Saturday, April 19, 2008

Goats and Gourds in Goregaon

We go to Mega Mall, in Goregaon. (Monu’s idea: “Very nice, nice mall. Very famous.” – It’s been open less than a month, but already world-renowned, according to the Fount of All Mumbai Knowledge.) The piped muzak hits us harder than the wall of heat, as soon as we set foot out of the car. We stop at Costa Coffee, to gird our retail loins, but have to move tables almost instantly. Two men, quaffing tea at the adjacent table, are talking over each other so aggressively, I can’t hear what I’m thinking, and Mr Roland’s pearls of wisdom are more than lost on the desert air. It sounds like a real bust-up, next-door, but their shouting-match is punctuated by laughter, and they’re sharing a toasted sandwich, so I don’t think it’ll come to blows.
The mall’s like malls the world over – polished floor, stretched escalators, wall-fountains, glossy shops. Since we’ve not come four and a half thousand miles to stroll through BhS, or Pepe Jeans, or Watch It, we head for the hypermarket in the basement, more at home, sifting through aisles of sandalwood soap and stainless steel plates, than racks of over-priced t-shirts at Ted Lapidus.
We buy some more Bollywood classics, for the long summer evenings. Tom Hanks and Will Smith are going to have to try pretty hard to entertain us, when we get back, after a year on undiluted sequins and sitars. We choose five films with English subtitles. They all appear to have the same story-line, but the pictures on the front are different, and anyway, there are only seven plots in the world, what do you expect? Fewer than that, if you’re Barbara Cartland. (A propos, she’s very big here, the Queen of Romance. More than twenty titles from the Cartland Canon are on sale, at teeny-weeny Jaipur airport. I buy “Lessons In Love,” which is every bit as good as you’d imagine. First printed in 1974, this version, the Rupa Paperback Edition (New Delhi), came out in 2007. Whoever said romance was dead, should know, it’s alive and well and living in Rajasthan.)
Our trolley’s nothing, if not eclectic. We buy a fruit-bowl, some fine-liners, plug-in mosquito repellent, bleach, a cotton kurta for me, and some vests for Mr Roland. (Local wisdom, contrary to common sense, says it’s cooler, with a vest on. - We’re talking temperature, here, not fashion.) We collect an armful of toiletries, including a bucket of leave-in conditioner for blonde hair, shamelessly pressed on us - well, on me - by a depressingly petite raven-haired assistant. Mr Roland’s no longer a prime target for Elvive Reps, I’ve noticed. They don’t cater for curly hair, for some reason.
In the party-goods aisle (which includes top-of-birthday-cake fire-bombs - get that one through customs, if you can), congratulations streamers nestle next to anti-bacterial face wipes for teenage spots, and naphthalene pellets for cockroach-prohibition. Whether it’s deliberate antithetical juxtaposition, or someone gormless on shelving, I don’t know, but the randomness of it makes me laugh out loud, to the consternation of three assistants in a gaggle by the checkout.
We hit the greengrocery section, to stand in front of glistening heaps of greenstuff we don’t know how to pronounce, let alone cook. We buy a mango weighing more than a pound, which costs thirty pence, and a pineapple for thirty-five. The root vegetables look like they were grown on Mars. We fall gratefully on one we at least recognise, but it’s labelled “Beetroot” in big cheery letters, so we feel less accomplished than we might.
How many types of gourd can you name? – I thought as much. Me, too. Here, there are dozens of them, as big as pumpkins, as small as peas. As I’m queuing, to get my after-thought tomatoes and grapes weighed, I see a lady with a bushel of ridged gourds, in her trolley, so I ask how she cooks them. Indians – can I just say here? – are never less than generous with their time and knowledge. I’ve never yet asked a question, and received less than an encyclopaedic response. (fyi: peel it, chop it, fry it with lots of onions, garlic, tomatoes, and “your usual masala” and Babu’s your uncle. I love most that she thinks I’ve got a “usual masala.”)
The meat and fish section’s Behind Closed Doors – or at least, behind flaps of industrial polythene, to protect innocent herbivores in the vicinity. We’re thinking, spaghetti Bolognese (well, we’d go out if we wanted chicken tikka, wouldn’t we?), so I pick up a pack of meat. The label says “Goat Mince.” I put it down again. The truth is, this particular frontier’s been crossed, dozens of times, in restaurants, since our arrival, so I take a deep breath, and pick up the pack again. See how native we’re going?
In the car, on the way home, Roland points to a flock of goats, tumbling along the pavement-rubble, as if they were playing tag. I reach for the camera, charmed, then gasp, remembering what's in the bag in the boot. I look out of the other window, hurriedly.
We watch Om Shanti Om (only 160 minutes long - I might have slipped into a coma for some bits of it, but the plot’s so haphazard, it doesn’t matter) - and eat our goat pasta special. It’s disgusting. – No, just kidding, it’s lovely, especially with mushrooms. If you don’t believe me, the leftovers are in the freezer for emergencies, if you should call round on spec, one night next week.