listen to the rain bang onto your ledge/roof.
  • Go and see a Museum. There are many in Mumbai. The Bhau Daji Lad Museum at Byculla, the BEST Museum at Wadala, The Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangharalaya at Kala Ghoda, The Monetary Museum at Fort, The Naval Museum at Ballard Estate, Mani Bhavan Museum at Gamdevi, (Though you will have to step out of your house for this, as you will still be indoors- this has been put in the indoor category)

Get Helping (For the adventurous and non-adventurous,in pouring rain or no rain)

  • Give plastic sheets/umbrellas/rain-coats to the needy. It would be most useful during the rains. Check if NGOs collect them for distribution.
  • Serve all your visitors hot chai with bhajiyas
  • Shelter a stray dog or a cat.
  • Plant a sapling and see it flourish in the rains.
  • Reach an injured bird to an animal NGO. In the rainy season, you might see many young ones falling out of their nests.

Feel free to add to the list

Monday, June 05, 2006

Sterling Raju

That’s what he was called at the WSD kennels as there was more than one Raju housed there. He lived outside the Sterling cinema and lived there for more than 13 years. If you were a regular moviegoer at Sterling, you would have seen him sprawled across its marble steps. He was looked after by some of the street dwellers living in the area.

Raju was one of my favorite strays. He was brown and white, big, stout and podgy but very smart and intelligent. He was sterilized years ago by WSD and I knew him for the past 10 years. He used to associate me only with treatment as for the numerous times we had treated him for wounds, maggot wounds, a haematoma, skin problems and the annual rabies vaccinations. So, as soon as he smelt my presence in the vicinity, he used to slink away and generally hide near the New Excelsior theatre or in the hut next to the Jai Jawan stall. But he still liked me and though he used to shiver on seeing me, he would continue to wag his tail.

I remember the Sunday morning when a volunteer and I went to treat him for a skin problem. He was fast asleep on the Sterling steps and we thought that we would get ready with the medication before approaching him so that he doesn’t smell us and run away. Suddenly from a distance we see Raju sniffling his nose in the air, turning around, seeing me and running away.

Raju died today. He would have lived for at least another 3-4 years if the people who looked after him had informed us in time of the terrible maggot wound that he had on his back. He had been cured many times before but this time it was too late as the infection had spread quite a bit.

Some months ago, I had made a list of all the geriatric strays that I wanted to photograph (for posterity) and Raju was one on that list. I never managed to take his photo nor will I see him again sprawled on the Sterling steps. Raju too will never get to see the new Sterling multiplex or sleep on its steps again.