Mumbai is known to be a fast city, where life just passes you by. Hailing from Mumbai, there are still various facets of our city which we are not exposed to. Mohammad Ali Road, one of the oldest quarters of the city, is one such facet most Mumbaikars have never experienced. Throughout the year, the bustling area is home to traders, merchants, labourers, overcrowded roads and a bevy of restaurants and many people do not venture into this neighbourhood, unless for work.
But during the Holy Month of Ramadan, the Mohammad Ali Road neighbourhood puts on a completely different garb, with streams of lights illuminating the area, restaurants showing off their best dishes in the evening, rendering a contemporary charm to this usually rustic neighbourhood.
At sunset, during the time of Iftaari, families and friends gather to sample some of the finger licking food that the restaurants have on offer. At around 7 pm, the prayers are read out by the High Priest of the Minara Masjid, announcing the breaking of the daily fast and a certain frenetic pace adds on to an already noisy neighbourhood.
Although I have visited the area many times in the past, I have never experienced it during the Holy Month of Ramadan at Iftaari, so I decided to go on a guided tour with Reality Tours and Travel and live this experience.
We started out at Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus (the erstwhile Victoria Terminus) where we were introduced to our guide and the other people on the tour. Other people on the tour with me were foreign tourists and expats, who wanted to sample the unique and exotic flavours our vibrant city had to offer. We then took a taxi to the area of Mohammad Ali Road, from where we walked. Shining in all its glory at dusk, the Minara Masjid lane is lined with temporary food vendors and restaurants that have extended out their areas to almost all the road, with barely any place to walk. But despite this congestion, the aromas guide you and you can’t help but walk along in excitement, taking in the varied infusions in the air.
We sat on a table under a makeshift shed, covering half of one of the narrow bylanes of Minara Masjid, around 15 minutes before the High Priest’s call for Iftaari. One couldn’t help but notice the increasing level of activity on the street with each passing minute. Once the announcement came through via the loudspeaker, the food plates were let loose. Some delectable food items served to us were chicken baida roti, mutton sheekh, chicken frankie, beef kebabs and portions and portions of chicken tandoori.
Halfway through the meal, it started pouring, given we were in the month of June, the onset of the Monsoon season in India. The rains didn’t dampen the buzz in the neighbourhood and the festivities continued as usual.
After the savoury meal, our next stop was to visit a resident family, who has been residing in this area for many generations. On the way to their house, we visited a sweet shop to sample some Indian sweets and pack a few sweet boxes for the family we were visiting. Walking through the bylanes, being lashed by the rains, one couldn’t help but notice the vintage architecture and design of the buildings and the quintessential verandas lined outside apartments in each building. The buildings in this neighbourhood seem to have brilliantly withstood the onslaught of decade’s redevelopment in Mumbai and have sustained its old world charm. Taking in such sights, we reached the house of the host family and were humbled by their hospitality and warmth. We were introduced to each of the family members and were told about the importance of the month of Ramadan & its beginnings. The patriarch of the family mentioned that this was the longest month of Ramadan in a few decades and how the heat in the city of Mumbai only made it tougher to fast all day. Nonetheless, everyone in the family fasted all through the month, signifying the underlying principle and ideology behind Ramadan – abstinence to purify body, mind and soul.
The next stop on our tour was a restaurant known for its desserts and we gorged on the Phirni (rice pudding) and Malpuas (deep fried pancakes coated with sugar syrup).This evening of blissful gluttony was still not over and we were taken to the ice cream shop right opposite the dessert place and were served dollops of great fruit ice cream, which in spite of our stuffed stomachs, found its way through, to satiate us.
The experience of being from the city and still being surprised by the many hues and shades it offers, left me flummoxed, yet fulfilled. Am glad that I had the opportunity to do this tour and witness the shenanigans of this old, rustic yet beautiful part of town.
Author: Kunal L., a local Mumbai resident, who is passionate about travelling and new experiences