Food of Mill Workers:BMW Guggenheim Lab Mumbai


Finally attended a programme by the BMW Guggenheim Lab,Mumbai.This is based at the Bhau Daji Laud Museum in the Zoo premises but has several satellite centres...Priyadarshini Park,Horniman Circle,Sambhaji Park,Batliboy Compound and Mahim beach....all open spaces in our city.This lab is a mobile one having covered New York and Berlin.They serve to engage citizens in discussions about urbanism,architecture,art,design,science and such subjects and to inspire new perspectives and solutions by dialogue about urban problems.




David Van deer Leer is the curator and the theme for Mumbai is privacy and the relatiionship of the individual to the community.The event I attended was "GIRNI CHA CHAV"....meaning taste of the mills which was organised by Swati and I thought it was a brilliant concept.The theme was "Women,Food and Social History" and Batliboy Compund was chosen as it was located in an area which belonged to "Girangaon" or land of the mills.These textile mills had employees that migrated from places like the Konkan.Both men and women worked in them till an Act came along that reduced number of working hours and made maternity leave mandatory.This lead to women employees being cut down.The workers who longed for homefood then got food from Khanawals which were inexpensive and homely.Women strived from morning to night but didn't receive the respect they deserved.At times,the men folk didn't pay for the food.They were also harrassed by moneylenders.With the shutting of mills and their conversion to malls,khanavals are also disappearing.In place of khanawals serving home food,we now have some places serving junk food....such is the effect of urbanization!


This programme started with folk songs.The first spoke of how people worshipped Goddesses but did not value the women at home.The singer pointed out that prayers would never achieve what they sought to if this was done.The next song was about Annabhau Sathe who organized stage shows to create social awareness about various issues.Then he explained the purpose of the BMW Guggenheim Lab and why they were in Byculla.I for one had never been to that part of town (inspite of being quite a wanderer) and it was exciting seeing something new about my city





The songs were followed by a short film by Paromita Vohra called "Annapurna:Goddess Of Food".Watch a trailer here..This is about Prema Purao's organization which is based in Vashi and serves 8000 clients and dishes out 20,000 rotis a day.She changed things for the women by ensuring that cooking was recognized as a skill.They feed migrant workers and office people,at a low cost.They also provide short term shelter and loans to any of their 1,50,000 members.They changed the name of all these women from "Khanawalwali" to "Annapurna"





After the film there was a discussion anchored by the very competent Sumedha  Raikar-Mhatre.She spoke of popular Mumbai eateries and the source of some of their food items.Take for instance the Kolhapuri Misal....the khanawals were responsible for their introduction to Mumbai as the workers longed for food from their  hometown.So also the Malvani seafood thali....from the Konkan,now such an important part of Mumbai's coastal cuisine restaurants.She pointed out about the vegetarian Warkari fare.





She had with her on the dias,four amazing women.Anjali Purohit,the author of "Ragi-Ragini:Chronicles Of Aji's Kitchen" read out "Ovis" from her book.These are couplets written by Bahinabai (a Varkari female saint) and have been sung by womenfolk while attending to daily duties for the longest time.The first was as much about a grinding mill and its noises as it was about the wearing out and the abuse that Bahinabai felt.The book talks of the goodness of millet,recipes incorporating it and also entails a story of a little girl in a Konkan village.



Lina Raote is wellknown for her cooking demos to millworkers and their families.She found creative ways to improve their nutrition,considering their economic status.I salute her! When they said they had no money to buy bunches and bunches of green leafy vegetables,she showed them how to make palak chutney and methi pulao.To improve protein content of their meals,she suggested addition of soyabeans.To make children eat vegetables,she suggested making china grass puddings out of carrots!



Mrs Vaishali Girkar who worked in a mill before and now runs a khanawal off the streets....spoke of the simplicity of food in them.Millworkers would have Pitla-Bhakri and Thecha.They would also smash a raw onion to the ground and relish it like none other.Today Malvani cuisine is most popular
Today,she says,food is drowned in various sauces and what not.She pointed out that though there are newer dishes today,the basic structure is the same...e.g a frankie roll is an adapted version of roti and vegetables or nonveg! For the younger generation,it is important to give it fancy names to appeal to them.I think that works for the older generation also...When we spoke of Ovis,Mrs Girkar mentioned that Bahinibai had written that without chatka,there are be no bhakri! No pain,no gain!





Mrs Mantri was the fourth speaker who reaffirmed what the others had to say.


It was an enjoyable event.It didn't have a "convivial cook-off" as the facebook event page announced,but I think it would have added greatly to it....to be able to taste what the millworkers actually  ate.The people next to me were are local women,very excited that their place had been chosen.Some had lived through the khanaval era.I was amazed to see their appreciation of the poetry and the discussion.They asked me to read out the events in Marathi from the programme pamphlet as they wanted to attend them.One of them even got a Chivda packet for me from an adjacent stall.They invited me over to their homes.Would have been lovely to see how they live but it was late.Batliboy Compound is a large open space between chawls and a high rise meant for mill workers but currently unoccupied.Privacy is not much of an issue for them.The lack of privacy can also mean the presence of warmth and help.These women are examples of that






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