Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mumbai - City of spices, washer men, oh, and the circle of death

Mumbai, you mysterious city you, because of you I will never look at spices the same way again! 

We got to go to a market and watch how spices are made.  I mean- really MADE.  It was incredible!!!  The local women all have their own "secret spice recipes" handed down from their mothers.  They collect all of ingredients they need - some sort of red pepper (there are many different varities), which kind of garlic, pepper, onion, tumeric, ginger, and on and on...  They bring it all to a shop like the one we went to, where men ROAST IT all (with a bit of oil) in a big open metal pot over a fire.  Then they lay out the roasted spices on a burlap bag and put them in a long queue for GRINDING.  Only, it is not grinding really, I guess it is mashing, or masticating.  Young men take the huge amounts of roasted ingredients, dump them in a hopper, and they fall into very old machines that have large, heavy pieces that pound down over and over and over to break it all into a fine powder (like we see when we buy jars of spices in the grocery store).  It is SO LOUD and so amazing to watch!!!  The men who do the mashing work are seated in a small very hot area on short stools (all stools are short here in comparision to American stools - the Indians squat muuuuch closer to the ground than we are used to).  The men working wear no shoes and their bare feet are covered in thick layers of spices, as are their hands.  There are no hair nets to be found, nor are there EAR PLUGS, and I expect that after a month on the job all of them have permanent hearing loss.  Let's just say, by Western standards, OSHA would have a field day with operations at little places like this...

Aren't the colors AMAZING???  It was so vibrant!  And the smell was just as fabulous!

Some mixtures in tubs ready for roasting

Several orders, roasted and lying on burlap, ready for the GRINDING process

The amazing part is - they let us go RIGHT INTO THE GRINDING AREA and watch.  We had to step around and over bits and pieces, and then we stood in awe and watched the beauty.  I think my jaw was probably hanging open - it is quite unbelieveable.  Each woman buying spices has written their name (I assume that is what the papers said in Hindi) and that paper travels with their order during the spice making process.  As bits get ground into powder, the worker sifts through it all and any pieces that are not small enough yet go back into the hopper.  They use little whisk brooms to push the spice dust around. 

Here is the handwritten note that goes along with someone's order from start to finish

I wish I could insert the SMELLS and SOUNDS
here for you to experience

See the big heavy pistons that crush the spices??  So cool.

I can't imagine how many pounds of spices they do in a single day.

IT IS ALL DONE RIGHT THERE - in front of your eyes.  And the women, many in beautiful saris, sit across the way and wait for their orders.  I think it probably takes an hour or two for the whole process.  The workers even let David help a bit with roasting onions!!  We were the only non-locals there, so quite a sight for the people at the market.  Oh, and it is funny, the Indian gesture for "Sure, come over here" appears to be what we in America would interpret as the gesture to mean, "No, you
can't come in here...".  This caused a bit of hesitancy on our part to actually walk back into the grinding area (the other hesitancy coming from our, "ARE YOU SERIOUS?  You are going to let me BACK THERE in that tiny space and I can watch you MAKE SPICES??  This can't be true..." thoughts.)  I loved this!!  And it was not originally on our agenda in Mumbai - we were scheduled to go to a different market but since we ended up here on a Sunday, the guide said that market would not be very busy so would we "mind" going to the spice market instead.  Ummm, MIND????  No sir!  We were thrilled.

Sifting the powdered spices to find any that need to be mashed again

The big roasting pan

A professional in action

David gives it a go! 
(See the huge bags of all different types of PEPPERS behind him??
We also got to go see the main train terminal, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus  (which our guide said is the 2nd most photographed site in India, behind only the Taj).  Millions of people take he trains here in Mumbai.  So many, in fact, that the doors do not close as the train rushes along so that more people can squeeze in.  Our guide told us stories of how it feels to be smashed into a train, and how you need to make your way closer to the train exit about two stops before you plan to get get off if you plan on actually getting OFF and not missing your stop.  He also said that people FALL OUT of the moving train to their deaths because it is so unsafe, and the conductors do not even stop the trains (not wanting to tie up the system for the millions of others riding...).  They also do not stop the trains if someone jumps onto the tracks and commits suicide.  This is in complete opposition to the Washington DC metro system, where anytime there is a disturbance in a station, all traffic is halted through there and you hear the inevitable announcement, "Attention riders:  we are sorry for the delay.  All red line trains are single tracking... Etc.".  The station was not all that crowded when we visited since it was not a work day, but the description of the massive squishing onto the train reminded me of when we rode the DC metro into the inauguration events for Barack Obama.  That was the most crowded train ride I have ever experienced, and I bet commuters in Mumbai know that feeling frequently.

Spooky station art
Seriously cool gargoyles
The e part I really liked about the Indan train system is that there is a WOMEN'S CAR.  There have been many internationally published cases of abuse (rape, beatings, etc) of women on the Indian buses and trains.  So I was thankful to see that they have a car of their own to ride in, and hope that brings them safety.  (Note: there are a lot of "women only" things in India, things are much more segregated than I am used to.  There are many jobs that are "women only" (though that may be an
unwritten rule).  The strange part for me (coming from the US) is the "women's only" line for SECURITY. There is security for everything in India, which is understandable given that there have been terrorist attacks here.  The malls, big sight seeing things, hotels, and of course the airport.  At each security area, the men go in one line and the women in another.  You pass through a metal detector  (many of which beep but no one is watching them), place your bags on a belt, then often you get wanded and felt a bit by hand.  Men get wanted by male guards, standing out in the open.  But women go into a little enclosed area to get wanded by a female guard.  This is because the vast majority of Indians are religious, and this set up respects their beliefs.  It is strange because David and I are going to these things together, but then we pop into separate security lines and meet on the other side :).

Ladies Only (and small children with them)

A safer journey
Another thing we were so happy to see in Mumbai was Crawford Market.  It is mostly a fruit and vegetable market, though there was also a "pet" area where you can buy birds of any sort, rabbits, chickens, fish, cats, turtles (though it is illegal to be selling them...), a baby SQUIRREL, and dogs. (Let's just say, PETA would be mortified at the conditions these animals are in...  I wanted to grab one or two little kitties, put them in our backpack and resue them...)  Earlier in the day, I had pulled the tour guide over at a cricket field and asked for a cricket explanation.  I still don't quite understand the ins and outs of it, but I was PLEASED AS PUNCH with some boys that were playing cricket inside Crawford Market (I am guessing business was slow so they started up a match) let DAVID BAT!!  It was so fun!  He missed the ball a couple of times (he was holding his bat more like a BASEBALL bat...) but once he changed how he was holding it he basically hit the ball out of the park - which, since we were INSIDE a market, means he hit it way up high and it went on a roof...  Hahahaha!  But not to worry, the boys had obivously had that problem before and one of them climbed up and retrieved it.  It is so amazing when these people invite us to participate in little slices of their culture.  It warms my heart.

Indian kid playing cricket outdoors....

American kid giving it a go in the market1
The FRUIT AND VEG part of Crawford Market was glorious!  And this was on a SUNDAY when many of the stalls were not even open!  It is mango season and there are over 150 varities of mangoes.  All of that beautiful orange/yellow mango skin, hiding that sweet, delicious fruit - heaven!!!  We also got CASHEWS!  And there was a stall that sold everything people might need for a religious offering - insense (got some!), flowers, paper doodads (I am sure that is not the correct name... :) ), little statues to pray to or stick on your dashboard, and these AMAZINGLY VIBRANT colors!!  They are used to make intricate decorations outside your door to keep bad things away (I think).  They might also be the same colors used during the Diwali holiday.  I loved them!!

Some of the prettiest colors I have ever seen in my life

MANGO season!
We also visited a home where Ghandi stayed each time he was in Mumbai. Ghandi was one smart man.  Such a voice for equality and peace.  His image and name are on many things in Indid (including the paper money) and his glasses are being used as the "logo" for a national campaign to try and clean the country up.  It was enlightening to read some of his inspirational quotes.

Qhandi quote

The food - oh man the food!!!  Each morning we have a buffet breakfast at whatever hotel we are staying at.  Some hotels have better food than others but they all lay out a big breakfast spread.  It is hilarious, because even though there are little signs with the NAMES of what is being served, it doesn't help!  I mean, you see an item you do not recognize, you see a name you do not recognize, and you are still left standing holding your plate thinking, "Hmmm, wonder what that is and HOW do I eat it???".  Think about it - if the food item is totally foreign - you have never seen anything like it - how do you eat it??  With a fork?  With that naan?  Do you pour a nearby sauce-y looking thing over it??  Eat it dry????  Is it SWEET?  Is it savory???  All of those things are considered before we finally drop each and every single Indian looking item on our plates to try!  Yup, we try it ALL, I mean, when in India do as the Indians, right??  :)  The hotel food is often not as spicy as what you would get in someone's home or restaurant though.  We have had some amazing tastes!!!  There is a fresh lime soda (sweet) that we really enjoy.  Yesterday we tried Pani Puri for the fist time - DEEEEELICIOUS!  It is typically an Indian "street food" purchased from vendor carts you see all around, but because we are not locals we cannot eat street food for fear of getting sick.  Luckily we found a very local feeling restaurant that was nice and clean and we got to eat some!!  We also had  this amazing chickpea dish with a puffy fried bread (whose name we cannot remember).  We have eaten a lot of choli for breakfasts and liked it, but this was a different version of it that comes with big puffy naan/bread.  So yummy!!!  There are sugar cane juice carts all around, but again, that is something that tourists avoid for fear of getting sick.  We asked our guide if there was a place we could safely try it and she pointed us to one where the people wash the canes, only run the canes through one time (other stalls run them through several times), and will serve you with a plastic cup if you ask (so you are not risking drinking from a glass cup washed in water you should not be drinking).  We got one sugar juice and shared it.  Let's just say, one was enough :).  Glad we tasted it, but do not need to be slamming those juices back. 

Pani puri ROCKS

Umm, do I use a FORK?  Do I dip this bread in??

Ok, ok, we drank one.  That'll do. 

A street side stand making sugar cane juice.  See all of the long sugar canes?
Ahhh another thing - the DHOBI GHATS!!!  This is one thing in Mumbai that I was reallllly looking forward to seeing!  They are the men who WASH THE CLOTHES.  In other Indian cities, they do it by the sea/river and dry them on the beach, but in Mumbai they have a special huge dhobi ghat area where they work.  They rent little stalls and DO TONS and TONS of LAUNDRY.  But not like I love to do laundry - in the big machine, lots of soapy suds, then over to the dryer with a lovely little dryer sheet..  No, these men wash clothes BY HAND - whipping and flogging them against the stone!!!  It was so amazing to watch.  Maybe it is because I myself adore doing laundry (it's my favorite chore!), but I felt like I was watching something so sacred!  The men are SO GOOD at washing the clothes.  To dry them, they hang them on long laundry lines, but they do not use CLOTHES PINS.  Instead, two laundry lines are wrapped tightly around each other so that the wet clothes can be sandwiched quickly in between and held securely. 

The amazing Mumbai Dhobi Ghats - so much to take in!!!  Their stalls are the concrete rectangles. 

A dohbi ghat hanging an item on the twisted line

Not everyone uses dhobi ghats, some houses do their own laundry.  But many people DO use the services of the dhobi ghats, including hotels, gyms, nursing homes, restaurants, etc.  You can't send your "fine fabrics" to the dobi gat, so we didn't see any saris flapping in the breeze.  But I think we saw everything else imaginable - towels, sheets, shirts, a big RUG, and one guy specializes in JEANS.  Man, he would have a hard job, those are heavy when they get wet!!  Imagine washing them all day BY HAND.  We sent a few items out to be washed from our Mumbai hotel to get us through the rest of the trip - not sure if they went to the dohbi ghat or not (we rather doubt it).

Isn't it a captivating sight???

First items are spun in a big drum to get out excess water, then hung

Working as a team to get the job done

Jean Man's section :)

I loved the dohbi ghats (even though a little beggar girl stood by my side the WHOLE time
we were watching them and said, "Maam, maam, you want purse??  Good price!  Good price!!"

We had seen India Gate with our guide and then walked back in the evening to have another visit.  It was so funny - we ended up posing with loads of Indians who wanted their photos with us!  We had heard before that happens to Westerners, but had only been asked once or twice up to now.  But at India Gate everyone and their brother (literally) wanted a photo with us.  One little boy kept calling me "Auntie" :) .  David later told me that we were like Brad and Angelina and everyone wanted a photo with us!  Actually, I am sure it was more like, "Who are those people with the weird clothes and light colored eyes???  Let's take a photo with them!".  Hahaha.

Me posing for a photo with some of my many new "friends"
(I didn't really even talk to them - they just want a photo with you!  :) )
We walked through many market stalls going from our hotel to India Gate, and there were lots of street kids and mothers begging.  They are quite persistent, but not mean or anything.  They will just sort of follow you along, even after you have said no, in the hopes that you will change your mind I guess.  I had packed a couple lollipops and some felted heart stickers in the bag before we went for the walk, so I asked David if he thought it was safe for me to give ONE LITTLE GIRL who came up
to me a lollipop. David thought it would be ok, so I gave her the candy (which she put in her mouth with the paper still on...  Note to self:  Tootsie Roll Pops are to Indian kids as Sprouted Iddly is to me in the breakfast buffet line - totally foreign...).  I also gave her a heart sticker.  BUT she saw the bag I got the heart sticker out of, which contained many MORE heart stickers.  This led to her speaking a local language that, even though I didn't understand the words, the message was clear:  "Lady!  Lady!  I see you have a whole bag full of these magical things I have never seen before!  How's about giving me another!!!  No, why not give me 5 more!!!  Wait, what the heck lady, you don't need 'em, why not just gimme the whole bag of them!!!!!!!".  Annnnnnd just like the guide books tell you, as soon as the first little girl got her "treats", other little waifs started coming out of the woodwork!!!!  They seemed to be coming at me from all directions - girls, boys, young mothers holding babies with just shirts and naked bums....  I was being surrounded!!!  We were in the middle of a huge market crowd, so I didn't feel unsafe or anything, but it was FUNNY!!  What are you to do when people encircle you, hoping for rupees, but you are handing out stupid HEART STICKERS????!!!!  I just kept giving each person one sticker and explaining (mostly in gestures) that stickers was where it stopped, ain't no rupees here.  I took the backing paper off one sticker and put it on a kid, so they would see what the heck they were.  As we finally broke loose of the begging circle, the original little girl's advocate (a mother maybe??) was pointing to her, as if to say, "Hey!  She didn't get one of your bizarre white woman things, give HER one!!".  I tried to explain, "NO, actualllllly, she is the little
waif who started this whole fiasco and must've whistled for the rest of you to come mob me!  She HAS a heart sticker, thank you very much!".  But the mom kept pointing to the girl, who smiled her adorable smile, and the little stinker got a second sticker out of me :).  She also followed us a bit more and realllllly wanted to know what I had in my hand (the paper backing off a sticker, which the tree hugger in me just couldn't throw on the sidewalk even though it is covered in litter already...).  That little waif finally pried my fingers open to find out what was in there, took the paper, and I am sure threw it onto the street.  :)  Later, as we sat in the Taj Mahal Hotel bar drinking happy hour half price wine, we were talking about the whole experience.  I asked David where the HECK he was when I was getting rushed by so many beggers, and he told me he was watching from outside "the circle of death".  That made me laugh so hard I CRIED - I could have died by being squished just for handing out lousy felted HEART STICKERS.  :)

Whew.  Tomorrow we will see one more thing in Mumbai that I have been anxious to see (I will tell you about it afterwards!) and then fly via IndiGo (a cool in country airline) to the south of India.  Everyone tells us we will love the south, and I am guessing they are right.  :)

For more info on the dhobi ghat, see here:  Travel India site


Kirsten Ghatasheh said...

Wow. No wonder people from other countries want their spices delivered from home. Not the same as what we have here. The colors.....even came through in your pictures. Amazing!

Kirsten Ghatasheh said...

Wow. No wonder people from other countries want their spices delivered from home. Not the same as what we have here. The colors.....even came through in your pictures. Amazing!

STG said...

tomorrow (Saturday) is our last day in India. We will be in another city that has a big spice market - Cochin! We want to get more spices. :)