The pavement outside the pandal has been taken over by shops selling bead jewellery, satin stoles with golden gota borders and other paraphernalia for Ganesh. We turned into one of the by-lanes and the religious shops gave way to spice shops with sacks of whole red chilies, haldi (turmeric) and dried copra (coconut) on display. The air is filled with the pungent aromas of different varieties of red chilies, jaipal (nutmeg), kalimirich (black pepper) and jeera (cumin).
Next to the Masala Galli is Chivda Galli, which has been around since the ’60s. In Marathi, chivda is a typical snack mixture that includes deep fried bits and bobs, puffed or beaten rice and dry fruits. Chivda Galli houses about 10 shops that sell snack and traditional sweets like boondi laddos, modaks and pedas.
Before we could sample the snacks, we took a quick detour into Hanuman Theatre, an erstwhile tamasha theatre. Hanuman Theatre and Bharat Mata Cinema a little distance away once used to be the hub of Marathi entertainment and cinema. Today, the theatre is a community function hall, which during this season turns into one of the many Ganpati decoration shops selling elaborate thermocol thrones for the idols. The only trace of its history is a small shrine dedicated to Mari aai, a tamasha artist. “Tamasha was the only source of entertainment for the mill workers who worked and lived in this area. Mari aai was the only woman tamasha artist,” Vaydehi told the group.
Opposite the shrine is the centuries old dargah of Chand Shah, the younger brother of Lal Shah (who Lalbaug is named after). “This dargah was rebuilt after the ‘92 riots and is taken care of by a Hindu family,” added Vaydehi. The dargah is a quiet testimony to the layers of Lalbaug society.
This is around the time when the heat started getting to me. And, I think all that humidity-induced sweat drowned out whatever little sense I had. At some point, I found myself stalking a cat prowling on the bamboo rafters outside Chand Shah’s Dargah. It is entirely possible that I got a li’l too obsessed with shooting pictures of the cat . If you will, imagine a middle-aged woman loudly meowing to a cat in the middle of a busy market. At some point, even the cat looked at me with a ‘dude, seriously’ expression.
I wasn’t ready to give up as yet, though. Back in the Chivda Galli, Vaydehi took us to one of her favourite shops. Most shops in the street are a little more than holes-in-the-wall; the only exception is the long and narrow Food Center at the beginning of the lane. I bought lasun (garlic) chivda, navratan chivda and bhakarvadis for V. Someone hand me that ‘Best-Wife-In-The-World sash already!
Thankfully, the tour was almost done. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I didn’t love every second of this walk but by this point, I had sweat pouring out of every possible pore. Between no pavements, insane crowds and humidity, Mumbai is not the most comfortable city to do a walk in. But, don’t let that stop you because there is so much to see in this city. Like our last stop of the day – the dargah of sufi saint Sayyed Hazrat Lal Shah Baj Kalundar in Tavaripada.
A five-minute walk from Chivda galli, we walked past Nowroz Baug, a Parsi colony, complete with the distinctive winged, human-headed bulls that are called Lamassu or Sedu on the gates and walked into a construction site. Walking through a ghost building in various stages of completion got me thinking about the dichotomy of Lalbaug.
Once the heartland of Mumbai’s textile mills and worker’s home, Lalbaug is following it’s neighbour Parel towards a construction boom. Islands of modernity are springing up in the middle lower-middle class localities. And, in the middle of this is the Lal Shah Dargah, a piece of history that’s long forgotten.
The caretaker’s family was going about their Sunday business as we walked around the pink and green dargah. The very friendly caretaker not only opened the dargah for the group but also offered all of us a history lesson and cutting chai.
This is round about where my girlfriend and I completely gave up on the walk. After the dargah, Vaydehi had promised to take us to her favourite vada pau vendor for a quick bite but we were hallucinating about being in an air-conditioned room and drinking chilled sugarcane juice (don’t ask!). So, we ran away to Swati Snacks, one of our favourite restaurants.
That said, I can’t recommend this walk enough. It was a great way to get to know an area of the city I love so much.
Until next time, Ganpati Bappa Morya!
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