For the Love of writing...
Monday, June 13, 2011
  I am the vada-pav
It all started in 1962. A small hotel owner prepared the typical Maharashtrain batata bhajji (potato vegetable) and made round balls of it, put it into besan mixed with water, deep fried it and I was born. He called me batata vada (potato vada).

It has been a long journey since then and I have stood the test of time. I have been the unchallenged king in the eateries on the streets of Bombay for a quarter century now. But now I am feeling the heat, literally, thanks to all the bhaiya’s migrating from Bihar.

My father tasted me first and launched it in his small 10x10 hotel. I tingled the taste buds of his customers. Crowd grew. He supplemented it with adrak wali chai. Business grew even further. He bought the two neighboring shops. His small hotel soon became a big hotel of his time. He no longer came on a bicycle; he was the proud owner of a Maruti 800, the only car in the whole gully (lane) and I was the driver of this upliftment. People loved me, carried my taste with them and I soon became a house hold dish in Maharashtra.

Man is entrepreneurial by nature. He put deep fried sliced potato mixed with besan and my brother was born. He then tried chopped onions and sister was born. We were now a family. Someone cut a pav and placed a vada in-between and I became the all famous vada pav. They experimented with all kinds of sauces; tamarind became everyone’s favorite.

I was soon all over Maharashtra and more into Bombay. Very soon make shift stalls appeared serving only vada pav, bhajji and cutting chai. The always-on-the-run Bombayities loved me, maybe because they could have me while on the run. The local trains and the vada pav became the lifelines of Bombay. The stalls were now found on every nook and corner of Bombay.

Meanwhile the country’s economy was growing by leaps and bounds. Bombay became Mumbai along with a vision to make it another Shanghai. It needed more manpower, more people to menial jobs and the migration of people from Bihar, which was till now like droplets, burgeoned. Footpaths became their beds and the open sky their roofs. The word had spread. Mumbai will provide bread and butter to anyone willing to work hard. Hum do humare do, teesra hua to bumbai bhej do, was the slogan written on trains plying between Mumbai and Bihar. Bihari’s were strong, able bodied and were willing to do almost any kind of work. With the money they made they could maintain themselves in the shanties of Mumbai and their families could live a comfortable life back in Bihar.

I don’t know how they got the inspiration, but these bihari’s started selling pani puri on the streets of Mumbai. And they sold it very cheap, for all it contained was water. On a single street you could see a line of Biharis selling pani puri just 50 feet away from one another. And the amazing thing was they didn’t fight for their territories. Maybe because they all knew that it was no ones and hence everyone’s. Mumbaities savored the pani puri with little regard for hygiene and the bhaiya ended up making a clean 200-300 bucks by the end of the day.

The vada pav was beginning to lose its charm. Further competition from the likes of dabeli and samosa pav made life harder. The famous chat’s like shev puri and dahi puri that was served only on the chowpatties were now being served everywhere else.

Soon intellectuals took notice, and why wouldn’t they. 2 million vada’s were being sold in Mumbai each day. Two brainy guys stepped into the market and branded the vada pav. The pav became round, like the one served in McD’s burgers to appeal to the slightly elite youth of Mumbai. The shops were clean and tidy and the people preparing vada’s wore aprons, hats and gloves. The vada pav was now the called Jumbo vada pav in Mumbai and Goli in South India. Things are on the rise since then.

Isn’t it ironical; 20 years ago a vada pav cost 50 paisa and a phone call cost Rs 7. Now a vada pav cost Rs 7 and a phone call is 50 paisa. Time changes, priorities change. The vada pav too has changed.


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