Some of my favorite places in Mumbai
Ranade Road vegetable market
If you are flying in from New York, chances are you will land in Mumbai late in the night. You can try to catch a few hours of sleep - but don't count on it. What do I do on my first morning in the city - when I am jet- lagged and a bit groggy from lack of sleep? I go to the Ranade road bhaji market in Dadar ( west - central Mumbai ). It is my favorite place to get fresh vegetables and groceries. I used go there with my mother. Now I take my son with me. Surprisingly some of the same shops and bhaji-wallas are still there.
What does my son do when I am grocery shopping? He sits in the car with the driver
watching boxing videos on TV, amidst the chaos of shops, street vendors, pushcarts, cars,
scooters and thousands of people ( maybe I am exaggerating, not thousands, hundreds of people but definitely thousands in the evening) that Ranade Road is and he doesn't seem to mind it.
When I used to go to that market with my mom, an old woman used to be there sitting under a tree with a couple of wicker baskets selling the leafy greens - spinach, radish, dill and other local varieties. To my young eyes she looked ancient - dark brown skin wrinkled all over, wearing a faded traditional 9 yard saree, blouse made of similar cloth, small tattoos on her forehead and wrist as per the old custom.
When I went there after a gap of 15 years, I was surprised to see many of the vegetable -
sellers in the same spots as before including the guy selling sprouted beans. The old woman had more wrinkles and missing teeth.
Some of the same bhaji sellers are still there; there are a few new ones now but I don’t see the old woman anymore.
After buying the groceries, newspapers and magazines, it is time for lunch. Ideally, we
should eat something light and simple, not something heavy and full of coconutty gravies
which will cause us to take a nap - because at this point my topmost concern is how to
help my son get over his jet - lag as quickly as possible and a nap is not a good idea.
However, on the first day in the city it is difficult to stay away from our favorite malvani
restaurants. I need my Mumbai fish and my son wants his malvani chicken curry with
konkani wadey. So we head either to Sindhurdurga in Dadar, very close to the market or
to Highway Gomantak in Bandra (15 - 20 minutes drive north from Dadar depending on
After a full-filling lunch of fish and chicken curry, we try not to go home. If you succumb
to sleep at this point, your jet-lag will linger. So we drive around the city in the rented car
listening to Bollywood music on the radio. My favorite station is Radio Mirchi which plays a good mix of old and new songs. We stop for tea and cold -coffee in the late afternoon and try to return to Dadar as the sun begins to set
Shivaji Park is bustling at this time of the day. It is a place for people of all ages to gather in the evening. If you decide to sit on the low wall that surrounds the park, you might end up next to a group of retired men discussing state politics. A few feet away will be a group of older women. I have never listened in on their conversation but from the bits and pieces that fall on my ear while walking around the park, I imagine they are talking about their kids, grandkids and the dinner menu. Next to them - groups of college kids - they prefer to hang around the food and beverage kiosks. If you wish you can go into the small temple that sits on the western edge of the park and pay your respects to Lord Ganesh or you can walk, run or jog around the park.
If every neighborhood in the US has its own park -big or small, every neighborhood in India has its own temple- sometimes more than one. Shivaji park has two - one dedicated to lord Ganesh and next to that, another one in honor of the goddess Kali - Kali Mata or Mother Kali as she is called. At 7:30 pm the aarti -evening prayers start. Our first evening in the city, we might not be ready to take the noise level and crowds of prayer time so we leave to have dinner.
If I can keep my son up until 8 o clock on the first day, I feel I have half-won his battle with jet-lag. So we have an early dinner at Gypsy (a small cafe near the park) of bhaji -bhakari for me and their famous pav- bhaji (a spicy dish of mashed mixed vegetables) for my son and head home.
During school holidays, Prithvi theatre in North Mumbai has plays for children. Most of them are in hinglish - hindi -english mix with a smattering of marathi lines thrown in. It's easy to book their tickets online. This time I had booked tickets for all the shows that we wanted to see, before leaving New York. Plus they have a good outdoor cafeteria. Also, Mahesh Lunch Home- famous for its sea food- is nearby.
There are a few Barnes and Noble type book stores in Mumbai. Good thing about them is that they have a wide selection of books by Indian authors in english for children as well as adults. You can easily spend some quality time there, going through the books. Our favorite is the one in South Mumbai at Kemps Corner.
Our day 2 in Mumbai ends with a visit to the sea-face either in Worli or Marine Drive. Mostly Worli because it is closer to home and you get a good view of the Bandra -Worli Sea Link from there.
Our 3rd morning in Mumbai and it is time to get into a routine which involves playing tennis - for my son. Our favorite courts are at MSLTA, gem of a place in Cooperage, South Mumbai. You can easily book a pro there by calling in advance. They have a quaint canteen overlooking the courts where I can sit and read and watch my son play. I only hope he enjoys playing there as much as I enjoy watching him. So far he hasn't complained.
Even if you are not interested in shopping, Kala Ghoda near Cooperage is a great place to walk around. (If only the streets in Mumbai were a little more pedestrian -friendly!) There is a Fab India which specializes in clothes made from handwoven fabrics and a Westside Departmental store and several famous Indian designer boutiques in the area and a Zara now. Also Jehangir art gallery and the Chatrapati Shivaji Museum nearby are worth a quick visit. I never knew there is a synagogue in Mumbai, until I came upon the beautiful blue building of Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in one of the nearby by- lanes. After tennis, we have lunch at the Leopold Cafe near Regal Cinemas.
Once we get into a routine, two weeks go by fast and soon it's time to return. It is hard to say good bye to Mumbai in December as the weather is quite pleasant - less hot, less humid and you we wish you had at least a week more to spend there. But NewYork beckons.