Sunday, March 26, 2017

A hometown wedding!

A hometown wedding. This is a magical statement which raises the adrenaline levels in most Indians by a hundred folds or so. For me, it surely was exciting to prepare for and attend a relative’s wedding- shopping, dressing, socializing, making merry and the like. But the excitement to visit my hometown Surat wasn’t as much as it should have been.

Reasons could be as under-

1. Surat is geographically so close to Mumbai that I consider it less of a hometown and more of a backyard

2. Despite this clear advantage, I have visited Surat less than 5 times for durations less than 10 days (very unlike a typical Indian hometown vacation) 

3. Being a Mumbaikar, I carried the false perception that if you’re a Mumbai loyalist, you cannot like or appreciate any other city.

So now, when I did backpack and set out for this “hometown” wedding, I didn’t quite anticipate just how much was in store. 

Gujarat in a train

All aboard the Gujju Mail

Starting right from the train that we boarded at Mumbai Central, there was a constant chatter among the travellers, a chatter much too familiar to any Gujarati in India, a chatter in Gujarati about Gujaratis going to Gujarat! 

There was an excitement in the air, even though most of our co-passengers were regular travelers on the route.

After the departure, a stream of vendors poured in, and as one would expect, the foods sold like hot tea (considering we’re talking about Indians here!). 

With each approaching station, the Gujarati herd behaviour became stronger and bolder. The few non-participants, like my parents and me, gave our implicit nod to this mass behaviour by occasionally chuckling at jokes or smiling upon hearing a funny word.

Surat sunna nu murat

For those of you who don’t understand Gujarati, the above title means Surat is a land of gold (figuratively). Surat was a thriving, bustling and congested harbour port and city, before Mumbai beat it to become the biggest metropolis of western India.

The older parts of Surat resemble parts of South Central Mumbai, where buildings are right next to each other sans compounds or front gardens. All building gates open up at the narrow streets, which are now bearing the weight of not just pedestrians but also two wheelers and four wheelers. Though, the newly developed areas, where I haven’t yet been, are said to be quite posh!   

Zampa (pronounced as Jhaapa) Bazaar area in old Surat is a popular neighbourhood among the Bohris. That’s where a Bohri finds everything a Bohri needs- accommodation, Mosque, Durgah, clothes, accessories and FOOD!

Since we were attending a family wedding, arrangements were made for our stay. But my family decided on staying a bit longer in the community accommodations called Musafirkhana. The beauty of this Musafirkhana lies in its colour. 

Pretense Jodhpur

The Blues!

I was excited about the Musafirkhana since it was styled like a haveli (and which Gujarati doesn’t fancy a haveli?).

The location of the accommodation is also pretty cool. It would take an average Mumbaikar 30 seconds to walk from home to the epicentre of zampa market, where one finds groceries, a chemist, fancy laces, ice apple juice (neera), marinated chicken by the day and tandoori farcha by the night, delectable faloodas, ice creams and confectioneries and other such trivial knick knacks.

Flaunting Clothes

Come Wedding and it’s almost like the entire neighbourhood is packed into the function venue.

Culturally, since we are the jalsa people, everyone is excited to be a part of the celebration. A stream of ornate men and women enter the hall. Family members extend their hand in serving food to the guests. The environment is pretty festive. The men and women are seated separately, so my narration of the wedding will predominantly be about the goings on in the women’s section of the venue.

Guests clicked photos of the bride and her intricate clothes. People chatted with each other like they knew everyone (in most cases, they DID know everyone). The food was served and everyone whispered their critique of it in each other’s ears. People hung around for a bit and left, only to return for the next function in a couple hours.

As a family member, I had to be dressed well and presentably for the wedding functions. With the right attire and a dash of light makeup (really?), here is how I looked:

Day 1

Day 2

Sunset at Tapi

On the insistence of my dear mother, we stepped into the ‘other’ Surat, which is raved and praised by the locals. Tapi Nadi (river) area is where once, many years ago, we holidayed and enjoyed the view of the gushing waters. Now, many years later, when we revisited the site, the river water had receded exceptionally.

 However, the sunset by the nadi was still breathtaking. 

Birds camp on the exposed river bed

We walked across the waterfront bridge, which is some sort of a heritage structure. Close by, there are beautifully architectured bungalows, old Churches and other interesting finds. Unfortunately, we were short on time and had to rush back to the bazaar.

It was interesting to note that rickshaws stopped plying in certain areas, every evening between 5-7 pm in order to give an impetus to the newly launched state bus services. We hopped on to one of those and, I must admit, it was a cozy ride. Announcements for the next stop were made in English, Hindi and Gujarati (reminding me of the Mumbai local), doors were wide and seats were new and untorn. The state bus service thus got a stamp of approval from me!

Humour ‘round every corner

Gujjus are loved for their humour, and rightly so! Gujjus are not afraid of their quirkiness; rather they proudly wear it on their sleeves and flaunt it. The gujju philosophy is simple: life is short, so live, laugh & eat to your heart’s content. 

This brings us to exploring (read: bumping in to) Surat’s street food  humour…

Mention, Mansion??

RIP: Rickshaw

Presenting Hajoori’s Kitchen

Cause Bhai sells everything, everywhere

Bade Miyan toh Bade Miyan, Chhote Miyan Subhan Allah

With 3 more spices, this is a major competition for 5 Spice

No humour here, but I had to include this one, since it has become an almost extinct feature in Mumbai…

India Post- Letter Box

Food Food

“Surat aaye aur saala sosyo nai piya, toh kya khak Surat aaye!”

Inspired from a very uninspiring movie- Mere Brother Ki Dulhan- the above dialogue pretty much sums up the sentiment of every Surti. Sosyo, which is now also available in other parts of India, was once a local specialty. To quote Wikipedia, “Mohsin Hajoori introduced Sosyo in 1927 in Surat, as an Indian option to the UK drink Vimto”.

Cheers to Sosyo and Sip!

Surat is also famous for its nashta (snacks), which include sev khamani, khaman, locho, khandvi, dhokla, patra, etc. We were fortunate to taste an assortment of all these for breakfast, organized by the wedding host family.

Towards the end of our trip, honestly, right before we entered Surat station to depart, we tasted the American thick shakes of Bismillah hotel. Now, we had heard a great review of the food and the shakes from my cousin, who was also a wedding invitee. Following his recommendation, my parents and I decided to give Bismillah a shot.. umm..a shake.

Bismillah, located right opposite the station, turned out to be a relatively large space, with a section for restaurant, another section for juices and the final section for miscellaneous stuff like thick shake, falooda, ice cream and coco.

We ordered the shakes of our choice (you’re really not interested in the flavours we picked) and surely each one of those lived up to our expectation. The shakes were so thick that we thought it best to discard the fat straws, and instead chose (wisely) to drink straight from the glass. 

Long story short

Surat welcomed me with open arms and I ran straight into them. 

After this eventful trip, I don’t feel the need to pick Mumbai over Surat or Surat over Mumbai. I pick both- for their craziness, social ‘life’, people, pace. They’re both different, but they’re both fun!

To conclude (and while I could have found something more apt), I choose the below image:

Fin aka Pati Gayu ;)

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