He has curly hair and a thick moustache, both glistening with sweat. His brows are furrowed, maybe in concentration, or maybe that’s just how he wears his face. A striped black apron hides a faded white shirt, but not his frayed collar.
He stands on a platform. The smoke from the large tava shapes into a spiced cloud around him. He doesn’t seem to notice it. I wait on the sidelines; wait for him to prepare my plate of pav-bhaji (bhaji being the curried mashed vegetables and pav the buttered buns), with extra pav.
I pull back my drenched hair and mop my face. Mumbai is living through a heat wave, and standing in a lane crammed with food stalls and sizzling woks doesn’t help. A few feet away, the beach is busy. At some point today all those people will stop by these food stalls too -the beach in Mumbai is known for its food rather than the grey, plastic crusted waters.
His spatula pounds the tava, mashing the already mashed vegetables. Between each pounding, he adds generous dollops of Amul butter; each addition is announced with a high-tone sizzle. I feel the calories gently pushing against my belt.
Once the bhaji, already partly prepared, is ready, he pushes it to the edge of the tava, freeing up the centre for the stack of pav – a set of four buns. He picks up the lot, sliced in between, and presses them onto a glob of melting butter.
When the bread, shiny with the additional weight and slightly crispy, is done, he scoops the bhaji, finely chopped onions, coriander and lemon quarters, as well as the toasted buns into the sectioned plate, and hands it over.
My hands are greedy as they stretch out for the plate.
I hurriedly sprinkle the chopped onions onto the bhaji and squeeze the bits of lemon. I mix the lot with a spoon – bits of orange-red specks fly about – I still have faded stains on my pink kurta. I tear the pav, small pieces, pile them with bhaji and gobble. There is no place for elegance here, just a good hearty meal.