5 Questions With Havovi Wadia Of Magic Bus

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5 QUESTIONS WITH HAVOVI WADIA OF MAGIC BUS

Magic Bus has been helping kids transition from Childhood to Livelihood for the last 19 years. They ensure kids complete secondary education, use sports to incentivise them, and teach them skills for the real world, helping them break out of the cycle of poverty.

Havovi Wadia, Director – Impact of Magic Bus, tells us about the origins of the organisation, their success stories, and the power of sports.

WORDS BY THE CITY STORY TEAM

The City Story: Nineteen years is a childhood into adulthood. Which have been Magic Bus’s most inspiring stories?

Havovi Wadia: Imagine, in only the last six years, 9,23,000 children and young people shared their lives with us. The stories from the last 19 years are full of inspiration, and it is tough to choose just one. There’s the story of Nazifa, who stood up against domestic violence in her neighbourhood at a very young age. There’s Shashikant, who dreamed big and wanted to fulfil his aspirations despite the toughest challenges thrown in his way. There’s Abdullah, who was on the verge of a mental breakdown because of how tough his circumstances were. But he decided to give himself another chance, and is now a trained Magic Bus volunteer in his neighbourhood.

What inspires us is knowing we’re doing something right, and that “something right” is what helps replicate these stories from all corners of the country.

TCS: You work with 400,000 children across 22 states of India. That’s a very diverse population. What are the differences that mark Mumbai?

HW: There are many faces of poverty. We take into account diversity not just in different states we work in, but diverse communities within those states.

Mumbai is the country’s financial hub, city of dreams, and different things to different people who come and make the city their own every single day. But it also has a staggering number of people living below the poverty line. The glitz and glamour, the opportunities are all there. But there is inequality and inequitable access to opportunities.

With increasing urbanisation, Mumbai’s borders are forever changing and diversities proliferate.

We work in Bombay Port Trust, an unauthorised slum settlement where basic necessities like safe and secure shelter are a challenge. It is one of the first communities Magic Bus started working with. 

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In Dharavi, people are not dogged by the threat of evacuation like those in BPT but face other crucial issues like lack of livelihood opportunities, lack of awareness about education.

While we grapple with urban poverty in the heart of the city, only 36km away, Bhiwandi is a completely different picture. There, participants in our programme are first generation earners. Their families are still involved in agriculture, and livelihood opportunities are scarce and mostly in the unorganised sector.

Despite the differences, though, we know the only way the next generation can tackle this problem is by completing their education, getting the right skills, and accessing jobs in the organised sector. This is the crux of Magic Bus’s work.

TCS: Did Mathew Spacie have an a-ha moment before he started Magic Bus? Could you tell us about it?

HW: That a-ha moment was at the Bombay Gymkhana where Matthew was a regular. He used to play rugby and see children from Fashion Street, who used to come to clean parked vehicles, watching the game from the side-lines. One day, he invited them over for a match. He saw them lose their hesitation and come out as a group with amazing motivation. That was where the idea of using sports to bring about change originated. It originated in a playground. The idea came from the children, and the name “Magic Bus” came from them too.

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TCS: What is it about sports that facilities teaching? And what do you think regular schools in Mumbai/across the country could learn from a Magic Bus approach?

We think sports is the best method to involve children in the process of learning. It is fun and engaging. It gets children to focus without burdening their minds; it gets them to unite, work as teams, forget differences, and respect each other. It has a disciplining influence that is not regimental. It builds a space for participation – anybody, regardless of age, gender, class, or caste can participate. Sport is a great leveller.

Magic Bus’s curriculum is school-friendly. In fact, we have 798 schools where trained Magic Bus staff carry out our programme that focuses on building life skills through sports. Resilience and self-efficacy are so important to make the most out of the opportunities that come our way or build newer opportunities.

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Among the first group of children who Matthew worked with, many of them are still with us. There are child participants who have become Community Youth Leaders and facilitated sessions with other children. Youth on our Livelihoods programme keep in touch with their mentors in the Centres. They interact with other youth, tell them to join Magic Bus and also share their experiences and learning with them.

TCS: We know changing children changes society. Do you keep that in mind when forming programmes and what are the changes you seek to effect?

HW: We developed our programme to be inclusive, easy to understand, helping children open up and participate. Our programme focuses on getting children to complete secondary education, get life skills, and then enter the world of work. For this transition to happen, children are encouraged to take up leadership roles within the community, and the community is involved to create that space for children – particularly girls – to participate.

As a result, in 23 states over the last two decades we have seen:

  • Our children score consistently high on self-belief and resilience scales
  • 99 per cent of children in our programmes attend school regularly
  • Less than five per cent drop out before the age of 14

Our girls resist marriage as children – they study, play, and go on to earn

A Handy Guide To Tiffin Services In Mumbai

mumbai tiffin

A HANDY GUIDE TO TIFFIN SERVICES IN MUMBAI

One of the most iconic images of the city is of the dabbawalas carrying bags of steel tiffins filled with a piping hot lunch to feed hungry people across the city. Chances are that every tiffin is different in terms of quantity, quality, and menu. These days, you can find tiffins catering to every whim: ghar ka khana, regional, breakfast items, healthy and diet-conscious meals, modern cooking, and so on.

So, how do you choose from this variety? Joanna Lobo did a trial of some of them, exploring a variety of lunch options. Here’s her verdict.

WORDS BY JOANNA LOBO

Healthy Meals: Calorie Care

Calorie Care caters to different requirements, such as weight loss, muscle gain, and even recovering TB patients.

The food comes inside a box, packed in plastic containers* with bio-degradable cutlery, salt sachets, and the menu. It’s a complete meal that includes a soup, salad, dal, rice, and curry. My one-day lunch trial had small portions of a chunky and filling creamy soup, a lightly seasoned methi dal, Parsi brown rice (a pulao with onions) and a Parsi veg stew – slightly sweet and filled with chunky of carrots and potatoes. There was a handy little note about the nutritional content of the tiffin: mine had 540 calories, 13gm fat, 4gm fibre, and 15gm protein.

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You can choose between low, medium, and high calorie meals, depending on your requirements. They also try to customise the meal; on request, the food they sent was low on spice.

Call 022 2412 2100 or book online. Cost starts at Rs. 179 (breakfast), Rs. 215 (lunch) and Rs. 225 (dinner); trial meals cannot be ordered online.

Coastal Treats: Round the Plate

Round the Plate is a small operation in Khar that serves Goan and Malvani food (with a heavy emphasis on the latter). I chose the non-vegetarian (fish or chicken options) tiffin. The trial tiffin had dal, rice, fluffy rotis, and two chicken dishes. The Malvani curry was fiery red and coconut heavy, and the chicken fry was probably the best I’ve tasted, coated in masala, with a few charred bits, and cooked just right. The dal was satisfactory, mushy, and without any tadka. They also have a vegetarian tiffin option.

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There’s also a limited menu of fried fish and curries (orders to be placed 48 hours in advance), biryani, and chicken preparations. This was the only meal that came in a steel tiffin.

Call 84337 63437. Cost ranges from Rs. 120 (veg, full) to Rs. 150 (non-veg, full); delivery in Bandra, Khar, Santacruz, Vile Parle, VT.

Vegan Fare: Vegan Bites

As the name would suggest, Vegan Bites’s food has no dairy or meat, is plant-based, and is oil-free.

My meal consisted of coleslaw salad, jacket potatoes, masoor pulao, vegetable and tomato curry, masala chaas, and bottle gourd soup. The masoor pulao was delicious (although the dal and rice were served separately); the jacket potatoes were cut in half and stuffed with a cashew-cheese corn mix; and the coleslaw salad was crunchy and lacked dressing. Vegan Bites are the only tiffin I received that serve a drink.

The food is a mix of Indian and world cuisine and is extremely filling. Their quantities are generous – it’s like having a thali.

Call 76665 86430 or email info@veganbites.in. Cost is Rs. 396 (one-day trial) and Rs. 3360 (10-day trial); delivery is extra, and there’s a security deposit of Rs 650. Delivery is across the city.

Good VFM: Spice Box

The most recommendations I received were for Spice Box’s tiffin. It has just two meal plans, making ordering an easy process. The Non-Veg Standard Meal offers rice, rotis, one chicken or egg dish, dal, and a dessert or salad. The trial tiffin, like most others, was packed in plastic containers, with cutlery and a little sachet of pickle. It being a Friday (they have “special items” on the day), there was chicken biryani, raita, and sheera. The flavours reminded me more of restaurant food than ghar ka khana.

The food is, and has always been, spicy, and it’s not very healthy. But it is tasty and affordable.

Visit the website to order; monthly meal plans start at Rs. 85 (veg, mini) and go up to Rs. 105 (non-veg, standard), per meal. They offer a one-day trial.

The Gourmet Option: Savor

Savor’s gourmet lunch subscription promises a culinary exploration of different cuisines – Thai, Indonesian, French, German, Spanish, Italian, etc. They take dietary preferences into consideration as well.

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The meal – a main, a side, a salad, and dessert – came in a neat brown paper bag with a wooden clip that contained a menu and cutlery. The sample meal had a distinct Japanese flavour with Okonomiyaki – a grilled (and slightly dry) savoury pancake with noodles and chicken mince as well as a sesame-studded sweet chocolate. Other dishes were steamed green peas with salt and a soft-boiled egg. As a meal, it tasted satisfactory but was not very filling.

Call 70454 51777 or visit their website. Lunch plans start at Rs. 575 (one meal) to Rs. 9,500 (20 lunches monthly). Delivery in Bandra and Colaba only.

Keto: Food Darzee

The low-carb, high-fat Ketogenic (Keto) diet has become so trendy there are dedicated delivery services catering to it. Food Darzee is one such place, offering nutritionist consultation, a tailored meal plan, and four meals a day.

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Everything is made in-house, from nut flours to bread. You can’t choose your menu, but they don’t repeat a dish for at least 25 days, and their cuisine spans Indian, Continental, and Asian. The food comes in microwavable plastic containers and is adequately greasy – there’s lots of cheese and ghee – but delicious. Though heavy on the masala, it is tasty. Of note are paneer makhani, grilled chicken, and innovative dishes like mushroom cheese zucchini vada and vanilla almond flax custard.

Call 095905 10520 or visit Food Darzee. The cost is Rs. 1,000 (one-day trial), Rs. 9,200 (10-day plan). Delivery is done twice a day across Mumbai and some areas in Thane and Navi Mumbai; beyond that is an additional Rs. 100 charge.

Makers Of Mumbai: Shailaja Sharma Of HappyBooch

happybooch kombucha

THE MAKERS SERIES: SHAILAJA SHARMA OF HAPPYBOOCH

WORDS BY THE CITY STORY TEAM

The people of Mumbai are increasingly focusing on living and eating healthy. Vegan cafés are popping up across the city, and farmers’ markets offer fresh produce for a hearty home-cooked meal.

When it comes to our drinks, we’re trying to ease off the sugary sodas without compromising on taste. One alternative is kombucha, the fermented tea with its origins in China two millennia ago. We spoke to HappyBooch’s Shailaja Sharma about the benefits of the drink, fads, and how she started the brand.

You can order by messaging HappyBooch on Facebook or Instagram or by calling on +91 70215 52978.

The City Story: Why kombucha?

Shailaja Sharma: There's a strong connection I feel with the booch, unlike with any other food or beverage. It's a big part of my life now, and I can spend hours brewing my kombucha – testing new teas, herbs, or fruits. And that's what I do! I started brewing in late 2016 and, ever since, my desire has been to share this unique-tasting probiotic tea with as many people as possible. It started with family and friends, and in September 2017, I started HappyBooch to be able to share it with the rest of Mumbai. At the time, I was also on the quest to take control of my health and be selective in what I eat or drink and be mindful of what that food does to me. Kombucha fit in perfectly into my story. I believe kombucha – when brewed right – is an excellent alternative to unhealthy ice-laden and artificially carbonated beverages, and it gives a lot in return through its naturally present good bacteria, beneficial acids, and B vitamins. I've never been a fan of sugary shakes, colas, or energy drinks, and the naturally tarty and fizzy nature of kombucha struck a chord with me as it does for a huge population world over. It's a significant category in North America, the Asia Pacific region, and also beginning to emerge in certain European countries. In India or Bombay, it is very new and there is a lot of curiosity around it. A couple of cafés across India already are introducing kombucha on their menu.

And so, it is immensely gratifying that through HappyBooch I'm able to create a small community of kombucha lovers in Mumbai/India. When I go to the farmers markets in Mumbai on Sundays to sell HappyBooch, I love the reactions that our kombucha generates – it makes people really happy to try something new. They laugh, we engage in good conversation about natural fermentation, and sometimes people even run away when they hear "live bacteria" or "fermentation" as it's "not their thing". I love the fact that HappyBooch is able to make a difference in the Indian beverage industry and help grow the nascent kombucha market here.

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TCS: How did it morph from you making it the first time to a small business/retail? How can we get our hands on Happy Booch?

SS: It all started with one mother Scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast – the kombucha culture) that asked me to adopt it. And then came the baby scobies that demanded their own hotel (hotel is kombucha industry slang for a jar where you store all the scoby offspring). I was fascinated by these live cultures and how they work so hard to produce all the energy, the natural carbon dioxide, the amino acids, enzymes, and the beneficial acids. Certainly they have some hipster vibes even as they don't look so pretty. Increasingly, I decided to spend more of my time with them. That followed with thrusting a glass of kombucha on everyone, then came out the brews with fruits and the exotic teas, and I had a full blown kombucha lab! That was most of 2017. When friends and aunts kept coming back for more, I sat down to speak to market experts in India and the US, and after a couple of months of research, I started selling officially. I was always known as the "chaiwali" for the floral or herbal concoctions I carried in bottles for friends. But now I have a more sophisticated name: BoochLady.

We're largely run out of Instagram and Facebook, where people can order by messaging us @happybooch. They can also order their batch by calling us on +91 70215 52978. The best way to meet us and know more about our kombucha and flavours is to keep an eye out for our farmers market stalls. Presently, we are also working on our website.

TCS: Tell us why we should drink kombucha.

SS: Being a fermented beverage, kombucha helps in healing the gut with the help of its billions of good bacteria, which trickles down to other benefits such as a healthy digestive system, balanced weight, enhanced immunity, and better joint health. Plus, it's delicious, naturally effervescent, vegan, low-calorie and low-sugar drink, making it perfect for enjoyment. It is a “living” beverage with its origins in China 2,000 years ago and has been called everything from "elixir of life" to "tea of immortality". In the present day, however, I think it's best described as an all-natural beverage for overall wellness and your go-to if you're trying to go off alcohol, sodas, ice-teas, or things with sugar in it. Personally, the booch has helped me with an extra spring in my step to take on all the tiring commute in Mumbai. I feel people in Mumbai are always working hard and late and often the workplace is hours away from their homes. Most of us don't focus on our meals and end up eating things we later feel guilty about. Kombucha is often seen as a hipster drink, but it's known to help in cell regeneration and in making you crave less for junk foods.

At HappyBooch, we are not a factory; every step is manual right to our sticking of labels and writing down the “best by” date. We spend a lot of time checking on the health of our cultures and the quality of the brew so our kombucha is as pure and raw as it gets. We use organic tea leaves and real fruits and herbs and don't force-carbonate or pasteurise to keep the benefits real. We make really small batches of handcrafted kombucha and the taste and efficacy is everything. It's always important to find out if your kombucha is raw.

TCS: Do you think kombucha is a fad? Currently there’s a rise in matcha, kombucha, and soy-related food. You think it’s here to stay or will it slide like goji berries did a decade ago?

SS: The health foods industry has many cyclical fads at any point in time, and presently there is a surge in the number of “super foods”. There's been a lot of interest in kefir, kombucha, and non-dairy products such as soy and almond milk in the past year. With the advent of social media, food trends are now more global, and fads in tea or coffee are really quick to find a spot in Indian cafes or homes. You're right to point out that many of these food trends are cyclical in nature. All of these products are new to the Indian palette and not likely to become very mainstream in the store aisles, but that does not mean Indians are not consuming them. From growth point of view, these are difficult product categories to establish in the context of India and mass-appeal but there is enough potential for growth in the years to come. Given Veganism is on the rise and given the cultural mix of Mumbai's population, there will always be a demand for good niche nature-derived brands. Specifically about kombucha, globally, it is a category too huge to be termed a fad. We're stoked with the response in Mumbai and are sure there will always be a dedicated customer base for it, however small. It requires a lot of education and sampling, but increasingly people are warming up to the idea of bringing kombucha to their breakfast tables and they keep coming back, asking for the next flavour they can try. That is very encouraging.

TCS: Tell us a little about yourself and Mumbai. Have you always lived here? Is it a good city for a start-up/small business?

SS: I've always lived in Bombay and spent the past decade working for some of the largest newsrooms in the country, breaking news of the biggest mergers and acquisitions and chasing CEOs to ask them uncomfortable questions about their businesses. These jobs have given me the opportunity to spend every single day on the field, right on the ground where the action is. When you commute across Mumbai, you see the Bombay and the old-world charm of the city in all its glory, and then you see the haphazard or the crumbling infrastructure in other parts of it, the booming of the health-conscious café revolution that the creative and writer community calls its home during the day, and the sharp and shocking disparity across the street. Taking your product from one part of the city to another always is a draining task. Despite all of the city's challenges, at the end of the day, work gets done and there is no dearth of opportunity for new businesses in this city. In fact, Mumbai offers more opportunities for small businesses across foods and fashion than ever before. Having said that, it is probably easier to start a venture but difficult to sustain it long-term as eight out of 10 new ideas fail to pan out as expected. Because Mumbai is such a beautiful mix of cultures, the people here are always up for trying new things.

Makers Of Mumbai: Preetika Chawla Of Pickle Shickle

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IN CONVERSATION WITH PICKLE SHICKLE'S PREETIKA CHAWLA

WORDS BY THE CITY STORY TEAM

If you opened a jar of pickle and found mango, lemon, or even carrot in it, you wouldn’t be surprised. You’d expect to see them, even. But pork? That’s a new one. The City Story spoke to Preetika Chawla, one half of the duo behind Pickle Shickle, the independent brand pickling pork and other unusual foods.

You can find out more about Pickle Shickle from their Facebook page or email them at pickleshickle1@gmail.com

PICKLE SHICKLE PREETIKA CHAWLA

The City Story: Tell us a short story on Pickle Shickle.

Preetika Chawla: Pickle Shickle has a short story at the moment, even though (without us knowing it) it’s been the narrative of our lives! In a nutshell, the pork pickle is something we grew up with. It is our grandma’s special recipe, and even mum would make it all the time. My sister, Prerna, and I moved to Mumbai 15 and 11 years ago, respectively, and when our mum would visit, there are two things we'd make her cook for us in copious amounts: dal makhni and pork pickle.

Our friends soon hopped on the bandwagon and began demanding jars. At one point this became awkward for our friends, and they started offering to pay for it because, “Let's face it. We can't not have it.” They insisted, and so one day, we began selling the pickle, and there's been no turning back ever since.

We began (informally) in August 2016, and since then we have grown quite organically. We started with the classic Pork Pickle and eventually started bottling Prawn Pickle. Soon after the vegetarian options of Jackfruit and Lotus Stem was introduced.

When it came to naming the company, we were on a Skype call with our childhood friend, and actually she named us Pickle Shickle, on a lark, sitting in Chicago. But we loved it! And the name stuck.

Our brand philosophy is really quite simple, and that is to be a part of every home and every kitchen, making people's food experience more fun!

At pop-ups we usually do live food with our pickles. Tacos, sliders, poppers, baked potatoes with sour cream and pickle... the list could go on! It's very versatile, and that’s something we love encouraging people to explore.

TCS: Why pickles? India is the heart of pickles, and every corner shop has multitudes of pickle brands and varieties. What made you want to be a part of this section of the food industry?

PC: Why pickles is a tough question to answer, because the plan wasn't to make this a business. We thought we were doing it just for our close friends! I guess the answer would be: because our friends said so, that's why.

Having said that, the encouragement people showed us by constantly coming back for more gave [us] a high. We were excited to be able to share a close part of us with everybody! Our only aim with our pickles has been to maintain the homely touch. We have people writing in, telling us that our pickles are unlike other store-bought ones for exactly this reason. We cook in small batches and have continued to do that despite the increase in demand.

I suppose the love we have received in this section of the industry is what has kept us going. People nowadays are very busy. They don’t necessarily have the time to cook elaborate meals every day. So they're looking for ways to add a "kick" to a boring meal. Or have access to an easy midnight snack (pickle and bread). Or make a simple finger food more exciting (tacos, poppers, etc.).

It’s been really fascinating to be in this section of the food industry and yet function as a bit of an island, because we are not here to compete. We wouldn't dare. There are some fantastic brands out there, with equally fabulous recipes in the industry. But that's just it; we are not industry.

TCS: Who are your customers? And what’s the pickle that’s flying off the shelves?

PC: Our customers are largely between the ages of 15 and 45. Anybody with a job. Or not. Anybody who has time. Or not. Sneaky non-vegetarians who aren't allowed meat in their homes take jars and hide them!

The vegetarian pickles (lotus stem, jackfruit, and mushroom) are, to our surprise, our highest sellers. The Pork and Prawn Pickles are a close second. We will soon start mutton, the response to which has already been overwhelming (based on tasters).

TCS: Did Mumbai have a part to play with your brand? What’s your relationship with the city?

PC: Mumbai had a massive part to play with our brand. It was created for (and by) practitioners from the theatre community of this city. I think being actors and production people for several years equipped us with two things: the ability to take a risk, dive into the unknown. And the second is to use instinct.

Mumbai teaches you to ride the wave and adapt to just about any situation. It is a cruel city with the kindest people, where anything is possible! Our relationship with the city can best be described in one sentence: It is now our home. And Pickle Shickle is an extension of our home.

TCS: Where’s Pickle Shickle headed?

PC: We hope all the way across the world in the next few years. Most of our friends overseas (whether they are Indian or not) demand vacuum sealed supplies by the kilo! So why not dream of selling everywhere someday?

We have recently started deliveries in Delhi and are in the shelves of The Taste in Defence Colony. Our vegetarian pickles are on the shelves of Cornucopia in Matunga. Certain shelves in Goa are on the anvil too (very excited!). We are working on our website at the moment, so that people across the country (and eventually the world) can order too.

Hopefully we have a long, long, fun journey ahead of us. So far, we have met the most wonderful people along the way. We certainly hope that continues.

Walking The City Streets With Mumbai Paused

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WALKING THE CITY STREETS WITH MUMBAI PAUSED

Mumbai Paused is a blog that documents multiple facets of the city through the lens of street photographer Gopal MS, best known for his distinct hashtags and chronicling of political and religious imagery. Sadiya Upade tagged along with him to explore aspects of Mumbai hidden in plain view, and came away with a new perspective.

READ SADIYA UPADE'S STORY

It's 9 a.m. The crowd is just starting to spill on to the road outside Chembur station. I try to move ahead, deftly avoiding the swathes of people on the way out, but Gopal MS has already bested me. He points to a newspaper stall that sells only Tamil magazines and talks about the local residents. Most of the shops are closed at this hour, barring an oil trader getting ready for business.

"The trick is to keep an eye out," says the man behind Mumbai Paused, the much-loved chronicle of everyday Mumbai. I spot a bright yellow wall, mosaic tiles, and rather inviting wrought-iron staircase. We both lean, trying to make out the space. When I glance sideways, his camera is out. There's a black and white sketch of a girl, with a tape stuck to her mouth on the adjoining white-washed wall. "This represents the silence before #Metoo perfectly, doesn't it?" he asks. It does. I am surprised at the quick association, wondering if I would have even spotted the sketch if it hadn't been for Gopal.

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Circling back to the foot overbridge, we decide to cross over. There are posters of the Elphinstone stampede victims beside one of Ambedkar in blue. "The colour blue and Ashoka Chakra are part of Dalit imagery everywhere," he tells me as we find ourselves inside a chawl. There are women washing clothes and some selling fish; men with fruit baskets and some sleeping amid the din of the tracks nearby. The narrow alleys have a few empty spaces that fill up with kids in the evenings. Walking past, I can't help but see #DalitBlue on hoardings and banners.

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This isn't the only iconography Gopal is mapping across the city. The street photographer has a series of hashtags: #SaffronTide for Hindutva, #MeemGreen, commonly found in Muslim areas like Govandi, even #MumbaiTurmeric depicting Deccan folk. These colours are ubiquitous, their associations clear. Yet the narrative is lost in the sea of everyday sightings, pushed back by the pace the city demands. "My work is all about life in the city,” he says. “How people travel, eat, interact with public spaces, their political affiliations: these are things everybody sees but nobody pauses to give another thought.”

mumbai paused

So when Gopal does exactly that, it sparks instant recognition. Be it the auto with a saffron flag you took to work (#SaffronTide), the old man you passed on the street (#MumbaiGreying), a nose buried in the newspaper (#NewspaperreadinginMumbai) or the "eyesore" Duranto whizzing by (#RailRomeo). No fancy facades or histories, just everyday pictures taken sans fanfare, scenes captured just as they are seen.

Gopal's own journey started from Bangalore in 2000 when his wife gifted him a camera. The burgeoning pictures gave birth to a blog called "Which Main What Cross". By the time the move to Mumbai happened, there was no getting away from the camera. A copywriter by profession, he walks at least 6km a day, before and after work, capturing stills for posterity. The hashtags come easy given his line of work, but the bespectacled ad-man is not big on interacting with people he photographs.

mumbai paused

The camera in his hand, a Canon G7X  (a point-and-shoot), is hardly noticeable. He stops to photograph a cart of milk cans and some idols under a tree. We are back near the overbridge and he draws my attention to a bar. "You will see these establishments usually have curtains,” he says. “As do barber shops and lottery homes." I am stunned at the level of detail, but can't help but smile when he calls it "the purdah system in the city." It is clear he has walked this path many times. The idea, he says, is to explore as many streets as possible, taking a different path each time. The Kurla-Mankhurd stretch is the mainstay, simply because it's closer to home and work.

mumbai paused

No matter where he is, a stream of photos is added to his blog, Instagram, and Twitter  on a daily basis. While he says he doesn't have favourites, the work he finds interesting or layered is compiled into a picture book sold on The Footpath Bookshop, a website Gopal created. "There's a deluge of photos on Instagram. Shorter attention spans mean most of the photos and stories get lost. These books are a way to reach out to more people and also to make photo books more mainstream." He has compiled four digital books so far. The bulkiest of these is #AamArtistGallery, a 454-page collection of everyday art by unsung artists that fills the streets, commutes and common spaces we inhabit.

mumbai paused

Gopal has the right idea. Maybe a closer look – a pause – is what we need. In barely 30 minutes, the city has taken on a new sheen for me.

Partying In Mumbai, Lindy Hop Style

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PARTYING IN MUMBAI, LINDY HOP STYLE

Lindy Hop was danced to Swing Jazz and became popular in Harlem, New York, in the 1920s. Lindy Hop In Mumbai organises Lindy Hop Socials every Sunday evening across the city. Check their Facebook page or call +91 98202 61814 for more details.

READ SNEHA NAIR'S STORY

Alone, with two left feet and a perfect wallflower attitude, I walked into a Lindy Hop Social curious to find out what a '20s American dance form was doing in South Mumbai.

A social seems like an idea from a bygone time. Sure, we’re not averse to meeting strangers today, but in the digital age, it feels more normal for us to swipe our way through the process. So I didn’t imagine I would see a lot of people at a Lindy Hop Social on a Sunday evening. I was surprised – the little room above a club was filled with mostly young people, all shuffling in corners.

A lot of them, like me, had taken heed to the description on the Facebook page that said you could come alone and you could be a total beginner. Some had even made an effort to dress up a little bit, keeping with the jazz theme. There was a general nervousness running through the room as people scanned each other as if there was a collective realisation among the newbies that maybe a dance form from the ’20s did not a fun party make.

My sense of regret grew when a man in a beret walked into the centre of the room and asked people to choose random partners of the opposite sex. I realised that, deep down, I hadn’t come here because of any love for dance. It was more curiosity – would people have fun alone at a dance party in this city? I had patted myself on the back for having made the brave move to come by myself, but now I was going to have to dance, matching steps with a person who I’d met merely seconds ago.

The instructor led us, tap, tap, tapping our way through two hours of a beginners’ class. There was slow jazz playing as we giggled and tried to keep up. There was small talk while I nervously tried to avoid stepping on my partner’s legs. But the room got warmer and the smiles a little friendlier as we danced along. The awkwardness of standing next to strangers was slowly fading. Then someone turned up the tempo of the jazz.

This was when it became really fun.

My legs hurt from dancing, my jaw ached from smiling, and I was sweating from head to toe, but I did not want to stop dancing.

The instruction part of the night was soon over, and everybody was asked to take turns dancing with various people in the room. Some stepped on my feet; I bumped into a lot more. I was flung around, spun, and awkwardly moved from one step to another. Some told me not to hop (it’s called Lindy Hop, man, what else will I do!), some wouldn’t let me stop dancing. Sometimes I just stood and watched while my partner, a better dancer, did fancy moves that I could barely imitate. One or two even snuck in a salsa or jive move. It was total anarchy!

My legs hurt from dancing, my jaw ached from smiling, and I was sweating from head to toe, I did not want to stop dancing. I eagerly waited for someone to ask me for a dance, and sometimes I made eyes till they did. Over the course of the evening, a room full of strangers was slowly transforming into a room full of friendly faces.

By then I had figured why this event was so popular and why it had drawn so many people every Sunday night for over a year. In a culture where it's not easy to make friends of the opposite sex by just going out, these events gave people that avenue and an alternate form of socialising.Chaitanya Senapathi, instructor, organiser, and administrator at these socials, agrees. He says that in a city so huge, it can be tough to find groups to socialise with. A lot of people come by themselves and leave having made friends.

Lindy Hop is easy to learn, and you can be spontaneous with a lot of the movements – as long as you get the basics right, of course. A social is a perfect setting where the steps are easy and the dance uninhabited. It’s a party without the need for mingling, very little need for awkward small talk or knowing anyone. Some came here for the dance, but a whole lot were looking for a fun diversion. Just like me.

There was small talk while I nervously tried to avoid stepping on my partner’s legs. But the room got warmer and the smiles a little friendlier as we danced along.

Regardless of who they were, or where they came from, everyone seemed to like that there were no torturous lessons, no fear of failure, and zero judgments. I could not believe that I had interacted with so many people and, having zero time to assess their flaws in the middle of this maddening dance, was going with the flow and having fun. I hadn’t even touched my phone for four hours now.

As the clock drew closer to midnight, the crowds started thinning. A few people came by and waved goodbye with a smile. No numbers were exchanged, and there was only one Facebook friend request. For the rest, it was a fun night. I certainly didn’t feel like a dance professional, but I was sweaty and content. Wonder if I’ll sign up for the dance classes now!

Learn Textile Printing With Iteeha

LEARN TEXTILE PRINTING WITH ITEEHA

Iteeha conducts art workshops around Mumbai, bringing forth textile printing techniques such as Dabu, Shibori, Tie & Dye and more. The workshops are held at ARTISANS', Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Social, and other venues.

READ SADIYA UPADE'S STORY

My eyes kept returning to the printed dupattas flapping back and forth on the flimsy wire as the tables were padded with layers of white cloth. Were we to make these? We were on the lawns of the Bhau Daji Lad museum for Iteeha’s Dabu block printing workshop, with treated pieces of fabric in front of us. Lemon-coloured, these squares were nowhere close to the many hues of blue of the dupattas that had caught my eye.

Dabu is an ancient mud resist technique, and the first task was just that – to prepare the mud. The black soil, chuna, powdered wheat husk, and natural gum came from a small Rajasthani village called Bagru, as did the artisans who would teach us. Passed through a sieve, the mixture then made its way to our tables, and we set to work. We grabbed blocks from the tables, dipping them in the mud, hastily making a pattern, before losing them to the ever-swelling crowd. I found a flower-shaped one, imprinting it on four corners of my 4x4 before lining up in front of the lawn fan.

It must have made a hilarious picture, for the artisans couldn't resist taking a photograph. Little did we care though, us a motley bunch of college kids, grannies, working women, and even a Japanese group on vacation. The moment it all came together though was when the pale-yellow background turned indigo! Even red! The block-printed pattern, in turn turning white, acted as the perfect offset. The smiles, unconstrained and apparent on everyone's face that instant. Then, a rush then to find more lemony squares to experiment on, to dip in the bucketfuls of dye so that the red and blue talk together. I only had eyes for my piece of indigo sunshine, more precious than the finished dupattas on the wire.

The Road From Fisherman’s Wharf to Nepean Sea Road: Part 2

THE ROAD FROM FISHERMAN'S WHARF TO NEPEAN SEA ROAD: PART 2

Bus Number 135 runs from Fisherman's Wharf or Bhaucha Dhakka on the east coast of Mumbai to Nepean Sea Road on the west. Its route traverses numerous neighbourhoods, residential, commercial, and a combination of the two.

READ MRIGANK WARRIER'S STORY

The aged Parsi gentleman totters onto bus number 135 and smiles beatifically at everyone and no one. The smile freezes when he sees an exhausted labourer dozing in a seat reserved for the elderly. When the chap refuses to move, bawa hell breaks loose.

A shrivelled hand lands “one tight slap” on the poor fellow’s cheek. A nasal voice booms like a public address system, alleging incestuous conduct in fluent Bambaiyya Hindi. The other hand wields a walking stick that thrashes the beleaguered worker out of the bus, where the sweet old uncle bids him farewell with a parting endearment: “Agli baar mila toh tera sar phod dunga!”

No one intervenes. This is par for course in a BEST bus; minds are concerned with more personal problems. At Do Taaki, there is no sign of tanks, pyaus, or even a shop selling mineral water. Women wearing elegantly embroidered, head-to-toe ridas – indeed all women – have disappeared. I see only men here: sipping a tumbler in Ebrahim Tea Shop at the entrance to Mohammedi Old Timber Market, carting metal out of Chhota Sonapur, flogging a pair of roller skates through my window. One lane of the road is encroached by second-hand furniture, another by parked motorcycles; I can see why only two BEST buses are allocated this route.

Inequality, thy name is Bombay; you inhabit and change form in street after street.

Outside Akbar Peerbhoy College, a knot of young ’uns pores over a cupboard drawer full of used video game cassettes, small-pin chargers, and cordless phones without charging units. The movies at Playhouse have changed since I was here last; Royal Talkies is showing Ilahabad Se Islamabad, New Roshan screens Betwa Bahubali. A few paces from here is my grandparents’ first marital home.

We pass Asha Hotel (“entrance from hotel compound backside”) and Centenary Methodist Episcopalian Church, squashed by flats on all sides. Every building is worn and unwashed, as though perpetually in rain shadow. Then, 135 crosses the Western Railway over Frere Bridge: from clutter to space, decrepit to heritage, Shyam Benegal and Satyajit Ray to Sooraj Barjatya and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Sample this: St. Columba’s pre-school occupies an entire bungalow at Nana Chowk. A Papanaswadi chawl has morphed into a skyscraper competing with the Tower of Babel. Even the deserted wing of Cumballa Hill Hospital looks more habitable than some of the crumbling buildings on the “wrong” side of the tracks.

Under JJ flyover is gridlock; under Kemp’s Corner flyover is a salon. The eye accustoms itself to green, footpaths meant for walking, and people walking for pleasure. Less than a kilometre away from a man sorting raddi next to a mound of dredged sludge is an air-conditioned store selling artisanal bread.

At the head of Nepean Sea Road, a gang of workers blithely demolishes the remains of a mansion near an ornate, long-dry fountain. At Tip & Toe – The Nail Club, Mrs. Sarabhai brings the meeting to order and announces the first item on the agenda: cuticles. Nearby is a chowk named after ACP Ashok Kamte, who died in 26/11 and lived nowhere in the vicinity.

Even the deserted wing of Cumballa Hill Hospital looks more habitable than some of the crumbling buildings on the “wrong” side of the tracks.

Gone are Bokhari Manzil, Patra Chawl, and Rajan Building; here are Darya Mahal, Petit Hall, and Neptune Court. Even road names sound upmarket; Patthe Bapurao Street and Sukhlaji Marg are replaced by Darabsha Lane and Mount Pleasant Road. The only tenements amidst well-guarded bungalows are pushed out of sight by a bridge that offers scintillating views of the sea.

The bus zooms past all this, unimpeded by traffic, beggars, hawkers, or potholes. When we turn onto Narayan Dabholkar Road, I lose it: while the madding crowds of Bhendi Bazaar live in claustrophobic cubbyholes, several ministers and the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court occupy palatial residences on sprawling grounds, far from heat and dust and reality. In Mumbai, the rulers dwell in the West, the ruled in the East.

If I sound envious, it’s because I am. I live in a boxy suburban building undistinguished by architectural innovation or historical import. Even I want a bedroom with sea views through arched windows, a turret for a study, and a portico to park cars I cannot drive. I want the Maharaja of Zamindarpur as my neighbour and a secret garden to nap in. Then I realise that the residents of Bhendi Bazaar might also be envious of someone who lives by himself, rent-free, in his parents’ home: me.

Inequality, thy name is Bombay; you inhabit and change form in street after street. Taking bus number 135 from Bhaucha Dhakka to Nepean Sea Road is an argument for aesthetics and socialism; the reverse is an eye-opener to aspiration and fraternity.

All it takes is an hour of your time and eighteen bucks.

Feature photo by unknown [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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The Road From Fisherman’s Wharf to Nepean Sea Road: Part 1

bhaucha dhakka nepean sea road

THE ROAD FROM FISHERMAN'S WHARF TO NEPEAN SEA ROAD: PART 1

Bus Number 135 runs from Fisherman's Wharf or Bhaucha Dhakka on the east coast of Mumbai to Nepean Sea Road on the west. Its route traverses numerous neighbourhoods, residential, commercial, and a combination of the two.

READ MRIGANK WARRIER'S STORY

"Machchi aisi cheez hai, kisi ke haath mein aati hai, kisi ke haath mein nahin", the fisherman declaims. At 5 p.m., the fish market at Bhaucha Dhakka is deserted, but the stench of the morning's catch lingers. Boats home from sea prance in the foaming brine, while skeletal crews lash them to the jetty and one another. They're too plebeian for the sleek New Dock, visible behind the ruined fortifications of Cross Island.

The mango-carton man, ubiquitous all over a summering city, is here too, fresh off the ferry from Alibaug. He and I are the only people waiting for bus number 135: from Fisherman's Wharf to Nepean Sea Road, from the east coast of the city to the west.

Riding on a BEST bus is the budget traveller's Mumbai Darshan. These Great Red Sharks navigate narrow streets like blue whales down a brook. They traverse the most roundabout route between origin and destination, offering an unhurried, immersive view of Urbs Prima in Indis.

The bus arrives at what must be the only stop beyond a Customs checkpoint, and I grab a window seat. As we lurch into motion, I gawk at the high walls and barbed wire that shield Victoria and Indira Docks. At Mallet Bunder, we swerve to avoid trailer trucks careening around the corner in some motocross fantasy. This is ten-wheeler territory.

Princess Building, which must have been designed by twelve squabbling architects, watches over an intersection manned by defeated traffic cops.

Near Nakhwa (boat-owner) Road, I spot the tracks of a disused shunt line from the century-old Mumbai Port Trust (MPT) Railway. In its heyday, it ferried cargo, passengers, and even troops during World War II. A signboard from 2008 at Nirman Bhavan lists "fair wages" for dockworkers; unskilled: Rs. 144/day, skilled: Rs. 155/day, hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hundreds of identical hatchbacks await mobilisation in the pre-shipment storage area of Frere Basin. Every building in this silent, treed precinct is reminiscent of Ballard Estate and belongs to MPT, the city's largest landowner.

We lumber past Mazagon Docks, where secretive navy engineers build warships, and turn onto Nawab Tank Road, named after a relative of Tipu Sultan who lived nearby (the kinsman, not Tipu). The docks, their dedicated railway, a station named Dockyard, the Central Railway Goods Yard, and an arterial road named after dockworkers' union leader Placid D'Mello, form a museum district of our maritime history. It's seldom on your way to anywhere; you must want to come here.

The 135 passes between the two arms of the Freeway (which also bears a steamship logo), through a guard of honour comprising parked school buses of Fazlani L'Académie. At Wadi Bunder, the eyes are pleased by a green arbour in the courtyard of Jaffer Sulemani Musafirkhana. Built by a Kutchi Memon in remembrance of his brother, it provides subsidised lodging to pilgrims embarking on Haj.

Over a bridge and the Central Railway, into another land. The Dongri of my childhood was synonymous with gang violence; today, it is just a busy transport hub. The Dongri Market building seems transplanted from a latter-day small town, but the Art Deco balconies projecting into the numbered streets of Naoroji Hill suggest a more tasteful past. The hill, once crowned by Dongri Fort, was levelled, like many others in the metropolis.

We pass a row of mesh-walled attics in which tailors spin into the dimming light. Noor Baug, once an open ground and wedding venue, is now Mufaddal Shopping Arcade, many of whose shutters are downed. A red-pink structure that appears to be a diwan-e-aam is actually Umerkhadi's Holy Cross Church. Here begins the vast campus of JJ Hospital, its Gothic OPD building visible behind walls that say "please don't piss here". In true capitalistic spirit, a string of pharmacies faces a pavement settled by indigent patients' families, their belongings strung on nails.

Riding on a BEST bus is the budget traveller's Mumbai Darshan.

At long last, Maulana Shaukat Ali of the freedom struggle's Khilafat Movement meets his brother Mohammed Ali via roads bearing their names at a chowk named after Allama Iqbal, who derided their cause. This is Bhendi Bazaar and bedlam. Princess Building, which must have been designed by twelve squabbling architects, watches over an intersection manned by defeated traffic cops. They wear mouth masks; I hope they have earplugs too. Traffic is static, horns are blaring and it's hard to believe that this locality gave birth to an eponymous musical gharaana whose most famous student is Lata Mangeshkar.

Heritage enthusiasts would rejoice in this community's architectural motifs: filigreed balconies and two sets of shutters for each window. Evening walkers could confirm the tabloid headline: "spot the last tree left in all of Bhendi Bazaar". Casual passers-by might notice the blind couple begging with a chaadar between them, as well as the men squatting outside Madina Sharif Hotel, devouring rice mixed with chunks of meat. Before Café Paradise (“NO BEEF"), someone would look down a teeming lane and glimpse Raudat Tahera, mausoleum of Syednas.

Instead, we tend to take the JJ flyover, which renders all this invisible. We deign to come here and gorge during Ramzan, though we bypass its presence for the rest of the year. As bus number 135 heads west, I think to myself: we profess our undying love for this city but visit only those parts that fit into our narrow narratives. To love something – rich and poor, beastly and beautiful – we must first acknowledge that it exists. All of it.

Feature photo by Ninad Chaudhari [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

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50 First Dates

50 FIRST DATES

WORDS BY THE CITY STORY TEAM

Your first date forensics tells us a lot about you. Like if you’re aiming high or keeping your ear to the ground. If you want conversation or to just read between the lines on the karaoke screen. Maybe you’d rather have a comedian as opening act…or let the ocean fill in the awkward silences.

Finding romance in the Big City needs possibly cosmic collusions, and The City Story wants to map where the first little sparks fly/stars came out to shine. We ask 50 people from Mumbai about their first date experiences and to give us dating advice.

Pari Purohit_200pxPari Purohit

Hometown: Mumbai

In Mumbai Since: ...I can remember (barring bits here and there where I lived in other cities for education or short stints of work)

Profession: Branding and design consultant

Tell us about your first ever date: My memory has suppressed my actual first date, but I do remember the one that matters. It didn’t feel like a date for starters, so that made it perfect. It was completely unplanned. And why it even happened was because we were the only two people in our circle of friends who worked from home (I was freelancing at the time).

We just sort of hung out, it was the afternoon, doing nothing specific at his house. It helped that we were also college buddies. There was a lot of talking, music, and being glued to our respective laptops. I think what I loved most was being able to be together, but yet not feeling obliged to engage with each other. We stepped out for a drink later that probably fits the bill of the more conventional sort of date. But the part that preceded it was more interesting to me.

Did it work out? Yes. Dated for almost a decade. Married three years now.

Best first date recommendation: If you’re looking for a long-term partner, a fancy restaurant or an over-planned sequence of romantic excursions doesn’t always cut it. I think in fact, the best way to gauge compatibility is when there’s precious little to do.


Nicole Pereira_200pxNicole Ann Pereira

Hometown: Band-ruh!

In Mumbai Since: 1988

Profession: Waitress and occasional life-saver at 40,000ft

Tell us about your first ever date: I've never been asked out on a date when I was a teenager. Every boyfriend was first a friend and then it just seemed too late to do the whole “date” thing. I remember seeing this “bad boy: with an RX100, and that was our date. Riding around Bombay till the wee hours of the morning. I used to love how quiet everything was at that time of the night and how peacefully this chaotic city would sleep.

Did it work out? No.

Best first date recommendation: I love The Tasting Room. It's so cute and quaint, and the food is amazing!

Dating Advice: As a flight attendant, I deal with approximately 400 people a day. My biggest lesson learnt is that everyone has a story to tell if you only take the time to listen. I'm probably a 50-year-old in a 29-year-old body, so I like it old school. Gentlemen, do your research and be well prepared. This “winging it” is just disrespectful. Ladies, don't go on dates for free meals. Most importantly, leave your fake face at home and bring a real personality to the dining table.


Manan Gandhi_200pxManan Gandhi

In Mumbai Since: 1985

Profession: Founder, Bombay Perfumery

Tell us about your first ever date: The faintest memory I have of a first date is going to Trattoria at the President, and it seemed like the biggest deal in the world. I’m the pickiest eater and I do not eat 95 per cent of things purely based on how they look. I had never tried mushrooms ever, and didn't plan to either, but this girl who was worldlier than me suggested ordering a mushroom appetiser, and I did not have the courage to object.

Did it work out? It did, until it didn’t. But I love mushrooms now, so that’s a plus

Best first date recommendation: Dating is such a dated concept (pun!). Does anyone go on dates anymore? Go to a place that serves wine, isn't too loud and isn't un-goldy bright. My vote forever and always is Pali Village Café.

Dating advice: I think the best dates are non-dates where you hang out like a normal person with someone who you are interested in (and importantly – someone who is interested in you!) Ask a lot of questions, listen and try not to spend all evening talking about the people who know in common.

PS: Do not normalise Trump by dating anyone who supports him.


Karan Bajaj_200pxKaran Bajaj

Hometown: Bombay, but now Pune

In Mumbai Since: Moved back in 2015 after 10 years away from the city

Profession: Sustainability Consultant

Tell us about your first ever date: It was my first date in Bombay and also my first date off Tinder in India. It was at Bonobo in Bandra, went in not expecting anything at all. In hindsight, the planning could've been a lot better as I was going trekking the day right after the date and I'd have been off the grid for two weeks, enough time for things to fizzle out in this age of cheap and easy love (?!). The date itself was great, very relaxed and free flowing. A very normal date, but it led to us spending two lovely years together.

Did it work out? The first message I sent after getting back from two weeks off the grid was to her – so safe to say that yes it did.

Best first date recommendation: Either Cafe Zoé or The Daily. Basically, any place that isn't too loud, has a nice bar and some decent cocktails.

Dating Advice: Personally I avoid a full blown meal as it's a commitment for the first time you're probably meeting someone. I also prefer sitting at bars or on high tables – normal tables are for a more familial/professional context. Maybe it's just me but sitting on high stools lends the situation a more relaxed vibe and conversation flows more freely. Also, don't be afraid to compliment – it literally costs nothing and can go a long, long way!


Juhi_200pxJuhi Pande

Hometown: I’m not sure I have one. I moved around a lot as a kid.

In Mumbai Since: 1998

Profession: Entrepreneur

Tell us about your first ever date: I was 19 when I went on my first date, and I was just so excited to be going on an actual date that I think I wore a full sleeved velvet top in the humid Bombay heat. We went to a restaurant on Pedder Road called Under The Over, and I have no idea what I ordered because I was very overwhelmed and probably spent a chunk of time being weird or trying to act cooler than I was. We also watched a movie – You’ve Got Mail. In hindsight, the whole day was really sweet, and at the end of it I was told, “I really like you and you should know that.” I still bust out a smile when You’ve Got Mail comes on the tele.

Did it work out? For a while, yes. We dated for two years.

Best first date recommendation: Don’t be weird. Eat all the food. Have a drink. And don’t wear velvet. Ever.


Varun_200pxVarun Thakur

In Mumbai since: April 20, 1987 12.32 pm

Profession: Comedian

Tell us about your first ever date: I was 14 and unlike the nightclub hopping 14-year-olds of today we had a much more sober childhood. Her parents were very super protective so we couldn't really go out. I remember getting her a slice of cake and going to our building terrace. Unfortunately it was locked and the building secretary had the keys. So we just sat on the steps outside in 35 degrees.

Best first date recommendation: Dinner dates, long drives, movies, are boring and done to death. Go crazy. Surprise her. Take her out to a place that has some adventure sports or on a scary roller coaster ride at an amusement park. She may like, she may not, she may think you're downright retarded, but she sure as hell will never forget that day.

Did it work out? I don't know. Never tried it. Let me know if works.

Dating advice: What am I, Pooja Bedi?


Raja Sen_200pxRaja Sen

Hometown: Delhi

In Mumbai since: 2004

Profession: Film critic

Tell us about your first ever date: The first Bombay date (or at least the first date that counts) was in the summer of 2004, when I went to see a sprightly Catholic girl with flowers in her first name and occasionally on her shirt. It was a molten Sunday afternoon, and I met her at the Cha Bar cafe inside the Oxford Bookstore at Churchgate.

I was close to two hours late and – here’s a tip – there is no better place to keep a date waiting than a fine bookstore. She was fuming regardless, but a quick jaunt around the aisles, with two twentysomethings reading rhymes out to one another in naively pretentious attempts to impress and to woo, cooled her jets quick and made for a memorably sunny time.

Did it work out? Look, I’ll forever be indebted to the girl with the flowery name because she dug up the Terry Pratchett novel I was mentioned in. We may live in different worlds now, but I’ll call that working out immensely well indeed.

Best first date recommendation: When in doubt, let the place do most of the talking. Literally, like a movie, or evocatively, like someplace remarkable that impels you into conversation, like a museum or a gallery or, as we did, a bookstore where a girl who knew the shelves showed the new boy in town the way around.


Sheetal_200pxSheetal Sudhir

Home: Bangalore/Mumbai

In Mumbai since: 1999

Profession: Media/Design pro

Tell us about your first ever date: Class 10. It was lunch at the “only place” I think… one of Bangalore’s best steak houses. There was a bouquet of flowers on the table… (Which I didn’t take home, so I could avoid the conversation with a suddenly very interested in my life dad!) I ate like a pig.

Did it work out? Hmmmm…I’m 41 and single!

Best first date recommendation: The dates that have fascinated me the most is when I’m taken to a world where I am truly introduced to the person…whatever or wherever that may be… If the person is interested in architecture…then a walk. Music…the opera or a recital. When someone’s really passionate about a thing it makes me more fascinated and the experience is more delightful.

Dating advice: Be a whore. Be a prude. Whatever makes you happy.


Sapna Bhavnani_200pxSapna Bhavnani

Profession: Coiffeuse by day/writer, actor, documentary maker, yogi by night

Tell us about your first ever date: He was 17, I was 13. He was a gujju breakdancer (yes) and invited me to a college event to watch him perform. I was so fucking blown away I licked his leather glove.

Did it work out? We didn’t go beyond first base, so, no.

Best first date recommendation: I go on an average of three dates per week, mostly all from Tinder. If I’ve never met them before then I prefer to meet them at cafés. If the date is not from Tinder but from the ‘real world’ and I know them, then my most favourite thing to do is take them for a midnight drive in my Thar and listen to obscenely loud music. Mainly because I don’t like to talk too much while driving. Sometimes I like to take an Ola instead and constantly change the drop locations just to test the spontaneity of my date.


Pasham Alwani_200pxPasham Alwani

In Mumbai since: 2003

Profession: Senior Fashion Editor at Grazia India

Tell us about your first ever date: Café Leopold. I wasn't really sure if it was a date or not, to be honest. But then again, when you're 17, nobody who wants to be “just friends” comes all the way to town from the suburbs just for a drink, right? It was really sweet to think about it, we had a few beers, chatted and giggled a lot.

Did it work out? Nope.

Best first date recommendation: The Tasting Room is my absolute favourite place for a first date. It's quiet enough to have an actual conversation, they do great wine cocktails. and the lighting is super flattering!

Dating advice: Don't take yourself too seriously. The other person is probably as awkward as you are. Oh, and at least offer to split the bill.


genesia-alvesGenesia Alves

In Bombay since: 1987

Profession: Writer. Mostly.

Tell us about your first ever date: We’d Mulder and Scully-d it for a while, which I suppose happens when you acquire a crush on a very close friend. I was 18. He was 23. Long story short, all my friends were going on a college trip to Manali and my mother had refused to give me permission. I was furious, miserable. So this guy offered to take me to VT (now CST) early in the morning to catch my friends as they left by train. Say hi. We’d chatted for years but never been out together before. I said yes before I thought it through.

It was my first lesson in how therapeutic a long motorcycle ride, early in the morning can be. My eyes watered as we sped into town, thin smog still sitting over the city. I was grinning into the wind.

We were too late to catch the train but instead we rode around the wide empty streets of South Bombay, then went to breakfast at Café Ideal.

Did it work out? Yeah. It took us a few years to get there but we got married and lived happily ever after. Sort of. I’m not even kidding.

Best first date recommendation: Depends on who you’re going out with and how well you already know them. The internet makes it okay for us talk to strangers, but maybe a movie or comedy show as a conversation crutch if it’s the first time you’re meeting someone. Five star coffee shops are great for prolonged people watching and figuring out if you’ve got a long future of playing GuessThatPerson’sStory together. Dinner, if you’re wondering if the truth is out there and want to ask them what exactly the status of this damn relationship is (keep the question for just before dessert).

Dating Advice: I only went out with one guy and married him (no X Files – okay I’ll stop with the rubbish references) so I’ll say this: I don’t know what you crazy kids call dates anymore. What is this Tinder and is it hygienic? Are you looking for a date for the Bandra Fair or for a lifetime of ferris-wheel rides, up and down in the same place, hinges and bolts falling off?


Yudi_200pxYudhishtar Urs

In Mumbai since: 2000

Profession: Actor

Where was your first ever date? My first date was with my first girlfriend ever. We went to this restaurant called Orange County, which was in Bangalore. At that time it was a fancy place and they had a buffet for Rs. 999/- but we choose the à la Carte menu and my heart just stopped. Bells went off and my pulse quickened as I was going into uncharted territory with very few rounds of ammunition; I mean very few as in just about enough to split the buffet. Now, as luck would have it she had already had an early lunch and opted for a cold coffee. Though I really think she could read minds and let me off easy or else I would have been an employee of the hotel for the duration of the day. Once we finished and the bill arrived, to my surprise she suggested we split the bill as she had a great time. So I guess, there is a God and she/he has filled the world with amazing women.

Did it work out? Yes.

Best first date recommendation: The best place to take your date would be a place that makes her feel special and at the same time doesn't set up the wrong expectations. Some place nice and easy to have a good conversation and get to know each other. In Mumbai : The 'Eau bar' at the Oberoi hotel. Great cocktails and there's a band that plays some nice music with a jazzy groove. Try the whisky sour or a gin fizz. Spend about as much time and call for an Uber once you’re done. Don't get too drunk as that's unattractive. You’re going to be out a few quid, so make sure your carrying a platinum card.

Dating advice: Be your self and don't bullshit. If things don't go the way you expected, always remember to be a gentleman. Some times the fine print is too small to get but when it gets clear be gracious and get the point. Most of all have fun. The mood you bring is the mood that will stay.


Priyanka Agarwal_200pxPriyanka Agrawal

In Mumbai since: 1986

Profession: Some kinda stuff in digital advertising

Tell us about your first ever date: I was 16, just met a boy through common friends and decided to go out for lunch. We went to the most authentic (that's really questionable) American comfort food restaurant on Marine Drive called New York New York. It was a summer afternoon and I ordered an Iced Tea. When it arrived and I lifted the glass to have my first sip, the glass broke on me, spilling all the iced tea on my first date. We left from there and ended up eating at McDonald’s. Haha!

Did it work out? Haha yeah! We dated for about a year or so. Can't say it was the best.

Best first date recommendation: Choose a place that serves sushi. It's a great ice breaker, it's not farty food, it's simple and delicious. And yes, it's important to choose a good Japanese restaurant or else things will turn out disastrous.

Dating advice: Never ever, just never ever, discuss your past relationship on your first date or for that matter first few dates. Also, most times people tend to put on a fake accent on a first date, just please don't do that.


Pooja_200pxPooja Dhingra

In Mumbai since: 1986

Profession: Pastry Chef

First date: My best first date was just walking around Colaba, drinks at Marina, followed by dinner at The Table and more drinks at Woodside Inn.

Best first date recommendation: Shameless plug, but I think Le15 Café is the ideal place for a dessert and coffee date

Did it work out? He didn't like sugar. It clearly couldn't.

Dating advice: Do not order a burger or anything with spinach.


RohanJoshi1_200pxRohan Joshi

In Mumbai since: 1983

Profession: Writer, comedian, performer

Tell us about your first ever date: My first ever date, I was nervous as hell, but I pulled out all the stops (or well, what 18-year-old me thought were all the stops) I borrowed dad’s car, picked her up, and I took her to Cloud 9. Nope, that’s not a weird metaphor, we went to the Cloud 9 Cafe in Colaba, which I loved back then because it was “nice” by my college-boy standards. By night, It also has one of the best views of South Bombay, especially the Colaba, Gateway, Taj area. From what I can remember, it was a pretty good date. (It's cool though, two years later I took someone else there, told them I liked them, and was told they had a boyfriend. Following that, I walked into a glass door and hurt my face, so balance returned to the universe)

Did it work out:  For a bit, yeah! 😀

Best first date recommendation: I don’t know if Cloud 9 is still operational, but I’m a fan of any place with a view. Because if the date goes badly, at least you still have a great view. Luckily Bombay isn’t lacking in places with great views; The Harbour Bar, Aer, Asilo, The Dome. And while some places with views are expensive, remember you can always get a drink at Woodside Inn and then offer to go for a walk along the Gateway (THE BEST VIEWS ARE FREEEEEEEEEE)

Dating advice: Ask the person you’re going on a date with what they like, what they hate, so you don’t end up at a place where they’re going to be awkward at (e.g. if they hate loud places, a club or a bar makes for a shit first date). And if the choice is yours, then pick a place that you have a bit of a connection with, a place you genuinely enjoy, so it doesn’t feel like you’re doing something that isn’t you, just to impress your date. Also, in a place you love, you have multiple ice-breakers waiting to go if conversation falters (“Have you tried the chocolate mousse here? It’s the best!”)


meher-mirzaMeher Mirza

Profession: I write about nice things, like food.

Tell us about your first ever date: It was extraordinarily odd! A bunch of us went to watch a movie, and I sat next to an acquaintance, who kept blathering on about random rubbish throughout the film. I'm not one for chatter during movies, so I responded with glares and shushing. After the movie, we went our separate ways. Later, my friend told me that the acquaintance had arranged the whole thing as a 'sort of' date. Had we hit it off, he would have taken me to lunch (hopefully, without the entourage).

Did it work out? Nope.

Best first date recommendation: I had a lovely first date while I was studying in London, with someone who took me to a little museum and then we had coffee and drinks and pastries at the museum shop. (I realise this has outed me as a fuddy duddy museum type). I think food is a great way to cover up lack of chemistry/conversation, but also a wonderful topic of discussion. Coffee/whiskey/wine tastings are nice, too – they take the pressure off.

Oh, here's a big Don't. If a woman pays (or offers to pay) her half of the bill, don't take it as a threat to your masculinity, and definitely don't make jibes like "there's a limit to women trying to be equal nowadays."

Dating advice: A full stomach leads to a contented relationship. I am speaking purely for myself, of course.


Vijayeta Kumar_200pxVijayeta Kumar

In Mumbai since: 2007

Profession: Filmmaker

Tell us about your first date: I was 15, and in Delhi, just after my 10th board exams. (Remember those? Still give me goosebumps!) He was a friend’s cousin who had also got done with his 12th boards. We went to watch Jurassic Park at Priya Cinema in Vasant Vihar. I was so bowled over by the film, I couldn’t think of anything else. Later, we went to the Nirula’s nearby and split a Hot Chocolate Fudge. He was talking about the stress of college admissions, DU cut-off lists and I was mentally calculating the money in my pocket and if I could have another HCF later.

Did it work out? I can’t even recall his full name now. So no, it didn’t work out.

Dating advice: Take it easy. Don’t make too big a fuss with how you look, what you wear etc. Wear comfortable shoes. Let him see you at your regular best. Talk less, listen more. (Best way to spot any red flags.) Keep it simple. A movie or play or a stand-up act is a great ice-breaker. And great fodder for conversation later.


Rohit Raj_200pxRohit Raj

In Mumbai Since: 2007

Profession: Advertising

Tell us about your first ever date: Back in the day before the iPod and mp3 revolution happened, was these music store chain that went by the name Music World. The flagship music world store in Hyderabad had about 10 listening posts where you could sample music from their latest collections. So, when I finally managed to grab the attention of my high school crush on the pretence of having similar musical tastes, I devised this genius plan of taking her out on a date to Music World and exploring our tastes in music and movies. Pop culture references, intense debates on favourite films and a few dozen music trivia quizzes later, I would say judged the hell out of each other and got to know each other much better. More importantly, no part of the hard-earned pocket money was spent doing this. Music shops > Coffee shops

Did it work out? We did end up going a second date and also ended up dating for a while until long distance drifted us apart. We are still friends who throw some music trivia at each other once in a while.

Best First Date Recommendation: Don’t go to the movies. Because you won’t get to converse, and that is probably the most important thing to do on the first date. Because if you can’t hold a conversation for two hours, you aren’t going very far with this.

Don’t go to a fancy restaurant, because the risk quotient of a first date going wrong is super high and then if you also deplete your bank balance having a bad time it’s a double whammy. Pick a place where you have some form of leverage (Know the waiter, know the usher) and that can go a long way. Also, you generally can’t go wrong with beer or sushi!

Dating advice: Play to your strength and do something that gives you an opportunity to play the expert. So if you’re into comics, also go to the comic book store and introduce something new to them. If you are a movie buff, carry a copy of your favourite film and revolve conversations around it to have them interested in the film. You can end the date by giving them a copy and also hope to get a second date on the pretence of getting the copy back.


Anu_200pxAnu Menon

In Mumbai since: 2004

Profession: Actor, Comedienne

First date: It's been a while since I've been on a first date. Mine was at Indigo Deli with a guy that was chivalrous to the point of annoyance. But his posh British accent kept me amused.

First date recommendation: The Bombay Canteen. It's cheery. And if you run out of conversation you could always comment on the waiters' "punny" t-shirts

Dating advice: Do keep a couple of stories handy...not to amuse your date, but to amuse yourself. For there will be times when cocktails won't be enough to do the job.


ravina rawal_200pxRavina Rawal

In Mumbai since: I discovered that it actually wins the Delhi vs Mumbai debate when it comes to the people.

Profession: Writer and editor.

Tell us about your first date: It was a blind date at someone's house party with a friend's friend who used to prank call me (we had landlines without caller ID at the time) because he liked my voice.

Did it work out? Um. He excused himself to go to the bathroom and came back three hours later. We didn't speak again for a year, but we've been best friends since. So no, but yes. (Wow. He needs slaps. Why am I even friends with him?)

Best first date recommendation: Some place where the music isn't too loud so you can talk, but not too quiet that the silences get awkward. Taj Mahal Tea House if you're not drinking, a rooftop bar with watermelon martinis if you are, a walk along/around the sea if you're still deciding. Walks are great in general. So is the sea.

Dating advice: Don't panic, be straight up, never settle.


Jose_200pxJose Covaco

In Mumbai since: I was born here in 1982

Profession: Radio, Television, currently some kind of content person on the Internet.

Tell us about your first ever date: I come from a time when there was no concept of "dating". We used to call it "holding hands". My first date ever, was behind a building close to where we would all hang out. We said nothing. It was incredibly awkward. We sat there, next to the building's water tank, holding hands, until her older sister found us and started yelling. I ran for my life.

Did it work out: I'm married to someone else and we have a kid. So no, it didn't work out.

Best first date recommendation: Don't go to a restaurant. Definitely do not go to a club. You can't hear people in there and they usually look completely different once the lighting gets better. Get to know each other over a light walk or a drive instead and get some coconut water. Even coffee is too much pressure.

Dating advice: Do not take dating advice from people. Go with your gut. If you have a history of making bad decisions, then you should probably talk to someone about it. Always give it all you've got. Love like it's going to be your last. Be real.


Neysa Mendes 1 - Photo Credit - Naman Saraiya_200pxNeysa Mendes

In Mumbai since: 1996

Profession: Arts Consultant + Smoothie Maker at Good Slice

Tell us about your first date: My first memory of what qualifies as a proper date was at The Ghetto. I remember that I wore a blue halter top (one I wouldn't be caught dead in now), we talked about the Pearl Jam they played, probably got drunk on a single beer, and actually had quite a fun time.

Did it work out? Yeah, for a hot second. But it was definitely the most carefree, easy, relationship ever. I thought he was hot, we got along, and that was all it needed to be. It was a lovely, young summer romance that ended around when the monsoon clouds arrived.

Best first date recommendation: Parks. I believe in parks. I've also learned first dates are pretty much the only times men will come with me to a park, so I take complete advantage of that! Parks are fairly low key, there's lots of interesting people watching, and sometimes walking, without having to face each other throughout can take some of the edge off.

I also believe in fun bars. My favourite sort of bar is one like The Bombay Canteen – it’s busy, but not so you can't have a conversation, the music is good, and so are the drinks and food. I also really like sitting at the bar over sitting at a table. It's more fun, and you're actually closer, which is easier for conversation.

Dating advice: Use proper sentences. I went on my first date with my husband because he spelled my name right. Yeah. It sounds strange, but the little things just mean that the other person has made the effort to know a little about you, or taken the time to craft a proper message.

If you like the other person, call or text the next day. Don't put it off.

I always offer to pay, but I sorta like it when a man pays for the first date. But only the first. After that, it's gotta be equal.

Enjoy it all. It can sometimes take a while of sifting through the nonsense out there, but every so often, you'll find yourself on that perfect first date, where everything just feels easy, and you never want it to end. Those are the best.


Abish_200pxAbish Mathew

Home: Noida

In Mumbai since: 2012

Profession: Comedian

Tell us about your first ever date: A common friend wanted to set us on a blind date. But  both of us had figured out who it was gonna be beforehand. And after we met and expressed how this is barely a date, the rest of the night turned out to be a roast of that common friend of ours.

Did it work out? Well, not very well. I was an ass and came dressed in shorts and a t shirt. That should explain how the date went.

Best first date recommendation: Nothing better than a drink and snacks. Anything more is too formal. Dinner is too formal.

Dating advice: From me? Ha! Well, you should *** and remember to **, be careful not to *** else *** might happen. And that's the perfect formulae for a perfect date.


Vidya_200pxVidya Balachander

In Mumbai since: 1998 all the way until 2014 (with just a couple of years in Chennai)

Profession: Food journalist

Tell us about your first ever date: The first one of any significance was with a very lanky (and nervous) boy. We had known each other for a while, but had finally started 'dating' in the proper sense of the term. We went to New Yorker or Pizzeria, I've forgotten which, but barely ate because it felt so odd and formal.

Did it work out? Yes, despite not being in the same city for the next six years. It will be 15 years to that first date this October. Fun fact: A well-meaning doctor once told Vishnu, the lanky boy in question, that he would put on weight 'once he settled down'. Inexplicably, his prediction has come true.

Best first date recommendation: Don't go to fussy, fine-dining places where you have to mind your Ps and Qs. (Save that for a few dates down the line). Kala Ghoda Cafe makes for an intimate yet casual location, and if you'd prefer a stronger libation, go to Woodside Inn in Colaba.

Dating advice: Not a great deal—I haven't been in the dating game for a long time, my advice might be rusty—but to be yourself. Dress sharp, and smell great. Don't drink if you're uncomfortable. Humour always helps — especially when the date is a disaster.


Sheena Dabholkar-1_200pxSheena Dabholkar

In Mumbai since: On and off since 2010.

Profession: Creative director at LOVER

Tell us about your first date: My first real date that I can remember was when I was in uni. He picked me up in his rickety van and we went to a top of hill and drank a bottle of wine in huge actual wine glasses and watched the city lights. It was really nice.

Did it work out? Thankfully no. I later discovered he copy-pasted the same things to everybody in his life.

Best first date recommendation: I'm going to go with one of my favourite things to do in the city with my boyfriend – Art Night Thursday – which is on the second Thursday of every month. All the galleries are open until 9.30 p.m. and some of them have new openings (aka drinks and snacks and the artist present). You essentially gallery hop so you won't get too bored even if the date sucks, the art is usually great, and if not, then that's something to bond about.

Dating advice: Do something you're both into – get a light bite and go to a show, or go on a midnight walk with a hipflask of something strong. Talk a lot, listen a lot, be curious, be kind, keep your phone away, drink a heap, and always share dessert.


Simin_200pxSimin Patel

In Mumbai since: 1984!

Profession: Historian and Blogger: Bombaywalla

Tell us about your first date ever: I went on what seems like 50 first dates – drives, coffees and more drives – with a guy who had an SUV with Superman stickers. I was 17 going on 18 at the time and didn't fully fathom what was happening.

Did it work out? Then on one drive, as we approached Wilson College, he mentioned he was dating a friend of his, whom I had briefly met. A few group drives with his friends followed. A year later, they had broken up and we were back to our drives for two. Things could have gotten somewhere but I couldn't get over being slighted so!

Best first date recommendation: I'd say tea at KGC (Kala Ghoda Café) if you're not quite sure about the person. If more certain, drinks at The Ghetto.

Dating advice: Girls like me tend to be drawn to alpha males, who talk the talk (and are all over the place). But actually, it's the guy who asks you for chai at five at the library that are really sweet (as I discovered with my chappie, with whom I am very happy).


Nisha_200pxNisha Damani

In Mumbai since: Birth

Profession: Creative consultant

Tell us about your first ever date: I was 17, studying in FYJC at St. Xavier's College, and the cutest boy in the world asked me to our college prom. Of course I said yes. He took me to Thai Pavilion, and we chatted for hours and almost missed the prom.

Did it work out? Well, it's complicated. Haha. We ended up being best friends. Until we started dating at 23. Dated for five years and been married for 10. To think it all started with stir fried morning glory and chicken green curry.

Best first date recommendation: Don't go to a stuffy uptight place that makes for awkward conversation pauses. (Yes, I am aware my first date is the opposite of my recommendation. But I was 17 and no place seemed stuffy to me then.) Keep it light and simple. Maybe a bar for some drinks and snacks. The second date can be more intimate. Try The Table. Best food in Bombay.

Dating advice: Trust your gut. When in doubt, chuck it out.


malini_200pxMalini Agarwal

In Mumbai since: Jan 1, 2000

Profession: Creative Director & Founder of MissMalini Entertainment

Tell us about your first ever date: I think my first "date" was at the age of nine with boy called Arun who lived in the same apartment complex as I did, in Delhi. We went downstairs to play "glow worms" – remember those? We'd hold the plastic snails and such under a lightbulb till they would start to glow and then make up stories about them. (They had a cartoon based on them and everything!) Anyway, that day we played glow worms and held hands for a while sitting on the stairs alone. Least complex and sweetest date I ever had! I wonder where he is now and if he still has his glow worms...

Best first date recommendation: Well I don't know if this is the best – given its messy factor – but it’s certainly unique! On our first date, Nowshad (my now husband) took me to eat crabs at Trishna. I remember looking mildly horrified as the waiter passed me a bib, but its a great ice (and shell) breaker for sure! Today I'd suggest the crabs at Bastian though. But if you don't want to risk catapulting a crab claw across the room on your first date, I'd say do something fun, like bowling (Smaaash, Lower Parel) or pool (145 Colaba or Bandra). Lots of opportunity to play around and make accidental physical contact, a little friendly competition gets the sparks flying I feel. Plus it takes away the stress of only having to talk! (Just don't be a sore loser.) Food-wise I'd say One Street Over, amazing food, great vibe and if all else fails get a round of pickle backs from Chef Kelvin for liquid courage! If its just drinks try Luna at the St. Regis, or their Asilo rooftop, roof tops are romantic right? Oh there's a darling new place called 1Above in the mills as well. Massive and lovely.

Dating advice: 1. Text a bunch first, it breaks the ice! And you can tell whether or not you want to waste your time on someone who spells "lyk dis."

2. Ladies dress cute but comfortably. You'll regret the, "I can't feel my little toe shoes" immediately. Boys – no need for a leather jacket. Its 40 degrees. She'll think you're stupid.

3.Listen more than you talk. When you ask a question, pay attention to the answer. Don't just think about your next question.

4. Gentlemen, go old-school. Open the car door (walk around to the other side of the uber, don't make her slide!) Call me old-fashioned, but I like a boy who buys dinner on the first date even if I offer/insist.

5. Girls, smile. Don't bring up ex boyfriends or how many kids you want to have... yet.

Most importantly, be yourself. That's who they asked out anyway. God speed!


Naman_200pxNaman Saraiya

Home: Calcutta

In Mumbai since: 2011, and plenty of summer holidays visiting cousins ever since I can remember.

Profession: Writer, photographer and filmmaker. I can't pick one just yet.

Tell us about your first ever date: It took me a while to recall this one, but I have it now! I was possibly in Grade 4, and our parents were friends – so we'd end up meeting for dinners and other such things. Shweta had gotten a VCD of Space Jam from cousins abroad but couldn't make it work on her PC, but I had it all figured out. It was a lovely summer afternoon watching Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny and the gang slam dunk their way into our hearts. There was popcorn involved, and a short evening terrace shindig, before my Mum and I returned home.

Did it work out? Well she got married last winter, so that's that. But she's given me grief for missing the wedding, so while we didn't end up ever dating, we remain friends.

Best first date recommendation: This is a tricky one, but I guess it's best to ensure that both parties are comfortable with what's happening, and on the same page. It can't just be a date in one person's head, because that would almost entirely suck. I've done casual drinks, a fancy-ish dinner, a gig, a lovely Lodhi Gardens stroll in the winter (yeah, we have many in Bombay too!) and even visited a photography exhibit. Hell, my girlfriend and I, our first date was a cab ride from Colaba to Lower Parel on a traffucked day, so I was sweaty as hell, but at least I got to spend plenty time with her. More than anything else, it's important that both are comfortable and being themselves; not awkward. Otherwise, it's great television content, not a real date.

Dating advice: Pffffffft! Don't listen to anyone, except your gut. And of course, listen to the person you're with because if you're not – are you even dating?


Insia_200pxInsia Lacewalla

In Mumbai since: Always. Till I got to Jaipur on Christmas Eve, December 2015.

Profession: Food and Beverage Curator. Hospitality Consultant.

Tell us about your first date: I was 16. A senior from college who I was eyeing asked me to a movie. I wore very high-waisted white pants. Got there and he said, “nice pants,” which, after many months, I learnt was a sarcastic comment and not a compliment. I was so nervous, I ate four scoops of chocolate ice cream (Now, I don't recommend you wear white pants if you are going to order chocolate ice cream). After two hours of Shanghai Nights and a crazy sugar high, he asked me to come over.

Did it work out? Surprisingly, yeah! Dated for four years. Wonder what the f**k I was thinking!

Best first date recommendation: Eating with someone can say a lot about the person. Go to a place where you are comfortable and which is equidistant for both of you. (Also, sit close to the door if you are the "I can't do this, let me take off" type) I recommend The Pantry or Taj Mahal Tea House, which are quiet and perfect to have a conversation.

Dating advice: Sweaty palms/Sweat patches/Body odour are a big turn off. It's natural for it to happen when you are nervous/anxious. Use adequate amount of deodorant and carry tissues.

Be nice. Don't try to prove how awesome you are or brag about your achievements or exes. Listen to the other person. Again, Be nice.

Please offer to pay at least half the bill.

Boys - Just be chivalrous. Hold the door, pull a chair, let her order first, ask if she'd like to share something.

Keep your phone on silent and off the table

Don't "Oh my god, have you seen this video?" Cat/puppy/little baby videos are not fun to sit and watch on your first date.


Hrishikesh KananHrishikesh Kannan (Hrishi K)

Home: Of no fixed address. Grew up around the country thanks to my father’s transferable job.

In Mumbai since: 1995

Profession: Radio Producer & Presenter, Voice Over Artist & MC

First Date: We met at an Andheri coffee shop because she had been part of a workshop that I had conducted at the Xavier Institute of Communication on announcing, broadcasting, compering and dubbing. She called asking for some help with contacts as she was a TV presenter looking for work at the time, and I told her that I didn’t remember her name but also that I didn't forget faces. She asked me if we could meet briefly since she wanted to show/give me her showreel so I could circulate it to people I knew in the TV world. I agreed, and what was to be a five-minute meeting went on for several hours. Our next one was walking down Carter Road. I was driving in from town and I said let's meet half way in Bandra and travel back to Andheri together. Good old fashioned walk amongst nature and the jostling Bandra runners and jaywalkers.

Did it work out: Sure as hell did! We have an almost five-year-old child to show for it.

Best idea for a date: Coffee shops – clichéd but they work! No loud pub music, no concentrating on the menu and food at a restaurant. Ideal for conversations, which is what you need.

Dating advice: No loud shirts. The neon pink and neon green can come in later. Keep it simple in the beginning. And lure her with the right words and lots of straight in the eyes looks. No shifty eyes please.


Ramona_200pxRamona Arena

In Mumbai since: Let's just say most of my life minus about 10 years

Profession: TV Personality, Live Event Host, Singer, Actor, Writer... I could go on but don't want to show off.

Tell us about your first ever date: It was a date with six other friends present, so we would not have to feel awkward and call it a date. Everyone ordered soft drinks, except him. He ordered last and thought he'd be romantic by ordering only a straw to share my drink with me. Talk about a rude shock. That was crossing the line of lameness in my independent, free spirited teenaged mind.

Did it work out? Absolutely! Not!!! Never even in my worst nightmare.

Best first date Recommendation: Any nice café for a good cup of coffee or juice, if it's a blind first date. You don't want to see strange eating habits or stay too long. If it's a first date after having hung out with each other, definitely a restaurant for a nice meal – that’s not way too high end, or way too cheap; only in Bandra West. Oh and split the bill.

Dating advice: Just be who you are – don’t slap on a personality you think the other person may like. Smile genuinely and listen to what the other is saying. That's how you have a conversation, instead of a list of questions you're getting answered. Above all else, most importantly, I can't stress this enough: Be intelligent.


Bhavika_200pxBhavika Thakkar

In Mumbai since: Forever. Or 1984 to be precise.

Profession: Freelance writer/Events and television producer.

Tell us about your first ever date: I was a "mean girl" in school and so my first date ever had to obviously fit into that stereotype. I don't remember the details except that it involved a bad boy and a fast bike. I'd like to blame the lame American teenage movies I watched.

Did it work out? My first date ever? No. I look at him now and he has a paunch and a balding pate. Such a far cry from the good-looking, bad boy. Such a cliche (again) and I'm so glad it didn't work out.

Best first date recommendation: Go somewhere fun. I find dinners stifling, really. A concert is nice or drinks at your favourite bar. Something informal, basically.

Dating advice: For the men : Make the first date last. It's the only first date you'll ever have. For the women: Make sure you have a friend who can bail you out, you know in case the guy insists on making it last and he's the serial killer type.


Chhavi_200pxChhavi Sachdev

In Mumbai since: 2008

Profession: radio journalist and podcaster (India’s best love, sex and dating podcast, y’all)

First date ever: It was Valentine’s Day and I was in 12th grade. We were a group of six girls who were friends with six guys and we sort of picked straws about who would go on a date with whom. I was psyched: my date was the cutest of the lot. I still remember what I wore. We ended up at a fast food joint in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, but the side effect of us being a group of hormonal teenagers was that the mix and match didn’t work for everyone and there was massive tension and FOMO. Our date was crashed fairly quickly by four of the others.

Did it work out? Not for me. But my date and one of the other girls in the group married each other. The high-school sweethearts have two gorgeous kids and the proverbial white picket fence happily-ever-after.

Best first date recommendation: Insist on public spaces! Coffee shops or an early evening drink for a first meeting are great because then you can extend the date if it’s going well, but bail if it’s not. I am also big on doing stuff together (hey, get your mind out of the gutter!) if you can identify something you both enjoy exploring – whether it’s a pub quiz (Doolally?), art show, or a wine tasting (bonus thumbs up for getting a nice buzz while you’re at it). And then, if it goes well, relocate and go for a walk or go get dessert.

Dating advice: Oh, I have plenty:
 Don’t be late. Be yourself, which means, eat what you want, drink what you want (as long as it doesn’t make you burp or fart very obviously. If you think there’s going to be kissing, make sure you’re both getting onions or garlic). Don’t judge, but don’t censor yourself, don’t agree with things you don’t agree with. Put your phone away. Tell at least one person where you are and whom you’re with. Arrange for a bail out call at a set time. BYOC (where “c” = condom). And if it sucks, be nice and let them know you won't see them again.


MunjaalMunjaal V. Kapadia

Home: Navsari

In Mumbai since: 1996-2009; 2016-now

Profession: Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Tell us about your first ever date: Our first date wasn't really a date to begin with. I was in my second year of medical school and she was in her first. I had this noisy Tata Indica and I was giving her a ride home from college. We got talking. Although, she did most of the talking that day. About everything: her school, her friends, heartbreak. I listened. As we were approaching her home, she asked if I had time to take a little detour. She took me to this garden at Breach Candy and we walked all the way out to the sea, by the rocks. We walked around and held hands. When I finally dropped her back home, she asked, "Where have you been all my life?"

Did it work out: 18 years and two kids. Who'd have thunk?

Best first date recommendation: Be stupid. Don't try too hard. Once a girl has been with someone who has no filter between his heart and his mouth, no one else will ever come close.

Dating advice: Smile goofily, kiss awkwardly and laugh together during sex.


Payal KhandelwalPayal Khandelwal

Hometown: Delhi and Mumbai

In Mumbai since: 2006

Profession: Editor of The Floating Magazine

Tell us about your first ever date: My first date was when I was in school. It was at McDonald's in Delhi with a family friend that I had a huge crush on, only he didn't know it was a date. My first non-imaginary date was at Candies at Bandra Reclamation, which incidentally was also my first time in Candies.

Did it work out: No. I think I fell for Candies instead of falling for him. I did go on a couple of more dates with him, but I was just being polite.

Best first date recommendation: I think going for an evening drink for a first date is a good idea. Avoid anything too loud or too formal. I still prefer all the good old local watering holes like Yacht, Janta, Soul Fry, Strand Hotel's rooftop restaurant in Colaba (with a fantastic view of the Gateway of India and the sea), etc. If the date isn't going well or is too boring, you can always eavesdrop on other people's conversations. If it's going alright, you can head out after a couple of drinks to just walk around or get something to eat elsewhere or watch a late night movie. The tiny, charming and decrepit Gem theatre (in the Gaiety-Galaxy complex) in Bandra – with a string of fairy lights on its screen – has often been my favorite movie date spot.

Dating advice: Go with the flow.


BhavnaBhavana Singh

Home: I move around a lot.

In Mumbai since: 2014

Profession: Communications strategy at a PR agency

Tell us about your first ever date: I was a super nerdy kid; asthma, badly-cut hair, braces, soda-bottle glasses and always lugging a heavy book. One day a boy from another school’s debate team asked me out to dinner. I spent all day getting ready, imagining us holding hands and discussing literature. He took me to McDonald’s and bought me a burger. Try to imagine an awkward 16-year-old eating a burger with braces. At the end of the date, he said, “You have stuff in your teeth” and walked off.

Did it work out: I’ve spent two days trying to remember his name, so I’m going to go with no.

Best first date recommendation: Go for a walk in the city where you live! It’s the best way to gauge if someone views the world in a way that’s interesting to you.

Dating advice: Use spell-check. Drink a lot.


Anisha_200pxAnisha Shah

In Mumbai since: Birth (It was called Bombay then)

Profession: Dance Choreographer

Tell us about your first date: My first date was when I was 15 and Barista was a rage at the time (at least for 15 year olds)… He got blue Curaçao and I got coffee.

Did it work out: Not with my first date but thank God I eventually found a man who loves coffee, beer, food, dogs and dance!

Best first date recommendation: For me it's always been about being able to find an activity that I can do along with the person I'm interested in, and it's been the best ice breaker always because it's then when you can’t fake who you are. If that means finding common interest in music or dance or games or food or pets or sudoku even or a certain kind of movie after which you can sit and dissect it. It's not too personal and yet a big part of who you are and you can ease into the details as you move along.

Dating advice: Don't be insecure.


Kunal_200pxKunal Rao

In Mumbai since: Birth, apart from 4 years in the middle when I was in different countries

Profession: Comedian, Writer, serial track-pants wearer

Tell us about your first ever date: Let's leave aside the sad loser-like excuses for dates in college! It's not really a date if you're meeting in the college canteen for pav bhaji! But since then... First date was an ice cream date! It was simple and silly and allowed both of us to be ourselves, which was supremely important to me.

Did it work out? Sure! Glad you didn't ask for how long! But yes, it works out often enough. Sustaining is the hard part!

Best first date recommendation: Anything that induces conversation is a great first date for me. So that cuts out things like movies, plays and live concerts. Walks are probably the best on the first date, because I think people find it harder to lie when they're concentrating on avoiding potholes! It's comfortable and induces honesty.

Dating advice: I really shouldn't. I'm in no position to do so! But I'd say – it’s okay to be vulnerable.


Manish_200pxManish Anand

In Mumbai since: 1989

Profession: Actor

Tell us about your first ever date: It was at Bandra Fort. I was 11, she was 13. We got there at 6:30 a.m. on our cycles, watched the sun rise, drank coconut water at bandstand and cycled back home. We held hands!

Did it work out? Yes it did. We were boyfriend girlfriend for one week.

Best first date recommendation: Not an amusement park and certainly not on a roller coaster ride.

Dating advice: You don't own your partner! Just take it easy and if it's easy, take it again 🙂


Meera_200pxMeera Ganapathi

Home: Bangalore/Mumbai

In Mumbai since: 2008

Profession: Writer and editor of Design Fabric/Soup

Tell us about your first ever date: My first date was in school, over cold coffee in Brigade Road surrounded by five guffawing friends. The entire date was a series of advertising clichés from the late '90s and even ended with him gifting me a card from Archies. To complete the circle of clichés I also wrote about it in my diary later. My diary was bright yellow and yes it did have a lock. Also from Archies.

Did it work out? Soon after I met another boy who gifted me a book of love poems by Tennyson. Being a raging nerd I moved on faster than a babbling brook. So, I guess not.

Best first date recommendation: I find it a bit stifling to go to a very obviously romantic restaurant and meeting someone I’m meant to be interested in. Finding something to wear, eating in a non-monster-like fashion and the general expectations involved make me very anxious. Instead I prefer walking and umm…talking.

My first memorable and most beautiful date in Bombay was just us walking around Bandra and ending up in Zenzi for drinks. December is the best time for a walk in Bombay, follow the Christmas lights in Bandra for a uniquely romantic night. While all of Bandra tends to be extravagantly lit up for Christmas, I recommend walking through quaint old Ranwar Village, which is my favourite side of Bandra and making your way across through Chapel Road, on to Hill Road.  Make a quick stop at Yacht Bar*, if your date is fun, he/she might appreciate the company of local drunks and the odd rat, but quite honestly, the fleeting red traffic lights make for an unexpectedly charming ambience. Don’t settle (it’s hard to because you simply cannot pee there) and make your way across Chuim Village to Soul Fry in Pali Market. Try the super sweet and highly potent Planter’s Punch and Sungta Maria.  If you’re still up to it, make your way down to Pali Village Café for Red Snapper and sangria or wine. Carry mints, in case you kiss and wear comfy footwear so you don’t die.

Dating advice: Put your phone away.

*No yachts involved, this is a dive bar.


Gino_200pxGino Banks

In Mumbai since: Birth

Profession: Musician

Tell us about your first ever date: It was during my school days. I had just started to ask this girl out so we decided to go out for dinner. It was a big deal since we had never done this before. Prior to that date we had only met each other at school. This was in the '90s so we didn't have cell phones either... simple times. I met her half-way and then we took a cab to the restaurant. We were nervous but still happy to be doing this. I took her to a restaurant called Pot Pourrie (it's on the corner of Turner Road, Bandra). The place served Italian/Continental /sort of cuisine, so I assumed it was fancy and figured it would impress her.  For the whole meal she just ate french fries. We had a good time.

Did it work out? It was great for the time. We are still good friends now.

Best first date recommendation: Find a cuisine that you both enjoy. Also do not go to a place with loud music. You need to be able to hear each other's conversation. That's very important. Especially on the first date. The conversation will either make it or break it. So, definitely no clubs!

Dating advice: Be yourself. It really matters in the long run. And remember Karma is a bitch!


Chetan_200pxChetan Kapoor

In Mumbai since: Birth. Go fish.

Profession: Advertising. Creative Director.

Tell us about your first ever date: There used to be a jazz club by the sea called Jazz By The Bay. It sells pizzas now! Great music, awesome spaghetti, candlelight, the works. It could only happen in the '90s. Imagine taking someone on a first date to a jazz club now!

Did it work out? Swimmingly. The memories still come in waves.

Best first date recommendation: The venue doesn't matter as long as you can be heard. The Indigo terrace in Colaba is a great place. Never go to a nightclub on a first date. Always ask what the other person likes before you decide.

Dating advice: Keep it real. And TALK. That's a human on the other side of the table. Well, usually is...


Tushita_200pxTushita Patel

Home: Now Bangalore, previously Somnath Lane, Bandra

In Mumbai since: 2000 to 2011

Profession: Secretary

Tell us about your first ever date: I studied in a co-ed boarding school, so being alone with boys with romantic intentions came early. Does going for school tea with a boy exclusively count? If yes, I can't remember the first. If it's the first time I went out with a boy and a restaurant bill was paid, it was to a Chinese restaurant in North Calcutta which was called Mombasa. Naturally, many jokes on the geographical inappropriateness of the name were made, establishing we were from a similar, slightly elite, college-going, buzzer-round quizzing, familiar-with-the-atlas type. It was a delightful afternoon that led to a long evening. All good dates should hold some promise. For us, the pinnacle of Indo-Chinese cuisine (golden fried prawns, chilly chicken and sweet corn soup) must have been a hormonal trigger. I paid, because I used to earn giving tuitions. Learnt many things about myself too.

Did it work out? Of course. We went on several great dates (most of which he paid for as he started working very soon), super wild holidays, did many wonderful things together for many years. That for me is working out.

Best first date recommendation: Should be easy and low pressure, ideally involving a few activities that may also provide an easy escape route. A walk in Humayun's Tomb (or equivalent) can lead to a drink and if things go well, some dinner (eating can be overrated on a date - restaurant dinners don't do much for me. On the other hand, if someone is cooking for you, that's intimate, and you're pretty much decided on the rest of the night, aren't you?) I think walking to a destination, taking a Metro together can be indicative of the kind of person you're with. Also some dancing. Always some dancing. Over-planning can be a bit dull though, on a first date. However, no detail can be too small in an old relationship.

Dating advice: 1. Love in the time of anti-Romeo squads can be scary, so don't throw caution to the wind about the surroundings. 2. Being smart is not being unromantic. A 19-year-old I know and respect studies in the US. She was going on a date with a frat boy, but his frat house had what she described as a "rape-y vibe."  I'm glad she sensed it and chose to go somewhere else. 3. The most enjoyable dates are those which are light and not burdened by the weight of some vagueness about the "future." It's always about the present. Here and now, baby.


Shruti_200pxShruti Seth

In Mumbai since: Birth

Profession: Actor, TV Presenter

Where was your first ever date? Little Italy in Juhu

Did it work out? No

Best first date recommendation: I personally really like Asian food, though I love Golden Dragon at the Taj, and that would need some deep pockets.

Dating advice: Do not feel shy to eat on a date. Let your love for food always cloud your judgment in trying to impress someone.


Kanu_200pxKanu Gupta

In Mumbai since: 2007

Profession: Entrepreneur – Savor Experiences

Where was your first ever date? Pizza Hut. I had made a bet that if I lost I would pay for dinner and if she lost she would pay for dinner. Don't think she really realized I was winning either way.

Did it work out? I don't think she even thought it was a date, so, no.

Best first date recommendation: A dirty decrepit dive. If she/he loves it, you do fine dining on date two.

Dating advice: Don't listen to advice.


Karishma_200pxKarishma Upadhyay

In Mumbai Since: 1998

Profession: Journalist

Tell us about your first ever date: I have two words for you - chhole bhature. It doesn’t get more Delhi than that. I was in school and he was my BFF’s cousin. You’d think it would be perfect but it wasn’t. Stinky onion breath might have had something to do with that.

Did it work out: *shudder* No, and thank God for small mercies.

Best first date recommendations: Once I moved to Bombay, one of my favourite date spots was the Sailing Club, in Colaba. If you have access to it, I highly recommend it. It’s by the sea, mostly quiet and booze is cheap. Prithvi Café used to be another favourite. If the date turns out to be boring, you can always people-watch.

Dating Advice: It’s clichéd but “be yourself”. My husband’s first impression of me was that I was “an annoying girl from Delhi”. Fifteen years later, he can’t complain. It’s his fault he married the “annoying girl from Delhi”.


Ishaan_200pxIshaan Nair

In Mumbai since: 2009

Profession: Director, Fashion Photographer, Writer

First date: It was probably Priya Cinemas in New Delhi when I was 12.

Best first date recommendation: Used to be Royal China in Bandra when it was around. So now my go-to is Kofuku or Pali Bhavan.

Dating advice: If your date can’t eat with chopsticks consider it an epic fail.


Cyril_200pxCyril D’Abreo

In Mumbai since: It was called Bombay

Profession: Entrepreneur

First date: First date was at the Bandra Fair; it involved candy floss, a ride on the Ferris wheel and some very bad jokes. Think she felt bad for me so it worked out.

Best first date recommendation: The Fatty Bao - nice food, great drinks, and top it off with some nice desert. It has a nice casual vibe not formal at all, and after a good meal, walk to Monkey Bar next door and dance away the extra calories. She should appreciate that.

Dating advice: Don't start a date on a high note, keep it simple let her enjoy your company more than the ambience.


Shivani Shah

In Mumbai since: Always. Born and raised.

Profession: Editor

First Date: Dinner at Busaba. I feel like we went for drinks somewhere after that, but I can’t remember where.

Did it work out? Nope. He didn’t live here, so it was always a long shot.

Best first date recommendation: Food! Always food. It doesn’t matter where. If things work out you’ll be sharing a lot of meals with this person over the years. Might as well find out early on whether he/she shares fries.

Dating advice: Have fun and be yourself. Life’s too short to play games.

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