Thursday, April 13, 2017

Of Failed meetings and Fine Food - Lunch at Malvani Aswad.

A few weeks ago an old friend asked me to do an old friend of hers a favour. What was the need of the hour was an archaeologist to speak to a group of visiting researchers. They were looking for an anthropologist but since none was available at short notice would I sub and help out? I wasn't doing much the next day so I said yes. Sent my CV in which was promptly forwarded to the researchers. The meeting was scheduled for the next afternoon at 1 pm ... at 12.30 as I was enroute I received a panicked call asking me if I would speak briefly to the leader of the research team. I said yes and there followed one of the weirdest telephone conversations of my life. It consisted of questions as to my ability to answer questions each of which was followed by the questions 1. Are you an anthropologist? and 2. Would you call yourself an anthropologist? All the routine questions got the correct answers but I replied negatively to the Anthropologist queries which were becoming very repetitive and weird. 

I reached the meeting place in Vile Parle E in Mumbai and was met by a very flustered friend of friend. Who apologised profusely and told me that thee meeting was scrubbed and that the research team was off to lunch. They hadn't realised that my CV didn't say anthropologist(!) and that they couldn't discuss the topic with me as their principles had specified that they were to talk to an anthropologist! I was ready to throw a fit when I realised that the lady organising this wasn't to blame and was terribly uncomfortable to boot. She apologised profusely, showed me printouts of her emails (including my CV) and an affirmative call by the team. She was almost in tears and I thought "what the hell let it go" and proceeded to do so. In an interesting twist she insisted on remunerating me in full as it wasn't my fault in any way (her words). I was tickled and decided to treat myself to lunch.

As I left the building I remembered a small Malvani restaurant highly recommended by my friend, food blogger extraordinaire, Kalyan. Its a small hole in the wall joint called Malvani Aswad and the only restaurant I know that is shaped like an elongated parallelogram with a kitchen in its loft. It has no A/c and no loo but the simple (very clean) restaurant is always packed with diners.

True to its reputation it was packed to the gills with about 20 people waiting to get in and another 8-10 waiting for take-aways. This is always a good sign in the food business. I was offered a plastic chair on the footpath and I sank into it and pulled out my Kindle. 15 mins later I was asked to place my order and told my table would be ready in 10 minutes and so would my lunch. i decided to go with the Kombdi Masala served with Vade. In other words a chicken in a thick yellow brown dessicated coconut gravy redolent with  roasted spices served with deep fried puffed breads called Vade. Vade are a bit like puris but thicker and coarser giving you a lot of texture as you eat them. And just to be a bit of a glutton I asked for a side of fried Surmai (Seer).

Ten minutes later I was shown to my table and a minute later my lunch was before me. The Chicken was everything I hoped it would be and the Vade were delightfully crunchy. The fish (a large slice) was fresh, succulent and well coated with Malvani spices. A small bowl of a thinner curry (with the teaspoon in it) and another of Sol Kadhi (Coconut milk and Kokum extract), lime wedges, onions, a very nice and super fresh chutney also came with my lunch. The food was spicy yet not chili hot and the Sol Kadhi was there to soothe the mouth in between bites. It was one of the best Malvani meals I had had in quite a few months.I heartily recommend this restaurant. thank you Kalyan for directing my footsteps and stomach this-a-way.

But I wasn't yet finished with lunch. Sitting outside I'd spied an ice-cream freezer loaded to the gills with a variety of things amongst which was a blast from the past. An ice-cream from my childhood days called a Cassata. This was a slice cut from a hemisphere or roll of multiple ice-creams (traditionally strawberry, pista and tutti-frutti) spread over a base of cake and topped with nuts. I hadn't eaten one of these in many years and I just had to cap this awesomely great lunch with an epic dessert and I asked the gent at the ice-cream freezer to do the honours.

Some time later sated and very happy I wobbled out of Malvani Aswad with a second helping of chicken for R's dinner (and as a peace offering for having gone here without her).

Highly recommended folks, Malvani Aswad is at Shahaji Raje Road, Near Bhuta High School, Parle Colony, Vile Parle East, Mumbai 
Tel: 022 2684 5842 Open 11 am to 3 pm and then 7 to 11 pm

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pitnaik's Chikki Shop, Revdanda

Wandering through the by-lanes of towns and villages in the Konkan during Archaeological Explorations one comes across some truly unique and beautiful gems. These are often not just palaces or archaeological monuments but small quaint pieces of the heritage of the Konkan, its people and its foods. One such gem I stumbled across in the small town of Revdanda (17 km south of Alibaug), erstwhile Portuguese fortress and home to one of the oldest Bene Israeli synagogues whilst doing a quick field trip in search of Bene Israeli remains with my wife Rhea and my student Raamesh. 

Searching for the synagogue we parked at the mouth of the lane leading to it and as we stepped out from the car in front of us was a chikki shop with a name I had never encountered before. Intrigued I went in to find an old gentleman selling squares of chikki and fudge. 

Chikki is a very Indian version of brittle, the main difference is that whilst brittle has a few nuts or butterscotch in it chikki is mainly nuts held together with a caramelised jaggery. Whilst the most common chikki has either whole or crushed peanuts in it there are many other variants. Common variants include roasted gram (chana), shredded coconut (khopra), amaranth (rajgira) and toasted sesame seeds (til). 

Pitnaik's had crushed peanut chikki, sesame seed chikki, shredded coconut chikki and squares of coconut fudge (khopra paak) white and a ghastly orange. You can see some of these squares in the pic below, each square was priced at the princely sum of Rs 5/- (less than 8 cents US!). There was just one packet of the uncoloured fudge which I promptly ate thus no pic of the same.I refused to buy the violently coloured one.

(Top left - Coconut, top right - Sesame, bottom - Crushed Peanuts)

I have been to Revdanda probably 20 times if not more I wonder how I missed this little shop all these years. Had it not been for our quest for the Bene Israeli synagogue we'd never have found this gem. The chikkis were really nice and I will drop by next time I am there and recommend the same to all of you travelling the Konkan, these little businesses need all the help they can get.

Revdanda Fort is a true wonder of colonial fortifications with hidden facets peeping out from under creepers and vines and there is an absolutely fabulous beach hiding here. Across the Kundalika River is the Fort of Korlai which gaurds the mouth to the river alongside the Revdanda Fort and it has spectacular views of the sea and Revdanda. Revdanda lies on the route from Alibaug to Murud and makes for a great stopover.

The Emancipation of Parvati Kadam

Parvati Kadam was affectionately known as my mother's dowry. As a very young bride she came down to Mumbai to live with her (much older) husband who worked in the BPT.  She was trained by my maternal grandmother in her Bandra kitchen ... on wood, coal, kerosene wick, kerosene pump and gas stoves ... a skill set almost completely missing today. She would cook, clean and feed my gran's entire household and was soon a master of Parsi cuisine.

When my Mum married my Dad and moved to VT in 1968 she came along to help Mum and stayed on for the next 25 years. She was almost a second mum to me, she doted on me and packed my lunch and on rare days even came over to drop me to school. But this is not about how she took care of me but about how she ultimately took care of her own demons. 

Very often she would come home to work in the mornings with a swollen face, black-eye or bruised arms. When I asked her she would say she had fallen at home. My mum used to get incredibly worked up and would tell her not to put up with this but to make a Police complaint and that mum would stand by her. Mr Kadam a by and large nice gent used to get a bit drunk once in a while and on those days he'd come home and toss her around. After much screaming by my mum she'd quietly reply that it was okay after all he was her 'maalak' (Marathi term for husband whose literal translation is owner)! This would incense my mother even more.

Over the years the beatings seemed to lessen especially as Mum had started her catering business (KFD Caterers) and Parvati was her strong right arm and Chief Cook. She was bringing home the bacon in sizable chunks. 

Then one day Mr Kadam came to see my mum he must have been in his early 60s and he looked much the worse for the wear ... swollen faced he requested my mother to speak to Parvati. When my mother asked him to clarify he said she had been coming home and once a while whaling the tar out of him! He was most embarrassed at what the neighbours were saying about a wife beating her husband.

The back story to this was that as she got a little longer in the tooth and the business scaled up there would often be late night after late night with catering for 500 to a 1000 persons each day. At the end of the day there would be a tired lot of kitchen staff that would send out for something to fortify themselves with and the tipple of choice was Doctor Brandy. A couple of nips and she would go home by cab (courtesy Mum) ... and on arrival sometimes give it back to her husband with full interest.

My mother was least sympathetic and chortled with glee ... when she had finished laughing she told him it was simply payback for all he had done and that as a good Indian he should think of this as his karma.

On this 'Women's Day' I cant think of a better memory.

Thank you Parvati for all your love and care.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Wine Wednesdays at Maritime by San Lorenzo

A couple of weeks back Rhea asked me if I'd like to go to a Wine tasting evening at the Taj Land's End in Bandra and I very happily jumped to it. The event is called the Wine Social Wednesday and is held at the Taj Land's End's lovely Italian restaurant the Maritime by San Lorenzo.

We got there at 7.30 pm and were met by the PR Team and Ms Rajveer Kaur who put us at our ease and explained the background to this weekly event. The idea was to introduce the wines of Italy (and elsewhere) and pair them with Chef Allessandro's really simple but amazing Italian food. Knowing that they had a superior wine selection they also knew that the Indian wine drinker was a hesitant careful creature not very open to experimentation. So they came up with an idea where they would not only make a selection of their wines available by the glass instead of the bottle, but they would also showcase the low price point that was one of their USPs . The restaurant has decided to pass on the benefits of the good rates they are getting from their purveyors - a real winner for wine lovers in Mumbai!

They had a lovely selection of Whites and Reds all priced incredibly well. We started off with a Prosecco that was a lovely well rounded yet young tasting wine. Low in acidity, very fruity and not too sweet. With this the Chef sent out a lovely basket of Gamberetti and Calamari Fritti (Crumbed Fried Prawns and Squid rings).

We moved on to a really complex yet full bodied Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Very few people in India seem to even know about the absolute world class winners that come out of the vineyards of New Zealand. Both Rhea and I have always been very partial to the Waipara Springs Reisling thanks to our friends Sue and Imtiaz and are always game to try out a New Zealand wine. The Saint Clair Marlborough did not let us down at all. With this Chef served up his really interesting variation on a Focaccia ... a flat, thin and somewhat crisp focaccia with arugula and shaved Parmesan and truffle infused olive oil. I am a self confessed carbo-holic and I was very pleasantly surprised by this.  Chef Allesandro told us this was a Focaccia Tartufata and was a memory from his childhood in Italy. We asked him what else he could do with this and he sent out an absolutely fantastic variant (off the menu) topped with Parma ham, shaved Parmesan and his truffle infused olive oil. It was magnificent, truly Buonissimo!

I decided to try out one of their red wines and went in for the Chilean Trapaca El Rosal Pinot. I have learnt to have a very healthy respect for South American wines and have found them to often be finer than their Californian counterparts which are often more flash than flavour. I love my wines young and fruity, with a little body, not a great deal of tartness/acidity nor mouth puckering tannin or an excessively long finish. I know that wine enthusiasts are probably going to call me a barbarian but I like my wine young, fruity, with flowery and/or citrus-y notes, a well rounded body and a good finish. The Trapaca Pinot was all of this. I for one was truly happy and Chef's Calzone was a perfect accompaniment. I can recommend this wine to all comers - first timers, old hands and rebels.

Chef wouldn't let us go without dessert and he brought the evening to a fantastic end with his selection - an apple tart, a silken tiramisu and a heavenly pear and raisin 'pie' his mother used to make.

The wines are priced extremely well and 'by the glass' prices range between INR 400 and 700. The place has a lovely feel to it and their selection of both wine and food is truly charming. I'd really recommend this mid-week indulgence especially around Valentine's Day.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Land of Stone - An International Conference and a truly awesome Dakkhani meal!

Sometime in November 2015 my close buddy Abhijit told me about an International Conference being organised on the Pre-Colonial Deccan in Gulbarga in Jan 2016. So I jumped to it and demanded to be let in. The man organising the conference at the Central University  Karnataka (CUK) was the indefatigible Dr Nazrul Bari. he wrote in to me inviting me and I happily accepted. I was looking forward to meeting historians and others of my ilk in a place I had never visited before but which was in the top half of my bucket list of places to visit!

Gulbarga, today renamed Kalaburagi (kalla=stone + buragi=land in Kannada), or The Land of Stone was the original capital of the the Bahamani Sultanate formed when Hasan Gangu captured Daulatabad after Md. bin Tuglaq had abandoned it. 

Tuglaq had moved the whole of Delhi to the Deccan to centralise the capital of his Indian empire ... a brilliant idea but one he was unable to maintain. Hasan Gangu or Zafar Khan (as he had been renmaed by Khilji  was appointed governor of Daulatabad. According to one legend Hasan Gangu was the Turkic slave of an astrologer from Delhi called Gangu (Gangaram), another legend says he was actually a Brahmin who converted  to islam and hence named his dynasty after his previous caste affiliation - Bahmani! 

He ascended the throne with the regnal name  Abu'l Muzaffar Ala-ud-din Shah Bahamani and founded the Bahamani Sultanate in 1347AD. He was a bit vary of Daulatabad and its lure and moved his capital to Gulbarga where he built a beautiful fort. The Gulbarga Fort with its squat round bastions, stocky bartizans and oversized crennelations is the prototype of the Bhamani style of defence architecture and the precurcessor of almost all the defence architecture in the  Deccan for the next 400 years. The thick rounded bastions with bartizans offering a secure position for defending archers was a Turkish innovation and the style of architecture employed was also of Turkish or Saracening origins. The Bahamanis employed this with absolute aplomb and ensured virtually impregnable fortresses. The sucessors of Hasan Gangu soon spread outwards and soon the sultanate expanded. In 1425 Ad the capital was moved to Bidar. it was from the safety of Bidar that the Machhiavellian Primeminister Mahmud Gavan expanded the empire by reconquering Goa from the Vijayanagara kings.

Gulbarga was by then an inescapable part of the Deccan or Dakhan and has its own flavour of Urdu called Dakkhani as well as its Sufi mysticism thanks to the famous Sufi saint Khwaja Bande Nawaz.

I arrived at Gulbarga on the morning of the 13th of Jan and was picked up by a very courteous Md Rafique sent by Nazrul. He took me over to the Central Park Hotel where a lot of old friends from Deccan College were waiting for me. Abhijit, Ganvir, Joge, Guru and his wife Reshma were all present as was Tejas ... after a quick breakfast we were off to CUK. The Univ is about 25km away from the heart of Gulbarga and has a sprawlingly large modern campus. Nazrul and his able team of student volunteers had put together an absolutely lovely Conference. After the usual inauguration function we got down to the academic sessions. My paper was titled ' A Preliminary Report on the Medieval excavations at Chandore 2012-2015' was in the first session and was recieved very well. The rest of the day flowed into session after session and there were some amazing papers by old friends as well as a number of new folks (to me atleast). Abhijit Dandekar, Gwendolyn, Gopal Joge, Shrikant Ganvir, Reshma Sawant, Gurudas Shete and so many others read some really lovely papers.

After a full day Md rafique took us back via a friends tea shop where we had some of the finest meat and chicken samosas I have eaten. These looked just like the ubiquitous Punjabi samosa but were stuffed with nonveg goodness. The meat (read 'buffalo') samosa had a coarse mince flavoured with spices, mint and a touch of dill. The chicken samosa was a revelation. The filling was tiny cubes of chicken breast cooked to perfection in a simple onion, garlic and blak pepper base. 

That night we went off to a dinner hosted by the Conferences patron - the Karnataka Minister for Minorities. The food was nice but what sang in the entire meal was the Gulbarga version of Khubbani ka meetha (stewed dried apricots). 

Day two of the conference started with us taking off a bit late and on the way we spotted the outer walls of Gulbarga Fort. This was too good a chance to miss and we played truant from the conference for the next half an hour by asking our driver to take us around the firt. When we got to the main entrance he surprised us all by driving right in! The fort is still tenanted by a few families who claim decent from its original denizens. Inside was a slightly sad sight. The Gulbarga Jama Masjid was in good nick as was the central bastion ... the rest was in a sorry and dilapidated state. This mosque at Gulbarga is the greatest example of the Persian style of architecture and stands testimony to the master architects of the 14th c AD.

We raced off to CUK and to our surprise arrived just as the first paper of the days first academic session started! The day then proceeded in a whilwind with presentations by Tejas Garge, Abdul Aziz Rajput, Danish Moin, Rekha Pande and Anne Feldhaus amongst many many others. The day came to an end with a simple valedictory function where the VC of CUK announced the creation of a full department of History and Archaeology! Nazrul had pulled off a fantastic event.

Abdul Aziz Rajput speaking on Bahamani Architecture

Danish Moin speaking on Bahamani Coinage and its secular nature

Dr Rekha Pande delivering a very interestalk on the Tawaifs of Hyderabad

Dr Nazrul Bari wrapping up the Valedictory function

Abhijit and team left early that evening leaving tejas and me to fend for ourselves, We soon teamed up with Prof Ayub of Hyderabad and went of in search of the famous Gulbarga sweetmeat the Maal-Puri from the famous Mama Puri Mithai shop. Md Rafique came to the rescue and led us through a maze of small lanes to the treasure.

After dropping off Prof Ayub, Tejas and I asked Md Rafique to take us to eat at a place where he would and he took us down the lane from Bande Nawaz's Dargan to a small eatery called Nawaz!

The menu was limited to four main courses (actually just two) Gravy Chicken or Mutton and Biryani once again Chicken or Mutton. We orderd the Chicken Gravy with Rumali Rotis and one each of the Biryanis.

The chicken was cubed and boneless (to my surprise) but with a slightly punchy, smoky, creamy gravy with a soft silken texture. It had nuances on so many levels it surprised the hell out of me. The rotis were thin but soft not dry and went perfectly with the chicken. 

The Biryanis came next. Md rafique had very proudly proclaimed that this wasnt just the best in Gulbarga but better than any Biryani from Hyderabad. A claim that surprisingly was spot on. The Mutton Biryani was subtle, the meat soft and pink inside, the rice fragrant, separate but not dry, it was a Biryani of sublime proportions. It was served with a thin Curd raita and a kick-ass Mirchi ka salan. The Chicken biryani was completely different it was full of a fried onion birasta coating the succulent chicken (thankfuly on the bone) pieces that nestled in long grain rice cooked to perfection. The three of us were glubbed when the waiter suggested very strongly that we have dessert. When asked he said the options were (you guessed it!) two - Khubbani and Froot. We had had the Khubbani the previous nite so we opted for the Froot. I didnt expect much, boy was I overwhelmed. We got a very very subtle fruit salad with custard variant where the fruits had spent some time soaked in a mildly sweeted heavily reduced milk rabri. The milk had thickened further on being sucked in by the apples and the milk-macerated fruits were a sensual delight in the mouth. They put out the fires f the biryani and overlaid a gentle blanket of sweetness.

Chicken Biryani on top left Mutton on bottom right


The Froot!

We gently rolled out of Nawaz after paying a bill of Rs 692/-!

Later at the Hotel, Tejas and I contemplated moving to Gulbarga. Especially after Md. Rafique had regaled us with tales of a divinely inspired Nalli Nihari sold from 4.30am onwards outside the Dargah of Bande Nawaz which he swore was better than any other takers. After the biryani boast we were wont to taking him very seriously and I have promised I will be back to Gulbarga if not for anything else then for this. 

Tejas left for Aurangabad via Ahmednagar at midnite and I slept like a log till 7.45am ... when I rolled out of bed and almost directly onto the train to Mumbai.

Gulbarga left a mark on me, on both my academic interests and my palate, both far larger than I had expected. thank you Nazrul and Md Rafique and thank you Abhijit for roping me in.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tadi No Batervo ... Mutton cooked in Palm Toddy

Every year on Khordad Sal (the birthday of the prophet Zarathushtra) we try to make something a bit left of centre for our clients be they traditional Parsi recipes from rural Gujarat, Continental favourites or long lost classics. This year Rhea decided she was tired of Continental and she wanted us at Katy's Kitchen to give the Parsis (and food lovers) of Mumbai a chance to take a journey deep into the Parsi kitchens of rural Gujarat 50 or more years ago. So with serious determination writ on our faces we went to the cupboard and yanked out the two volumes of Katy Dalal's  Jamva Chaloji. I chose the Tadi no Batervo and she chose the Murghi no Khurmo (more on this in some other post). 

I was completely enamoured by the prospect of cooking mutton in a reducing base of Palm Toddy  and we decided to bring this heirloom recipe to our patrons and friends. I remember my mum speaking about this dish and how it was made in her great-granpa Kanjibhai's house in Tadgam (near Nargol in Gujarat). He would ensure that one of his Warli boys got down a pot of sweet morning toddy at 5 or 6 am before the sun got to accelerating the fermentation process. He would also chose a tree that had been recently tapped as this would make a difference she said. There is a huge history to this dish Katy in Jamva Chaloji 2 tells us that Valsara Fooa made this (at Mamakwara) for Lady Navajbai Tata when she visited Nargol to review the Tata-Wadia School and even many years later she said it was the best meal she ever had.

It's a very simple dish, mutton is marinated in a green masala made with chillies, corriander, mint, ginger, garlic, pepper and cloves. It is braised in hot oil and then submerged in sweet toddy and brought to a boil.It is cooked on a low flame and toddy is topped up as and when required till the mutton is finally cooked. It takes at least an hour and a half to cook, the slower the tastier...if you can cook on a wood fire in a terracotta chattie it will taste even better. The gravy should be sticky and have a mildly caramelised feel to it. 

Tadi no Batervo is best eaten with hot white rice or rice rotlis. It is a very simple dish but with complex flavours. There is a mild sourness coupled with sweetness yet both sour and sweet are unlike the usual such tastes and the green masala adds a subtle underlying note of spice. 

The Mutton and the Marinade

The Marinated mutton and the Sweet Toddy


Adding the Sweet Toddy

The finished Tadi no Batervo

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Usmanbhai - Last Engineer of the Rim World

Day before yesterday me and Lara (my Bullet Thunderbird 325) decided to make the most of a rainfree day and chug down to the University. It was cloudy, cool and perfect driving weather. Chugging down NH4 - cool wind in my hair, warm smell of diesel dust wafting through the air ... I was almost unhorsed by the sudden appearance of an unholy pothole. It was small, sharp edged, deep and almost perfectly rounded. We bounced through it and I knew instantly that something was amiss. We rolled off the Vashi flyover and lo behold! there was a huge dent in the front rim. If I had been driving any other bike we would have come to a nasty stop at the pothole itself and as Vinodbhai, Bullet specialist at Kalina told me, if I had opted for magwheels the front rim would have snapped clean through. Truly they build these bikes to last.

The tube was sound and after a wait of a few minutes when I saw that the air pressure was holding I decided to risk it and make a run for the Univ. We rumbled all the way. At the Kalina petrol pump I asked for a Bullet mechanic and was told to meet Vinodbhai in the adjacent lane. I did so. he turned out to be a very amiable middle aged fellow who took one look at the bike and said, "samajh gaya bhai kuch bolne ki zaroroorat nahin (I've understood it no need to say anything)". He then told me that I had two options - replace the rim or have it straightened out by an expert. I asked him if he would undertake to do it? He said he could but preferably I should go over to Usmanbhai at Bandra reclamation since all he (Vinod) would do was take the wheel over there anyways. He gave me directions and a cell number and I agreed to take Lara there after work.

We slowly rumbled over at 6 pm and I found Usmanbhai in a tiny little shack off the main road at the foot of the fancy roundabout flyover at Bandra. To find Usmanbhai's you need to take the loop to SV Rd but at the end you take the arm that goes to reclamation and not the one that descends in front of Bandra masjid.

Usman why was a jovial gent with salt and pepper hair and a matching stubble. He took one look at the rim and put me at ease by telling me not to worry, and that I was in safe hands. They (he and his man Friday) popped off the wheel in five minutes flat (not a mean feat considering this was the front wheel of a Bullet) and a few minutes later Usmanbhai was expertly removing the tube, tyre and the disk-brake disk.

That he was a master was apparent from the first move he made. His skill at taking of the bolts on the disk whilst telling me not to worry (as there was a silca compound added whilst putting them on the first time and that this made things difficult but not impossible) while he was slowly loosening the bolts put me at ease. Here was a man who obviously knew what he was doing. He then took off all the spokes whilst giving me a running commentary on the 'good luck' that I wasn't running Lara on magwheels and that I obviously was an old timer at riding since I hadn't even taken the slightest fall after doing this kind of damage to the wheel. After taking a wooden mallet to the wheel rim to 'starighten it out he proceded to add the spokes. Usmanbhaithen placed the wheel on a special jig and proceeded to gently 'true' the wheel by adjusting the spokes (ie tightening them). He further informed me that all Bullets needed spoke tightening after the first 4 to 6 months and that I should get the rear wheel seen to later.

I could see the rapt concentration as he heard and felt his way around the rim. It was slightly uncanny, he'd use sight, sound and feel to check repeatedly on the rim. After almost half an hour and a few gentle taps to get rid of the last bumps on the rim he spun the tyre in the jig and lo it spun with no wobble whatsoever! I was truly impressed.

We  got to talking and he told me that this was his forte and that he had been doing this all his life. He reminisced about the early days in Bandra when Parsis and Christains brought their cycles to him esp the ones with gears and brakes in the rear drum and that there was no one else for miles who knew how to 'trough' a cyle wheel like that, Usmanbhai went on to work art the Rajdoot factory and there he was in charge of wheel assembly, he then decided to go it on his own and came back to Bandra and set up shop. Today he is the No. 1 man for Bullet rims, spokes, drums and he also extends his expertise to other bikes. He fondly told me that he was the man in Mumbai for double spoking and for straigtening out rims for Bullets. Double spoking is doubling the number of spokes on the wheel with thinner spokes, the drum needs to have new holes expertly drilled and then it needs to be re-spoked. Usmanbhai not only does the spoke fitting but also drills his own holes, no mean feat considering the precision required. He very quietly said that all the Bullet ustaads (experts) and mechanics of Mumbai know him and if they want quality work they come only to him.

I was so happy to have been a part of his world even if it was for a couple of hours. To see a man of his skill and experience, doing something that in any other country would have been done by  a bevy of machines or most probably where the damaged part would simply have been replaced without a thought.  It is people like Usmanbhai who keep alive the traditional karigiri something so essential in lifting a craft to an art. I salute these men and women who toil on doing their thing with expertise and quiet dignity.

Lara and I drove of from Usmanbhai's with no wobble at all and a smile on our faces.

P.S. due apologies to Larry Niven for the pun in the title :)