Bombay Meri Hai

posted by on 2007.09.18, under India, Travel

Had a great weekend in Bombay (Mumbai) this past weekend. Total change of scenery, active nightlife, and a warm welcome from family. A place I have been to over a dozen of times, each new visit is truly a learning experience. This time, my new experience involved visiting a fishing village called Versova Beach.

I witnessed the source of a majority of the food supply for the over populated city, and witnessed commerce at its best. The place is very primitive, with old huts and no resemblance of modern technology, garbage removal, or plumbing. (The smell upon arriving is something I wish not describe in words) Walking through a few alley ways with my uncle Ozzie, an experienced sailor and a hard ass, I was led to the beach, which was in low tide, therefore packed with buyers and sellers, nets from the freshest catch of the fishing boats that were anchored just off shore.

I have never seen so much seafood in my life, but the thing that fascinated me was the amount of business going on, by the most unassuming people. I came to learn that the fishing boats go out, have no idea of their catch, but through recent cell phone technology start taking bids for the catch before reaching shore. They don’t want to bother with sorting out their catch, so sell the entire lot in bulk, unload it to shore, and get back to their specialized task of fishing, and let everyone else worry about the wholesale and retail. The buyer will take the supply a few feet from the shore, and will start putting it in baskets, still not separating the different types of seafood from each other, and sell it by weight to local fish mongers. These women will carry the baskets on their heads, walk across the beach, and start organizing their new purchase, which was marked up 200% from the original cost, and set up shop on the beach. Their only overhead is the ice they buy from the ice factory 1 km away to keep the food fresh. Now they start sorting out the catch, cleaning the prawns, and preparing for battle, as the negotiations with the buyers soon begin.

In Mumbai, there is a guilty pleasure that might be misunderstood as folks being cheap. People just love the thrill of a bargain, and I have been told people will go to these markets just for that itself, not really that concerned about the money saved in the process, or particularily that fond of seafood. It is a theatrical production, this bargaining process. I know of a man that goes to the market every Sunday morning, buys more fish than he requires, because of this thrill, and has been able to convince the beach vendors that by selling to him early in the morning at a slight margin, they can pack up and leave the beach and enjoy their Sunday without worrying about having to keep the fish fresh all dayor the extra inventory at the end of the evening which must be cleared, as they don’t have the means to store the food for the next day.

Most of the customers at this beach are not like this man however, as in Bombay people are for the most part surviving. A person who is willing to transport the fish from the beach, just a few km into the city can earn quite a profit (in most cases marking up prices over 300-400%) on a daily basis, and that is how this city gets fed and how thousands of people earn their living. As a seafood lover myself, I am 100% satisfied with this service, the food is incredibly fresh, and prices are very reasonable. This form of business is one of the reasons that organized retail is still under 5% of the entire retail market in India.

Outside of the International Food Marketing crash course, I started my weekend joining in the humble lifestyles of my family in Andheri. It is here that I really look forward to my grandmother’s cooking of fresh fish fry, chili prawns, mango pickle, and other dishes she is world famous for. There are also the old fashioned baths that require me to heat water on a stove, and mix with cold water before hand. Finally, I got to be part of another one of the Jones’ house parties. These are amazing occasions that bring both family and friends together in a celebration of song and dance and delicious food.

This time the celebration was for my cousin’s 23rd birthday, as she is off to Chicago to become a nurse. The true allure of a Jones house party is the immediate integration of new friends, in this case young, disco tech-going 20 year-olds with a traditional Anglo-Indian family full of conservative values but the ability to lose all shame and shake what their momma gave them on the dance floor. Without a fail, these parties will turn into dance parties, even if the electricity goes out for 30 minutes, and a 30 year age divide encourages otherwise. It is a beautiful thing.

One new observation I made this time, was that although 20 some years have gone by since I have been a part of this custom, the music selection has remained quite constant, and for these occasions it works. The pubs…now that is an entirely different story. They are still playing hit songs from 1990 -1997 at the pubs here, including Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” The Goo Goo Dolls “Iris,” Tracy Chapman, Bon Jovi’s “Bed of Roses,” and that silly song “Im too sexy.”

The second night in the city I visited my family in Bandra, completely different lifestyles but still carrying huge hearts, like the Jones’. Knowing how I fancy a Kingfisher and a pub scene, they took me out Sunday night to the Hawaiian Shack. (where the songs above were played) A happening place for a Sunday night, we were all soon out of our chairs and dancing, though most of the people in the club was still sedentary. Being a particular adept dancer, I was not concerned, I have picked up parts of the Bhangra style of dance, and can release the moves when most appropriate. My family out in this side of town are extremely fun people, who never lost their family values while modernizing to the hip culture of Bombay. My uncle out here told me once about the difference of doing business with the heart and doing business with the soul. There is a lot of soul in Bombay, that is for sure.
Below is lyrics to the song that this post was named after….A Masala song that is played in all the weddings and dance parties. “Come to Bombay Meri Hai

Come from England, come from Scotland, come from Ireland
Come from Holland, come from Poland, come from any land,
If you’re looking out for a pleasant holiday,
Come to Bombay, come to Bombay, Bombay meri hai.

Bom bom bom bom
Bombay meri hai
Born bom bom bom
Bombay meri hai

Our ladies are nice, they are so full of spice
Come to Bombay, come to Bombay Bombay meri hai.

Wear a dhoti, put a topi and a small coatie
Mini or bikini is so good for you honey
If you ain’t so gay then you can live the sadhu way
Come to Bombay, come to Bombay Bombay meri hai.

Puri bhaji, bhelpuri you can try and tell
Idli dosa, hot samosa you will like it well
Once you come to stay then you won’t like to go away
Come to Bombay, come to Bombay Bombay meri hai.


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