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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sandeep Uncle's Red Mutton Curry

That Colaba house holds a lot of fond memories, for me. Somehow south Bombay's humid, searing, sultry atmosphere never penetrated the mesh-covered windows. Many a joyous Christmas or summer was spent there, in the company of my cousins, their pets and their wonderful maid.

At the end of a tiring day, Sandeep uncle would come home, exhausted, to lots of hugs from the whole family. He'd sit down on his wooden chair in front of the TV in the master bedroom and watch the news and cricket highlights of the day, along with me and Kartik, my cousin. The maid, Manjula, would bring in a tray with dinner as he took off his shoes and freshened up. For some reason, I remember this one mutton curry that he used to love. That curry can teleport me across time and space to that Colaba house and all the times I spent there.

Days were spent playing cricket in the garden or in my cousins room - something I'd look forward to doing all year. We'd be taken to see all of Bombay's new, trendy malls and cinemas and occasionally, for a sunset walk along the coastline. As kids, it was really a home away from home. My sister and I would wait for our cousins to come home from school, passing time watching TV or be entertained with games and stories from our grandparents.

The smell of that curry as the maid took it out of the kitchen and to the master bedroom filled the whole house. We'd already had dinner but this was like watching a celebrity walk down the road. We'd follow our noses to the room and take in the glory of that mutton curry. Sandeep looked like a king on his throne, savouring the evening meal after a hard day mediating a ferocious court.

It was a deep red-brown. The curry-meat ratio wasn't too high but what little sauce there was, was the perfect amount. Like icebergs on the ocean, the succulent, dark brown chunks of boneless mutton would protrude the surface. The rotis brought along with it were piping hot and the curry was crying out to be wrapped and consumed in them. He'd obviously give Kartik and I a taste.

It was mutton, wrapped in curry, wrapped in roti, wrapped in Bombay. The heat of the curry, tenderness of the meat and softness of the roti encapsulated the city and that house. One side of Bombay, to me, is synonymous with heat, gossip and hustle and bustle. South Bombay especially.....its all very cut to cut - no one stands still for a second, even in the searing heat. The people are always going somewhere or doing something. Their demeanour is rushed and their eyes are wild. The spicy, deep red of the curry summed that up.

Biting into the mutton itself was like jumping into a duvet. The mutton was massaging you in that tense spot. It was like Bandra....laid back and meant to be taken in slowly. It was so full of flavour but rushing into swallowing it was pure unforgivable sin. You have to throw it around in your mouth for a bit, then let the first of the juices escape. Then you chew slowly, fully grasping the majestic simplicity of a piece of well marinated, spicy meat. Don't bite, caress with your teeth. Don't zoom around Bandra in a car with preppy yuppies, go to a frankie stand and stroll along Carter Road and let the salty sea breeze season your roll.

The roti is the simple, hard working people of Bombay. The ones who you don't see outside Phoenix Mills or Cafe Coffee Day. The roti is the middle class. The accountants and the shop owners. The roti is soft but firm, hot but slightly sweet. It is what holds the meat in place, what holds the city together.

I'm hungry.