In search of Jalebis and Gathias…

I had just arrived the previous night and had stayed up till wee hours catching up with family. But as was expected, I was up bright and early due to jet-lag while everyone else was deep in slumber. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and I didn’t expect anyone to be up anytime soon. So, at about six a.m., I took off with my Ipod for a morning walk at the Bandstand Promenade. It’s a beautifully landscaped cobble-stoned walkway along the sea, near where my parents live. This has become my ‘first morning’ routine almost every time I visit India, so much so that there is even a pair of my old sneakers in their shoe cabinet, just for this very purpose.

Oh, how I enjoy the morning ocean breeze, the scent of the earth, the sight of palm trees, the backdrop of beautiful high rises and the sounds of birds mixed with the honks of auto-rickshaws. There are a few old people, regulars from what I can tell, walking in pairs or groups. A few youngsters here and there with their MP3s jogging along the track. I see an old couple sitting on the parapet at the edge of the ocean in a yoga asana and find myself envying their life. After walking and taking in the sights for about forty minutes, I exit the promenade from the center exit where a few joggers are gathered around what seems to be a street vendor. And I’m thinking to myself, what could they possibly be selling that is so popular this early in the morning? And as I inch a little closer to take a peek, I find, to my amazement, the vendor squeezing fresh wheat grass juice and selling it in disposable cups for Rs.3 per shot which is about 6 cents per shot. This tiny antioxidant-rich concoction goes for about a $1-$1.50 a shot, that is, if you are lucky enough to find it in suburban America. I curse myself for leaving the house empty handed. I think the vendor sensed my plight, cause he started talking to me and telling me that for Rs.1 extra he can home deliver the shots too. So I made a deal with him to home deliver 3 shots of wheat grass everyday for the next 3 weeks that I was going to be there, one for me and two extras if anyone else at home cared for it. He seemed pleased with that and even gave me a free shot while he took down my address.

It’s almost 7:00 a.m. when I get back home and everyone is still in bed. I apologize to my mom for waking her up, cause in my haste I had forgotten to take the house keys with me. And since she’s already up, I ask my mom what’s for breakfast. I could tell from her sleepy tired eyes that she was not up for fixing anything just yet. She suggested that since everyone is still sleeping, I should go and get some jalebis and gathias for breakfast from the local halwaai (sweet-mart) and surprise everyone with a feast. I started to whine, I felt I should be the one getting surprised with feasts and royal treatment, having come all the way from USA to visit them. But then I realized, I was the one who was famished, no one else was even up yet, and according to mom, fresh jalebis and gathias sold like hot cakes on Sunday mornings, so I’d better hurry.

I borrow some local currency from mom, and she gives me some odd ball directions which I was only half listening to; after all I did grow up there. And, how hard could it be to find a jalebi and gathia place in Mumbai; it should be as easy as finding a bagel place in New York City.

So I get out of our building and haul a rickshaw, trying really hard to pretend like a local, complete with Mumbai jargon and all. Now, only those of you who are from Mumbai know what I’m talking about, we have our own version of Hindi language completely different from the rest of India. I tell him to take me to Hill Road but when we get there I realize I don’t recognize the place anymore, a lot had changed in the last couple years in this bustling part of town. I ask the rickshaw-wallah to stop at a convenience store and keep the meter running. I go in there and ask the shopkeeper if he knew of any jalebi and gathia shop around. He nodded eagerly with a broad smile and started giving me turn by turn directions. But in Mumbai, we do not use street names, you see, we just use landmarks. So it’s kinda like, take a right at the ABC hotel, then bear left at the XYZ school, and when you reach the B&B restaurant make a U-turn and look for the So&So shopping center, ask anyone there and they will point you to the Jalebi shop. All pretenses were useless now; just from the expression on my face they could tell I was not from there. Even the rickshaw-wallah had figured it out by now, for when I got out of the convenience store with half a mind of heading back home, he said “madam, tell me what you are looking for and I’ll get you there.” With renewed hope, I told him what I wanted and he matter-of-factly said we’d need to go to Pali market. Apparently, you get everything under the sun at Pali market. So off we go.

In the meantime, Mom had begun to worry about her foreign-returned daughter gone missing. She blamed herself for not suggesting that I take her cell-phone with me. But, her brave and determined daughter was not going to come home without jalebis and gathias this morning, that was for sure.

After, getting to Pali market, it only took inquiring with three shopkeepers, asking a couple paan-wallahs and stopping a few pedestrians to figure out where Jalebis and gathias were sold. And, according to the pedestrian who finally led us to it, not only did the store Annapurna sell Jalebis and Gathias, but it sold the city’s best Jalebis and Gathias. I, for one, certainly believed him.

I, Neelam Bhamani, was gloating with pride on my achievement and after handsomely tipping my helpful rickshaw-wallah, rushed upstairs to our apartment to anxious but eager family members. Over breakfast, I gave them an exaggerated account of my adventures from that morning. My brother, sister-in-law and niece were just happy that I managed to bring back jalebis and gathias; they seemed more deprived than I was. My boys looked relieved that I was back home. My mom expressed her worry and appreciation at first but when she heard the wheat-grass deal I had made started shaking her head and said she could have got it for half the price. My dad was all smiles and impressed that his darling daughter had not only gone for an early morning walk after an arduous journey but had also arranged for wheat-grass shots for the rest of her trip and gone all around town looking for Jalebis and gathias while they were all sleeping. Don’t you just love daddys!

Well, that sums up the most exciting morning of my vacation in India cause the rest of them were spent sleeping-in.

Last 5 posts by Neelam Kamdar Bhamani



9 Comments

  1. Khushi

    Homesick. Thats what I feel. Beautiful writing Nikki. I could feel myself in Mumbai. I just stayed there a year but soaked in the city quite a bit.

  2. Tana

    Lovely, Nikki! I’m sure the jalebis and gathias tasted a lot more delicious after the adventure!

  3. Anonymous

    What is a gathia? very involving writing. Makes me want to eat them.

  4. nikki

    Gathia is a deep-fried savory snack made with besan and a perfect accompaniment to jalebis or boondi laddoos or churma laddoos. Or a perfect snack with garam chai…especially when you pour some in your chai and sip up a mouthful..yummm…man I’m hungry!!!
    Thanks for your comments, all:)

  5. Indrani

    Lovely piece. I loved your descriptions. Sure you enjoyed the jalebis. What’s gathias?

  6. sarmila

    I loved reading your story..

  7. mahi

    Nikki – You just made me miss my home so much. It was a ritual in our house – every Sunday morning, we had a Jalebi Gathiya brunch. Miss those days. Really good post. Keep on writing.

  8. Anonymous

    Makes good reading Nikki! Funny too….

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