Why I love the Kolis

Koli fisherwomen at the Bandra fish market. They balance their formidability with a strong sense of humour, and affection for their families and customers. I’ve been going to the market since I was a child and many of them know me well. My visits to the market are always marked by hard bargaining, good-natured teasing and an exchange of notes about our families.

I formed fond memories of the Kolis during my journalism days too. When we launched Chalomumbai.com, the Mumbai portal of Mid Day, I went out to sea at 3 am, if I recall right, on a fishing boat with a Koli fisherman. As we chugged out from Machhimar Nagar, Cuffe Parade, the waves got bigger and at times it felt as if the boat was perpendicular, the bow pointing at the sky. Fortunately, I don’t get seasick but a fellow journalist spent the entire ride throwing up over the side. I was terrified but managed to keep a poker face.

It was magic to see the sun rise up from the water and the Mumbai skyline at my back.

Despite our best efforts, the catch was meagre and I got a first-hand lesson on over-fishing and dwindling catches. The happy ending was provided by the fisherman calling us for a meal of homemade fish and prawns the next day.

I'm given to understand that there are Kolis in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh too. And, sadly, that the community is slowly giving up its traditional occupation of fishing. The younger generation is educated and prefers white-collar jobs, some of them even settling abroad. While I'm happy that they're progressing materially, I'm also somewhat sad at the declining tradition.

I’m given to understand that there are Kolis in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh too. And, sadly, that the community is slowly giving up its traditional occupation of fishing. The younger generation is educated and prefers white-collar jobs, some of them even settling abroad. While I’m happy that they’re progressing materially, I’m also somewhat sad at the declining tradition.

???????????????????????????????

She’s the one from whom I buy my fish. She’s got a terrific sense of humour and every time I try to bargain she guffaws and says: “Saasu maaregi.” (My mother-in-law will beat me up.) As if anyone could dare lay a hand on a woman with the large knife! I haggle hard and we always arrive at a price that’s “na tera, na mera”. (Neither yours nor mine.) Incidentally, here’s a lesson on customer service that all you MBA-types could learn from her. She recalls exactly the last time each customer visited her, what they bought, and also always inquires about their family members. I love her, but I wish she’d stop waving that knife in my face every time I try to bargain.

Save The Children

The attack in Peshawar brutally rounded off a year that was horrific for children. A United Nations report termed 2014 a year “of horror, fear and despair for millions of children, as worsening conflicts across the world saw them exposed to extreme violence and its consequences…” Attacks on schools, it ominously said just days before the Taliban massacre, were on the rise.

Children are always the worst – and most innocent – victims of conflict. I articulate this and other thoughts on the issue in my second blog for The Huffington Post.

It’s Christmas, it’s Bandra, there’s a merry nip in the air

Since 1979, I’ve juggled lives as a quintessential South Mumbai brat and a Bandra boy. On weekdays, we’d live in South Mumbai because that’s where school was. But we spent our weekends and vacations at our Bandra apartment. (Yes, we bought it as a weekend home. Imagine!)

In the ’80s, Bandra was a charming suburb steeped in an almost Goan culture, a place where our two-storeyed building could be the tallest structure in the neighbourhood and where time seemed to move a little slower than in the rest of the city.

Christmas was always the most special period. The streets would be awash in festive lighting, and trays full of cookies and sweets would arrive with clockwork regularity from the neighbours’ homes. The bazaars would bustle a little more and groups of carol singers would drop by, their voices resonating through the winter nights.

Despite experiencing a housing and commercial boom that has changed its face forever, Bandra retains much of its charm. And Christmas still manages to sprinkle a little magic in the air.

(Click on the pictures to see them in full size. Also, sorry for the quality; they were shot on my phone.)

Chimbai Village, one of the few remaining bastions of Mumbai's original residents - the Koli community. This statue of the Mother Mary always intrigued me because of the saree draped around it. I often walk through this village and usually stop at this statue to pay my respects. This festive season, the casing has acquired a fresh coat of paint and the statue a brand new saree. It's one of my favourite spots in Bandra.

Chimbai Village, one of the few remaining bastions of Mumbai’s original residents – the Koli community. This statue of Mother Mary always intrigued me because of the saree draped around it. I often walk through this village and usually stop at this statue to pay my respects. This festive season, the casing has acquired a fresh coat of paint and the statue a brand new saree. It’s one of my favourite spots in Bandra.

This statue of Jesus is just a few steps away from that of Mother Mary. Incidentally, Chimbai is beautiful in the late evenings. The Koli fisherwomen set up shop along the tiny lane, their kerosene lamps casting a dull glow. Their non-stop chatter makes the village a happy place.

This cross is just a few steps away from Mother Mary’s statue. Incidentally, Chimbai is beautiful in the late evenings. The Koli fisherwomen set up shop, their gas lamps casting a dull glow across the tiny lane. Their non-stop chatter makes the village a happy place.

This is the Serpis Cafe at the St Andrew's Church end. It's a family-run eatery in the compound of what I think is their home. Superb food. I've had many meals here and I can just imagine the family bustling around the kitchen trying to make Christmas special for their patrons.

This is the Serpis Cafe at the St Andrew’s Church end of Chimbai. It’s a family-run eatery in the compound of what I think is their home. Superb food. I’ve had many meals here and I can just imagine the family bustling around the kitchen trying to make Christmas special for their patrons.

St  Andrew's Church. Built by Portuguese Jesuits in 1575, it's one of Mumbai's oldest churches. Till the first quarter of the 17th century, it was the only church in Bandra. Also, it's seen war! It was virtually destoyed during a Maratha invasion. Incidentally, an aperture in the front facade, just above the statue of St Andrew, allows the rising sun to shine straight into the church.

St Andrew’s Church. Built by Portuguese Jesuits in 1575, it’s one of Mumbai’s oldest churches. Till the first quarter of the 17th century, it was the only church in Bandra. Also, it’s seen war! It was virtually destroyed during a Maratha invasion. Incidentally, an aperture in the front facade, just above the statue of St Andrew, allows the rising sun to shine straight into the church.

That's Waroda Road in another of Bandra's villages, Ranwar. The homes here remind me a lot of old Goa. Waroda Road has, in the past few years, hosted some interesting cafes - tiny, but good food. Imbiss, Birdsong and the Kombava Art Loft have made Waroda Road quite the foodie haven.

That’s Waroda Road in another of Bandra’s villages, Ranwar. The homes here remind me a lot of old Goa. Waroda Road has, in the past few years, become home to some interesting cafes – tiny, but good food. Imbiss, Birdsong and the Kombava Art Loft have made Waroda Road quite the foodie haven.

Pound cakes, 'kal kal' and marzipan - just some of the goodies available at these pop-up stores that spring up all over Bandra at Christmas time. It's all very good, usually made by families at home.

Pound cakes, ‘kal kal’ and marzipan – just some of the goodies available at these pop-up stores that spring up all over Bandra at Christmas time. It’s all very good, usually made by families at home.

Stores selling decorations and Santa masks have sprung up all along Hill Road. They're a traffic nightmare but I don't grudge them. You can't have Christmas in Bandra without them.

Stores selling decorations and Santa masks have sprung up all along Hill Road. They’re a traffic nightmare but I don’t grudge them. You can’t have Christmas in Bandra without them.

If your pockets are deeper, you could drop by some of the more premium stores that have sprung up around Bandra. Imported chocolates, wine... You name it, you get it at these stores.

If your pockets are deeper, you could drop by some of the more premium stores that have sprung up around Bandra. Imported chocolates, wine, premium coffee… You name it, you get it at these stores.

In the end, Christmas in Bandra is all about the people you love - friends, family and neighbours. Virtually every building in Bandra has decked itself up.

In the end, Christmas in Bandra is all about the people you love – friends, family and neighbours. Virtually every building in Bandra has decked itself up.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Not just Ferguson

A blog I wrote for The Huffington Post’s India edition was published on December 16, 2014. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Michael Brown is a metaphor of our times. This is an age in which — from the US to the Middle East to South Asia — racial, religious and sexual minorities are under systemic siege.

The unrest that followed the shooting of the African-American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri — and the acquittal of the officer, Darren Wilson, who pulled the trigger — was certainly no exception. We have seen similar instances even in my country, India.

Read the complete blog here: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/ashraf-engineer/we-all-live-in-ferguson_b_6319952.html?utm_hp_ref=india