A Meen curried respite from matlabi Mumbai
This morning I wake up to crumbly tufts of peeling pink paint tumbling from the walls of my flat , falling like frosting on a quiche on my nose and eyelashes. For some reason I get out of the wrong side of bed, particularly grouchy for a fiercely summery Sunday Matlabi Mumbai had to dole out..
Flaky walls cannot be blamed for being crumbly, for they mirror an equally flaky city , a booth opening to a swirl of grey, chrome, dust, mobs and the grunts of the woolly chumps who justly share my pigeon hole, today called for respite , a quick bee line away from this mean city.
An uncouth phone call from a sadistic colleague who rightfully felt barking down the phone on a sunday morning was the way to begin a day on a ‘bright’ note is the nail on the coffin . I impulsively grab my keys , tie my hair back from my face , scurry down the alley in my jammies and hail a rickshaw to the New Malabar eatery down the road .
Despite not having set foot there for over an year , the owner , a beefy man with a missing canine we call ‘Chettan’ (brother in Malayalam ) ambled over and greeted me with a familiarity that bordered on homely. He called me ‘Mole’(daughter), and enquired about my glastly sleep deprived state as subtly as he could. He quickly asked his cook to whip up some tea and sat me down on the wooden rickety bench. Despite the fact that the shop was freckled with only men, and I was sitting in my PJs in a seedy Malabar eatery , with glasses balancing precariously on my nose and a bird’s nest for hair, I’ve never felt more at home anywhere else
Chettan set a glass of steaming tea , strong and sweet , with a hint of lemon grass and steam rising flippantly from it - a proper glass of home-made brew that reminds me of Amma , unlike the bizarre cardamom blends Mumbai markets as a muse .
I sit on the bench reading the Malayalam paper, soaking in the tea and the steaming bowl of tamarind flavored meen(fish) curry chettan bossily insists I should savor , letting the idle banter of chettan and his friends wash over me as they hopped blithely from politics to film stars and the ghastly ban of beefs affecting a malayali’s belly that seems to make Mumbai all the more foreboding.
Chettan inquires about my well being, and sits with me as I sip tea and rummage In his glass tin for coconut cookies to dip into them .I keep up a constant banter from films, His Kappa Biriyani , the summers to my wish to publish my book and he eggs me on with a toothless smile and more biscuits. .He makes me feel at home and waves away my offer to pay for the cups of chai and freebie cookies that went with them. He pats me on the back n whispers to have ‘imported’ Kannur Beef ready for me if I’d come back next weekend
Waving goodbye , I look back at the seedy eatery tucked away near the main road, and Chettan who is picking at his missing canine and is now tearing up the Manorama to use for his parcels..
Nowhere in this city , have I felt more at home and a feeling of being myself than at this seedy little shop and the belonging it has shown me .
An hour of meen curried lull and I feel almost ready to face the malice of Matlabi Mumbai, as Monday rolls around..