A little over a month back, my husband and I decided to explore a restaurant, called Cafe Madras in Matunga, a quiet residential area in Mumbai. Matunga is home to Parsis, Gujaratis and Tamilians…mostly. Until I came to Mumbai, I had no idea how different communities preferred to reside in certain areas of the city. I’d always thought a house is chosen based on where one works or where one’s children go to school, so that the commute time is reduced. That is probably true for Mumbai in the current times but in the past, communities chose to stay in certain localities – for instance, Chembur is known to have a majority of South Indians, Borivali, Kandivali has a majority of Gujaratis, Dadar has Maharashtrians and Parsis. The place is famous for its unpretentious South Indian restaurants and temples. Cafe Madras is one of those ‘must-visit’ restaurants in Mumbai if you want to have an authentic, vegetarian, South Indian meal. Opened in 1940, the restaurant’s managed to stick to the same menu, despite the world of change around it and has continued to be successful.
Anyway, being the first outing in a long time since the second wave hit Mumbai, I was obviously excited. As it was also our first time in Matunga, we had no idea where exactly the restaurant was located – Google Maps told us we were at our destination , but we couldn’t see the restaurant. What we did get, however, was the aroma of filter coffee. We simply followed the scent it got stronger and stronger and two minutes later, there we were , in front of the cafe.
Sadly, the restaurant hadn’t opened its doors as of the 14th of August, for in-house dining – because of the rules in place for Covid. Despite that it was teeming with life on a Saturday morning when people should have been in bed, enjoying the first day of the weekend.
The owner was busy taking orders seated on a chair outside the restaurant from customers who wanted take-aways or just wanted to stand at the only table placed on the porch and have their meal. Uniformed servers rushed in and out serving customers and clearing dishes as and when customers finished. There was an unsaid discipline and a sense of empathy as customers received their meal, had it standing at the table as quickly as possible, to make way for those who were waiting.
While I do not generally enjoy having a meal, standing up, Covid’s taught me to appreciate the little things in life- in this case, the joy of getting out and having good food cooked by someone other than me was far more, than the little inconvenience of standing and eating that food. We ordered idli-sambar , masala dosa and two tumblers of filter coffee, all for not more than Rs 500.00 (we might have picked up some pickles on sale at the restaurant). The food was needless to say delicious – the idlis (steamed rice dumplings) were soft and melted in the mouth, the dosa (rice pancake spread very thinly) was crisp and the stuffing of potato with onion and chilli inside was mouthwatering. The filter coffee is not wrongly said to be the best in the city (a coffee drink made by mixing frothed and boiled milk with the infusion obtained by percolation brewing of finely ground coffee powder in a traditional Indian filter, as per wiki). When we were done, which was pretty quickly since there were others waiting for the table, we decided to take a walk around the area. Fortunately it wasn’t raining.
We strolled around for a bit, purchased a few items from a nice looking store with an interesting name- ‘Cornucopia’, beside Cafe Madras. I bought Vietnamese rice paper, Thai rice noodles, Blueberry pancake mix, Mangalorean papads, Japanese rice vinegar and Thai sauce.
Just as we were heading towards the car, I noticed book sellers putting books up for sale on the footpath. There were quite a few of them but one caught my eye because, of the thirty odd books that he had displayed on the ground, there were atleast ten that I had read and would recommend to everybody. When I stopped before him, he asked me to buy some of them- first the ‘The Silent Patient’. I told him I’d read it, so he showed me ‘The Palace of Illusions’. I told him I’d read that too. Then he showed me ‘A Gentleman in Moscow.’ I hadn’t read it but knew it was good because my sister had recommended it. Seeing the books he’d recommended, I couldn’t help being impressed and wanted to help him by purchasing a book from him. As I looked at the various books on display, wondering which to buy, he pulled out a book from one of the sacks lying at the back and said, ” This one is very good. Have you read it?” The book was ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom. I hadn’t read it. I took the book from him, read the blurb and bought it.
Yesterday, after a month and a half, I finally completed reading the book and I thought ‘If only this book had come to me earlier.’
There are some books we buy based on reviews we’ve read or based on someone’s suggestion. There are others that come to us when they’re meant to. ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ is one such book that came to me based on a minimally educated bookseller’s recommendation- one who sells books on the pavement for a living. When I bought it, I thought I was doing him a favor. Little did I know that he’d done me a favor.
‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ a book not more than 200 pages turned out to be a treasure. But I’ll talk about that in my next post. Stay tuned.
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