Growing Up In Bombay




It was the year 1991, and after 10 years of battle, my mother had won. My father left everything in Hisar. With help from friends and family he started a small transport business in Bombay. Soon after, he managed to buy a tiny apartment in a new residential colony called Lokhandwala. Our conception of Bombay, built over multiple summer holidays, was always of Santacruz. So, as we got in the taxi from Bombay Central after our chair-car Rajdhani journey — sitting at an awkward angle for 16 hours, brimming with excitement over our new life — we were in for a heavy surprise. Well, more a shock.

It was mid-June, and Bombay was railing with the first big wave of monsoon showers. The taxi passed through Mahim and shortly afterwards crossed Bandra and Santacruz. Beyond this was a territory I had never heard of. My father allayed all building fears. “Just another 5-10 minutes, and we’ll be there”. Ten minutes passed and soon turned to 60. My mother and I knew now that this was not Lokhandwala in Andheri. We were going to stay in the new Lokhandwala in Kandivali East. A vast barren suburb at the edge of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with a large Mahindra Tractor Division factory and the second largest slum colony after Dharavi — Hanuman Nagar.

The new buildings, imitating the skyline of Singapore and Dubai, emerged as towers in the smack middle of nowhere. We could climb to the 21st floor of the tallest buildings for the suburbs at that time and not even see Andheri. We were really far. We were not in Bombay. We were trapped. We were fully cheated by my father.

As time went on, we settled into our new life. Every wing — the alphabetic A, B, Cs each with its own Otis elevator — was an independent microcosm of pan-Indian diversity. While we were the new immigrants to Bombay, old 'migrants', who sold and separated from family homes in South Bombay, also moved to Kandivali with their share. The old guided the new in the ways of Bombay. We each found our mentor to the great city, and mine was Murtaza.

After two weeks of struggling in my Marathi class in school, Murtaza finally deigned to sit with me. He opened his note book and let me copy the entire test. He had a neat, cursive way of writing in complete contrast to my scrawl. We soon began to sit, travel to school, do our homework, and spend all our time together. Despite our handwriting, we had much in common. We both did not like sports. We loved hanging out with all the girls in the school. We loved talking for hours and dreaming of the future — away from Kandivali. They were our formative years; we were teenagers teeming with hormones and new feelings we didn’t know how to communicate to each other. We just knew that, however different we were to the world outside, we were the same to each other.

Murtaza’s mother was from a small village in Rajasthan and mine was from Haryana. We ate vegetarian, and his mother made the deadliest shami kebabs. I ate my first non-veg meal in his house, and Murtaza learned to make the perfect rajma from my mother. We were both deeply attached to our mothers as we watched our middle-class fathers struggle with life. His father had lost his small corner shop in Kuwait after the Iraq invasion and was trying to reinvent the magic in Kandivali, while mine was struggling on his own. We loved our fathers, but they offered little hope to us then for the future. Our future had to be away from Kandivali and hopefully together.

The new buildings, imitating the skyline of Singapore and Dubai, emerged as tall towers in the smack middle of nowhere.

Until then, Kandivali shielded us with an enormous sense of community. Lokhandwala was our little bubble. We went to tuition at a Jewish-Konkani woman’s house, played carrom with our incredibly handsome Cantonese-Indian neighbour, celebrated Ganpati with the entire building, and played and won every dandiya contest. In that way, Murtaza had helped me graduate into a Bombayite. I began to celebrate everyone’s festivals as mine. He taught me how to get excited for Christmas, Diwali, and Id. It was only when my grandmother came to visit me for the first time, and asked me why I was hanging out with a Muslim person all the time, that I foolishly realised that Murtaza and I as Muslim and Hindu carried a bigger weight then everything else that happening to us as teenagers.

My grandmother, who had witnessed the partition first hand, was forever terrified of the other and carried that fear her entire life till she came to visit us. But for Murtaza and I, teenage priorities took precedence over all else in the world. We had an action plan to escape our lives: pass with the best marks in school, get into Xavier’s, score an advertising job, move to Bandra, and find love, or maybe many lovers.

Just like my grandmother disapproved of our friendship, Murtaza’s father, now doubly scarred by the Bombay Riots, where they spent a week hidden inside a neighour’s flat, had a totally different escape plan for him. With a year still left for us to finish school, Murtaza’s father packed him off to Kuwait. I had never felt a sense of loss before that. He left in a cab for the airport one rainy night. My face was wet, but there were also tears. I knew I would never see him again. Except for advertising, I crossed everything off our list, albeit without him.  I lived our life for both of us. Sometimes you just have to.

Kandivali for me is the memory of my teen years, where I grew to be a strong person. So strong that while I managed to challenge and come out of all my demons, I buried the very memory itself, and Murtaza with that. I secretly stalk him on Facebook now, just as I secretly look up from my Kindle when my car crosses Kandivali on the Western Express Highway. And each time, I notice with great fascination and love, how Kandivali flourishes. And I hope so does Murtaza as a grown man with his wife and children.

Feature photograph by Superfast1111 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Your Guide To Indian-Chinese Restaurants In Malad, Kandivali, And Borivali




Remember the old days when you’d visit a dimly lit restaurant with the entire family and slurp on manchow soup in unison? Or the times you sent the manchurian back with the delivery boy because the dumplings were soaked in gravy despite your instructions to have it served ‘dry’? Well, for some of us, that was last weekend.

There’s been a seismic shift in Mumbai’s definition of Chinese cuisine. But while townies and Bandra-ites debate subtle differences in Sichuan and Cantonese flavours, in the 'burbs, the greasy, soy-stained, laminated menus of the ’80s and ’90s still exist. The Malad-Kandivali-Borivali belt in particular, is peppered with eateries that serve Indian-Chinese staples in melamine plates with no mention whatsoever of monosodium glutamate.

If you’ve ever put one too many drops of soy sauce into your sweet corn soup or foraged through capsicum, chilli, and onion for that last piece of paneer, read on. This guide is flavoured with nostalgia, budget-friendliness, and a little train travel. It’s delicious!


Uncle’s Kitchen

If you’re inexplicably drawn to heaps of neon orange fried rice served in bright yellow plates, Schezwan everything and the love of the common people, head to Uncle’s Kitchen. The Mith Chowki landmark recently changed location to a nearby lane, but its established popularity ensures a minimum wait of 20-30 minutes for a table on weekends. Crowd-pleasers include Drums of Heaven (chicken lollypops), triple fried rice, and pretty retro sized portions.

Uncle’s Kitchen, Ground Floor, Buena Vista, Sunder Lane, Opposite St. Anne's School, Orlem, Malad (w), Mumbai 400 064. Phone: 022 2888 1752

Fire Bowl

At Fire Bowl, what you see is what you get. The extensive menu features vibrant pictures of soups, chopsuey and everything in between. You could spend time poring over the menu, or just follow conventional wisdom and order burnt garlic fried rice with gobi manchurian. Eat at the restaurant only if you can slurp your noodles with a gaudy, red-eyed dragon staring you down. Or else choose the efficient home delivery option.

Fire Bowl, Ground Floor, Aruna Residency, Atmaram Compound, Near Dalmia College, Sundar Nagar, Malad (w), Mumbai 400 064. Phone: 022 6504 0002


Lama’s Corner

Lama’s Corner never fails to pack a pungent punch of nostalgia. Red plastic stools? Check. Option of half or full portions? Check. Folding pamphlet menu? Check. Spelling errors on said menu? Check, check, check. The vegetarian menu includes familiar favourites like sweet corn soup, Hakka ‘noodels’, Chinese bhel, plus an entire section dedicated to paneer lovers.

Lama’s Corner, Shop No. 1, Krishna Apartment, Bhatt Lane, SV Road, Kandivali (w), Mumbai, 400 067. Phone: 098214 43899


Unlike the derivative restaurant chains cropping up across the city, this mononymous establishment has an uncomplicated menu with neat columns and year-round discounts that could put online shopping sites to shame. The manchow soup alone is worth the trek to Charkop, but the Singapore rice and Chicken 65 have their fair share of fans. All food is sans ajinomoto.

Wok, Shop 2/3, Plot 118, Ila Apartment, Charkop Sector 4, Kandivali (w), Mumbai 400 067. Phone: 022 2868 6399


Night Evil

As a teenager, every time I walked down LT Road, I would stop to read the bold calligraphic script that declared; Night Evil – “Our only competitors are in China”. While that statement may need corroboration, their confidence is commendable. The mushroom chilly (dry) and vegetarian Manchurian (gravy) are quite good too. Comparatively higher prices and cramped quarters may deter new diners, but old-timers swear by the sizzling chicken Schezwan noodles at the oldest Chinese restaurant in Borivali.

Night Evil, Hari Darshan, Opposite St. Anne’s High School, Lokmanya Tilak Road, Borivali (w), Mumbai 400 092. Phone: 022 2892 2889

Choi Kim Cuisine

The intricate red and golden wrought iron gateway at Choi Kim acts as a portal, transporting patrons back to the ’90s. There’s obviously an AC section decorated with dragons, hand fans, mandalas and other such tropes. Of course, they have staple Indian Chinese dishes at pocket-friendly prices. Chicken lollypop, spring rolls, American chopsuey – you can have it all. The more contemporary wine ribs and Hunan pork are welcome additions to the otherwise vintage menu.

Choi Kim Cuisine, Ground Floor, Mansi Enclave, IC Colony, Borivali (w), Mumbai 400 103. Phone: 022 2892 8332

Hill View

Though technically in Dahisar, Hill View makes it to this list because it never fails to deliver, albeit a tad late at times. When our family discovered the concept of ordering in, Chinese was our poison of choice, and Hill View the executioner. The restaurant itself is tiny, bare, and has no actual view, but the aroma of paneer chilly and Hunan chicken is enough to ensnare customers. However, it’s the radioactive American chopsuey – orange gravy oozing over the top of a volcano of crumbled fried noodles – that ensures lifelong loyalty to Hill View.

Hill View, Sterling Avenue, Kandarpada, Link Road, Dahisar (w), Mumbai 400 068. Phone: 022 2892 3344

Feature photograph copyright Brent Hofacker -

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