Monday, July 28, 2008

Matunga to Mambalam

I have recently shifted to Chennai from Mumbai and I intend to stay here for about 18 months. The locality I have been living in Mumbai is Matunga. The place I have chosen to live in Chennai is West Mambalam. In some ways it is not a change. Culturally speaking. Except that Matunga is more cosmopolitan and has a huge Gujarati-speaking population besides South Indians.

Matunga in Mumbai is known as the South Indians' den.

In Mumbai, the term 'South Indians' has a peculiar connotation, atleast among the people who have migrated to Mumbai from the four southern states. It does not refer to all the people from the four southern states. It is an euphemism for people from Tamilnadu and those Tamils (Tambrahms) from Palghat and other towns in Kerala. If you go to a Udipi Restaurant in Mumbai and ask them whether one can get South Indian food there, they would guide you to a Tamilian or Palghat Tamilian Restaurant or Mess. Atleast in Matunga, I have seen them doing so. While geographically Udipi is very much in South India, Udipiwallas prefer Mangalorean identity to a South Indian one. The same is more or less true about those who have migrated from Kerala. For them, the term Malayalee is a more defining identity and gives them more psychological security.

In West Mambalam, a new immigrant gets the impression that he has done time-travel and reached a point of time which would be 30 years earlier than now. Cycle Rickshaws freely move around in the narrow lanes and one of them almost hit my hip on the second day after my arrival. Most of the roads do not have pavements. Matunga roads are wide and have convenient foot paths for pedestrians. Except of course that the foot paths in the Matunga Market area have been occupied by the vendors, leaving little space for pedestrians.

In Mambalam Restaurants, they still serve food on plantain leaves. Of course, the price is nothing less than what they charge in Matunga. Efficiency of serving too is less than what one takes for granted in Matunga. Quality too is inferior. In Matunga, one could see roadside vendors selling Pav Bhaji, Bhel Puri, Pani Puri etc. besides some South Indian dishes. In West Mambalam, one sees Poli shops in every major street. They call it Boli Stall, since the Tamil language does not distinguish "P" from "B". Nor 'T' and 'D'. It is left to the individual to choose either of the two pronunciations when it comes to non-Tamil words. That is how 'Vajpayee' becomes 'Vajboy' on the Tamilian tongue and POTA becomes PODA. The word Poli originates either from Marathi or Kannada ( both the languages have this word and the speakers of these languages pronounce it with a "P".) In fact, these Poli stalls of West Mambalam belong to or were originally started by Udipi Brahmins who can be found in good number in West Mambalam. The Polis are very sweet , made with Coconut or Lentil as the main ingredient. You must eat it with good quantity of Ghee thrown on.

West Mambalam is very hot and humid. Matunga is less so. But, contrary to what I had feared, the notorious ' Mambalam Mosquitoes' are missing from the scene. Have they too migrated?