After years of fasting during Paryushan, it was time to experience Ramadan.
Meat. I don't touch the stuff. But people want me to. Over the years I’ve seen the horror on peoples faces when I say I’m vegetarian. It’s almost the same look that’s on mine when I see them digging into what was once a cute little animal. But with all the discrimination rampant in the world today on anything different or diverse, I decided it was time I try and embrace the world my Muslim meat loving friend is from. And so a trip to Mohammad Ali Road in Mumbai was planned with Zulfakar.
Mohammad Ali Road is a Muslim-majority area next to Crawford Market and Masjid Bunder. It's a year-long traffic nightmare. “Aur Ramzan pe toh, it gets worse,” informs Zulfee gleefully. We reach the place at 8pm. It’s pouring. “Acha hua, the rain will wash all of the dirt away.” He wasn't helping at all.
Iftaar at Mohammad Ali Road. Image source: freepressjournal.com
Now, Mohammad Ali Road isn't the place where Muslims break their Ramadan fast. They do that at home. The food here is too heavy, too rich to break a fast with. Fasts are usually broken with a healthy serving of water-rich fruit. Once the fast is broken, Muslims from all over Mumbai head down to Mohammad Ali Road, at least once during Ramadan, to get their fill of meat.
Armed with one umbrella, we inched our way forward through the police barricades that formed the entrance. Were we entering a crime scene? Should the 'welcome' to one of Mumbai's most popular, annual, cultural events have been a police barricade? Zulfee complained a little about this. I just wanted to get a move on through the crowds.
Breaking my fast? Image source: freepressjournal.com
We were barely in, at the proverbial 'just the tip' situation, and the smells had already started to get to me. They brought back memories of the butcher shop that I would ALWAYS try to avoid on my way home. My mother taught me to look the other way whenever we passed any meat shop – butcher, cold storage, “even leather beta...” And here I was with a friend to not just look at, but to embrace the dead flesh, the meat, the guts, the organs – I had to take pictures.
I hate point-and-shoot photography. But it's all I could do in this situation. The first picture I took was of a headless 'something'. A frog? A quail? I didn't take the time to try and understand the morphology. I couldn't stand the sight. Zulfee didn't make things any better when he told me the red marination on all of the meats was blood.
“Bro, I have to eat,” he announced smacking his lips. Did it have to be here? Why can't we do Shalimar which is a stone's throw away? “Bro, I have to eat really badly now.” So we did.
We found a two-seat opening at one of the restaurants. Every table seated a group of people who were more excited about where they were than the food on display. I peeked into a phone near me. The girl was checking in to Mohammad Ali Road. “Breaking my fast...” with 17 others. Her name was Ujwala Sharma... Sharma? And she was breaking her fast at 10 PM. Sundown, obviously.
Mohammad Ali Road I realized is a great economic, cultural, and religious leveler. People from all backgrounds, all faiths, all strata of Mumbai's diverse society shared tables, and broke bread together. After photobombing about 5 selfies, it was time to order. Goat kidney, that's what Zulfee wanted. Not just a tangdi kebab, not a malai tikka. When the order came in, I just had to look away. But every where I looked, it was all the same – brains, liver, heart, gut... And the smoke – the smell of burning flesh – was doing a number to my asthmatic lungs. I thought I was going to be sick. Coming from a strict vegetarian household where even some vegetables were banned, this almost almost like a shock to my system.
No beef, no vegetables
But then I heard something familiar. “Boss, veg mein kya hai.” The expression on the waiter's face, and everyone else who heard this, was priceless. I laughed at the tragedy of this poor soul. He reminded me of the time I ordered a lassi at a local bar.
“Bro, I have to close my meal with dessert,” Zulfee pleaded. Dessert sounded good. They have to have a vegetarian dish there. No. I've always known malpua to be an eggless dish. But not at Mohammad Ali Road. Zulfee gladly had both his share and mine.
It was about 11pm now. And I was just dying to get out. “Bro, firni...” he started again. I shook his non-veg hand. And literally checked myself out of Mohammad Ali Road. Through the barricades, past all the policemen, I went once again. I jumped into the first cab I saw. “Bhaiya, kahi bhi chalo,” I pleaded. And kahi bhi, I went.
So much for my attempt at inclusivity. But old habits are hard to change. I may not have been the best dining companion, but he gave me full marks for trying.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Yash Bandi
Photographs by Yash Bandi