Monday, 12 December 2016

‘Cutting chai’ at Sawantwadi

-Brian Mendonça

Border-crossing. The idea thrilled me. Why don’t we drive across the Goa border and see what it’s like. My car was recently souped up after a servicing where we replaced all 4 tyres. The grip was good, the mind on a roll.

We had hardly seen much of Pernem and our knowledge of the rivers of Goa was mostly Mandovi and Zuari. Down by the fisherman’s wharf in the South we added Sal. Up north proceeding from Porvorim we hurtled by the Colvale river and then past the Tiracol river – the bridges belying the depth of the waters.

Our destination was Sawantwadi. Leaving at 3 p.m. we were inside the city gates by 4.30 p.m. Just before we got into Sawantwadi there was a steep ghat road for a few anxious minutes when our 5-year old son felt he was flying out of the window. Hearing his banshee wail made us all burst into laughter. He was not wearing a seat belt. It served as a stern reminder to listen to dada henceforth.

I loved the slow pace of life in Sawantwadi. Billed as a transit point for travellers coming into Goa or proceeding into Maharashtra, Sawantwadi was a bit bemused we had come specially to see her. We checked in to Mango 1 hotel and I stepped out to bring back hot vadas and malpuas. We sampled the cuisine of Malvan, and their distinct way of cooking varieties of fish. I preferred to stay with mutton Malvani on the menu.

Strolling in the city we picked up an ancient dice game at Kanekar’s shop for wooden toys. When we asked how it was to be played, the store had no idea but advised us to ask the Queen! Rajwada – the royal palace of the Bhonsales – is an imposing structure sprawling over a landscaped garden overlooking the picturesque (though polluted) Moti talab / lake. Nearby is Shilpgram, an artisans’ village. Queenie made sure she picked up Malvani masala and even traced some of her folks in Demello vaddo. The garuda temple and the lamp tower looked ethereal in the gathering dusk.

My favourite haunt became Nandu’s where I had picked up the malpuas on the first day. It was there that I saw the men ordering ‘cutting chai.’ The steaming chai is served in small glasses which are filled upto 60% of the glass. It was so quaint and user-friendly that I promptly ordered my ‘cutting chai’ as though I was a regular!

The expression, used widely in Mumbai and Maharashtra, has inspired a wireless start-up in Powai, Mumbai called Cutting Chai Technologies Private Limited. They have come up with a new proximity-based networking app called Ohai.

When I ordered 7 cups of tea to take to the hotel, the friendly Mr and Mrs Porob at another tea and snacks shop insisted on giving me their flask. When I asked, ‘Suppose I don’t return it?’ he replied, ‘Naseeb heh.’ / (It’s my fate.)
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 11 December 2016. Pix taken by me of our car at Rajwada, Sawantwadi on Friday,11 November 2016.

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