Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Living amidst Gujaratis in Mumbai
Mumbai, as we know, is a cosmopolitan city. Gujaratis comprise a rather large section, with some pockets of Mumbai characterised by a sizeable presence of Gujaratis. A major part of my childhood was spent in a locality with many Gujarati families. 
I continue to be amazed by their entrepreneurial spirit and a strong value system. Many people consider Gujaratis to be shrewd in their approach but one thing that cannot be denied is that the Gujaratis are a very cohesive community. They have the ability to endear themselves to others and have superlative persuasion skills. 
My home was close to a Jain temple and it was remarkable to see many of our neighbours visiting the temple early in the morning in traditional clothes, carrying a a small metal box. In the evenings, women would spend time telling stories to children or playing indoor games. As an outsider, I never ever had an opportunity to enter the precincts of the Jain temple, though it was a landmark to find our house. Whenever a relative got lost we just had to rattle off the directions, adding, “It is the fourth building from the Jain temple”. Occasionally the aroma of puris and shrikhand would waft in the air when I rushed to college in the morning. 
I am extremely fond of Gujarati dishes like thepla, papdi, dhokla, and undhiyo and I attribute this to the inherent bond that I developed with the Gujarati community right from my childhood. Some of the Gujarati dishes are calorie rich and I feel that when it comes to matters of food, the Gujaratis are the gourmets of Western India, like Punjabis in the North.
I think one has to appreciate the way Gujaratis maintain their home. I have visited the homes of a few people in the neighbourhood – though with different purposes though. A cup of adrak (ginger) tea was almost guaranteed in every home. Their hospitality is legendary. Many families lived in one-room tenements, but the way they maintained their homes was amazing. Everything would be so neatly stacked and arranged. 
My mother used to send me for errands like buying homemade pickle or papads from a woman in our neighbourhood. Whenever I visited the house of the woman who used to sell them, I was dumbstruck with the impeccable manner in which things were laid out even though the area was so small.
Let me add here that I was often pained by the lower prices shopkeepers paid to these women who supplied them with snacks like dhokla, kachori, and thepla while charging a premium from consumers for selling the same items. 
Many of the lower middle class Gujarati women supplemented their family income by making homemade pickles, theplas and papads and their hard work is worthy of emulation. Some of these women sold milk in the mornings while some assisted their husbands who were tailors. 
Some of these women also sold sarees at reasonable prices. There were women who used to fill in for their baniya husbands when the latter had to go sourcing merchandise for the kirana store. It is admirable that despite having minimal education, these women realised the need to be financially independent. 
The mention of Lijjat Papad evokes memories of many empowered Gujarati women. Movies like Shyam Benegal’s Manthan (1976) and Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala (1987) portrayed Gujarati women who were strong and independent – intrepid and rich in character. 
Today many of these women from the middle class also double up as beauticians. Come summer and these women were always busy drying papads, preparing mango pickles and homemade masalas. Navratri festival was celebrated with gusto in our locality and the garba dance was a treat to watch. 
Now it is a different story. There was a time when the songs that played out during garba were immortal songs like – “Main toh arti utaroon re santoshi mata ki” (Jai Santoshi Maa, 1975) or “Main toh bhool gayi babul ka des” (Saraswatichandra, 1968). In fact, Saraswatichandra was based on a Gujarati novel and was regularly telecast in Mumbai Doordarshan.
Once things like ‘disco dandiya’ started gaining attention and traction, melody took a back seat. Today the less said about the songs played out during garba or dandiya the better. Readers may recall that the movie “Kai Po Che” (2013) (based on a novel by the prolific Chetan Bhagat) revealed the dark side of the Navratri festival. 
Two qualities of Gujaratis deserve mention here. If you develop a bond with them, they will respect the bond all their lives. Secondly, Gujaratis are persevering and demonstrate a never-say-die attitude and undying optimism. Let me recount a real life instance from the mid-70s.
in those days, we lived in a one-room tenement that faced an industrial colony. As a child, I was a keen observer. There were railings in the balcony. It is funny to recount how my father installed a grill on the balcony.
One morning my father was leaving for his office, located in Apeejay House. This meant an arduous train journey lasting more than an hour, followed by a walk of close to 20 minutes to reach office. He saw me waving to him from the balcony. The balcony had no grill. My father was alarmed. He returned home immediately and applied for half-day’s leave so that he could contact the fabricator. By evening, the grill was fixed. 
The balcony had an opening at the floor level with railings on it. For a child of 5-6 years, it was possible to sit on the railings and observe the world outside (in this case, it was the industrial colony opposite our home). I would merrily dangle my legs outside the grill. It was a blessing for my mother as she could concentrate on the kitchen.
I attribute my modest creative abilities to this childhood experience of mine – something that children today are deprived of. There were no gadgets or smart phones or video games then. A swing that my father had purchased was a luxury for us and that was something that I loved as a child.
We lived on the second floor and diagonally opposite our flat was a Gujarati family that lived on the first floor of the industrial colony. The family comprised the husband, wife, two daughters and a son who was polio stricken. It was a perfect family picture - save for the fact that the son (may be 3-4 years) was handicapped. 
I have vivid memories of discreetly watching how both the mother and father took turns to caress the child and massage his legs with oil. This was a regular affair for a few years and I remember seeing the couple along with their daughters and son going for an evening walk after the husband returned from office. The couple would carry the son in their arms. The couple made a lovely pair and their images are still etched in my memory. The camaraderie between them was amazing. 
After we shifted to a new place in 1976, I lost track of this Gujarati family. I believe that they too shifted to their own pad. The industrial colonies then did not have a toilet within the home. Families had to share common toilets housed on every floor. I did hear from some of my friends who lived in these colonies that families took special efforts to maintain them and keep them spic and span. 
I was delighted to get a fleeting appearance of this couple in 1980. The son had grown up and was also able to walk on his own. It was a real miracle and I recall coming home and excitedly telling my mother that I had seen them and that the son had recovered from his ailment. I was so glad that the son had got cured! I can only imagine the anxiety that the parents would have faced; yet it is remarkable that they took some action rather than simply brood over the problem.  
Today many of these colonies and older buildings have vanished, thanks to the redevelopment spree that has gripped Mumbai in the last few years. But the memories can never fade away. I visited Ahmedabad for an official visit in 2010 and I could see that the city was no different from Mumbai. It felt like home. The culture was so familiar. 
For five years, I lived in Mulund West (the most happening suburb in Mumbai today), a predominantly Gujarati locality, in a building that housed many Gujarati families. The way they celebrated Holi, Diwali, Navratri and New Year together deserves special mention. 
Neighbours behaved like one big family. Women used to organise Gayatri mantra chanting sessions. I remember the occasions when the women used to celebrate Jalaram Bappa Day to commemorate the saint’s birthday. My impression about Gujaratis got reinforced during these five years that I lived amidst them. I found them so enterprising on all counts. They are definitely a gregarious lot.
A neighbourhood kirana store that I used to frequent suddenly sold a portion of their shop. This happened in the ‘90’s when I had begun working. When I asked him the reason, the shop owner replied, “My son wanted to pursue further studies in the US. I had to fund his higher education. There was no other option”. 
There are several such examples that I can narrate when many of these shopkeepers who were managing the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores or kirana stores were particular about educating their children. Some of them became chartered accountants, engineers and doctors. But there is a distinct change in the trend today. 
Earlier – especially during the ‘70s and ‘80s – it was a common practice in Gujarati families to get the daughters married off passing out from school. But today many Gujarati families are realising the need for educating their daughters too and marriage is considered only after the daughters secure a job or after they complete their higher education. 
Way back in the ‘80s, when satellite television had not entered our dining rooms and Doordarshan reigned supreme, it was not uncommon to watch Gujarati families going for a leisurely dinner after watching the Sunday evening Hindi movie telecast on Doordarshan. The neighbouring Ratna and Sadguru restaurants served delectable fares that would be lapped by these families.
My father’s friend who ran a ration shop in our neighbourhood used to often remark, “What are we earning for? We need to spend too as we have to enjoy life”. His statement is characteristic of a Gujarati family’s value system and philosophy about living a well lived life.  
Even now, if you visit Mumbai and happen to walk on the streets where  there are Gujarati households, you cannot miss the energy and enthusiasm with which these women do their chores – whether it is washing clothes and drying them, buying milk in the morning, cooking, haggling with the vegetable sellers or gossiping with neighbours.
What cannot be denied is that business is in their blood. 
(Venkatesh Ganapathy is at present pursuing his doctoral research in supply chain management from Alliance University, Bangalore. He is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. In this column, he shares the memories of his childhood in the ‘70s.)




2 days ago

The article is very interesting. I enjoyed reading it. The childhood memories were nicely expressed.

Deepa Mandal

3 days ago

Superbly expressed!!

Mohd Shamsheer

3 days ago

Sir, it is a wonderful article to read about the culture of the different cities in 90s. thank u for posting it :)

Shony Cyriac

4 days ago

Nicely written sir, being someone born in the 90's i really enjoyed this piece of yours i have heard a lot about the 70's from my parents but those were are all about southern India, I am glad that you shared your memories, i really enjoyed the read. :)

francis sebastian

4 days ago

A very well framed article touching upon the various incidents that leave a picture behind in our mind. Surprisingly, I grew up in Gujarat til i was about 6 years old . The Navrathri season , the kite festival are still some once in a life time experiences we should'nt miss..
thanks for sharing sir it does bring back some beautiful memories..: )

Ritu Chopra

4 days ago

That's a great article Sir... very well written like always!! Love reading your write-ups. I could picture your writing. Would love to read more 😀

Mubarak mallapur

4 days ago

Wonderful blog sir.
This will give an overview of Gujrati Families and there food habits which I wasn't know. You have beautiful childhood memories sir.
Thank you for sharing

Muhzin k

4 days ago

Good blog sir
The memmories you shared was awesome. I also start thinking about my childhood

sreenidhi sree

4 days ago

Hi sir,
well it was very good to read the culture practice and traditional of Gujarat was found to be awesome, and the memories you shared about your childhood was good. you also mentioned about Saraswatichandra novel one of the best story to read written by GovardhanRam later this was made serial. Hoping for more blogs in coming days.

Kandukur Srinidhi
GroupM Maxus
#29, 4th Floor, Mahalakshmi Chambers
MG Road Bangalore - India 560001
Tel: 080 – 42593356 | 604

Muhammed Irfan

4 days ago

Well explained your childhood sir, I started thinking about my childhood sir. Very good blog

Gaurav Muley

1 week ago

delightful article about your childhood. I liked it

Shabeeb Mohammed

2 weeks ago

Very nice blog sir
Your write up draged me to my child hood memories......

Muhammad Rameez .k.p

2 weeks ago

Sir, I applaud the column of your wonderful blog on memories of your child hood. It's a good reminder to look back to our child hood from today’s daily challenging life. An excellent read sir…

Vivek Naik

2 weeks ago

an excellent read

Raji Aunty Goes Shopping to Dadar
During the ’70s, we lived in an apartment complex in one of the western suburbs of Mumbai. There were 15 flats in our building. Each of us knew every other family in the building. There was lots of gossip with neighbourhood aunties speaking nineteen to the dozen and evenings were filled with laughter and banter. Despite petty differences among neighbours, there was great bonhomie and bonding among the residents.
My dad and other male members had a two-hour card session in the nights, from 9 to 11 p.m. On Sundays, the card sessions went on till midnight. There was no television then and Vividh Bharati was the sole source of in-house entertainment. Going to Juhu beach was like a picnic then.
Raji Aunty, who stayed on the first floor with her family (which included a number of children), was full of verve, energy and chutzpah. She was vivacious and the memories of her innocence and naivety are fresh after so many years. Her laughter was infectious. She was loquacious and often lost track of time when chatting with neighbours. In the ’70s, neighbours in Mumbai were more than relatives – unlike today, when one does not know who is staying in one’s neighbourhood.

One day, Raji Aunty was busy conversing with her neighbour. So immersed was she in the conversation that she forgot that she had kept oil in the gas stove for frying appalams (papads). Soon, the oil got over-heated and caught fire. Our building was located bang opposite an industrial colony. All of a sudden, the colony’s residents started shouting “Aag, Aag” (‘fire’ in Hindi). Raji Aunty and her neighbour were curious as to what the hubbub was all about, until it dawned on Raji Aunty that the fire had erupted in her own kitchen. That was Raji Aunty for you.
One particular incident deserves mention. In those days, women in the neighbourhood had the practice of going on shopping expeditions together – in particular grocery shopping. The Malad market was famous for pulses and edible oils that were available cheaper than at the neighbourhood kirana store. The housewives in our building decided to go to the Dadar market to shop for vegetables and fruits. It was an idea that caught the fancy of the womenfolk in the building.
They decided to travel by the Mumbai suburban rail network. Long distance bus journeys in Mumbai can be boring and tiresome. The group decided to catch a slow train to Dadar. Maybe they had not anticipated the peak hour traffic. So when the train arrived at the station there was a rush to board the train (as it always happens, even now). By the time the women had boarded the train, it began moving. Alas, Raji Aunty was the last to board the train. She firmly clutched my mother’s hands trying to hop onto the train.
My mother was standing on the footboard. One of the fisherwomen travelling in the compartment hit my mother’s hand. Raji aunty fell on the platform. Fortunately, she did not get hurt as the pace of the train was slow. As the train picked up speed, the fisherwoman explained to my mother that had she not intervened, my mother would have fallen from the moving train.
Now the housewives were in a dilemma. They did not know what to do. What was the fun in shopping if one of the group was not with them?  Anxious about Raji Aunty, the housewives decided to wait for her at Dadar station. They expected she would join them at Dadar by catching the next train. 
The wait proved to be interminable -- Raji Aunty was nowhere in sight. There were no cell phones in those days. So the group had no clue about the next course of action. After waiting for a good one hour, they decided to return home without shopping, as they were hardly in a mood to shop. They also worried about how they would face Ramachandran Uncle (Raji Aunty’s husband).
When they reached home, they went straight to Raji Aunty’s home. When they rang the bell, one of her children opened the door and what they saw shocked them. Raji Aunty was comfortably sitting on the floor and sorting out the vegetables. She saw us and exclaimed, “Oh, all of you have come back. How was the shopping?”  The group was left dumbstruck.
What had happened was that Raji Aunty had caught the next train to Dadar. This train happened to be a fast train that reached Dadar earlier than the train the group had travelled in. Not wanting to waste time, Raji Aunty had made enquiries about the location of the Dadar market and went about shopping as usual. She thought that the group had already left and so she caught the next train back home. 
There were similar such hilarious incidents regarding Raji Aunty. But, apart from anything, it was her innocence, kindness and charm that bowled everyone over. She had an inimitable style of speaking Tamil and was a mother figure to everyone in the building. This was what made her special. For a long time after Raji Aunty moved to another house, the residents felt a void that was hard to fill. 
(Venkatesh Ganapathy is presently pursuing his doctoral research in supply chain management from Alliance University, Bangalore. He is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. In this column, he shall be sharing the memories of his childhood in the 70's.


Food Colours: How Safe Are They?

Colours of the food can influence the perceived flavour, but what is alarming is the alacrity with which food colours are used for non-food applications and vice versa. How safe are food colours and how effective is the regulation in India?

Food colours are available as liquids, powders, gels, pastes. Colour additives are used to offset colour loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions and also intended to correct natural variations in colour. But how safe are food colours and how effective is the regulation in India?

Colours of the food can influence the perceived flavour. Sometimes the aim is to stimulate a colour that is perceived by the customer as natural or sometimes it is for effect. Off-colour foods are generally considered inferior in quality and so colours are added. Colours can also protect vitamins and flavours that may be affected by sunlight during storage. Usage of colours can enhance the natural colour of a dish and introduce decorative colours to other foods.

Specialty food ingredients typically preserve, texture, emulsify, colour, help processing, and in some cases, add an extra health dimension to produced food. These ingredients are essential in providing today’s consumer with a wide range of processed foods. Such specialty food colours help maintain or improve a product’s sensory properties like colour, taste and texture. Plain food products are presented with a fun colour aspect with natural or synthetic colours.

Natural food colour is any dye, pigment or any other substance obtained from vegetable, animal, mineral that is capable of colouring foods or drugs. Colours come from variety of sources like seeds, fruits, vegetables, algae and insects. The desired colour tinge can be obtained by bearing in mind crucial factors such as pH, storage conditions and the basic ingredients. Grass, beet root, turmeric are some of the natural sources from which colours are extracted. However, natural colours may not be suitable for high-heat applications.

Synthetic food colours are also called artificial colours. These are manufactured by chemical reaction and are commonly used in food and pharmaceutical industries. Colours that are prepared from previously certified batches of primary colours are called as Blended Food Colours. Blends can be made available to meet specific requirements of a customer in terms of shade and strength. Some of the common food colours are Tartrazine, Sunset Yellow, Amaranth, Allura Red, Quinoline Yellow, Brilliant Blue, Indigo Carmine and chocolate brown.

Packaging of food colours is equally important to preserve freshness and the desired quality. There are even pre-packed colours available that can be directly used in the final product formulation.

While synthetic colours are produced by a chemical reaction, some organisations extract natural colours from plant material using a modern process like super-critical fluid extraction. Such colours have a high shelf life and also the composition turns out to be more accurate. For instance, Curcumin 95 is a common natural colour that is produced from turmeric.

Due to consumer concerns around synthetic dyes, there is a tilt towards promotion of natural colours. Natural colours, generally, do not need certification by regulatory bodies throughout the world. Certified, synthetic colours are popular because they are less expensive but they are also effective in giving an intense and uniform colour. They can also blend easily to give a variety of hues.

Some natural colours do end up giving an unintended flavour to foods. They have also been reported to give certain allergic reactions.

To ensure reproducibility, the coloured components are provided in highly purified form; for increased stability and convenience, they can be formulated in suitable carrier materials like solids and liquids. Some standard food colourings use both synthetic and natural colours.

Natural dyes from plant products are popular but they come at a price. High quality colorants for the food industry comprise colours, lakes and pigments. In some cases, specialty fluorescent colours are also used by the food industry.


Colours that are insoluble in water are made by a chemical process called Lakes. An Aluminium lake, for instance, is produced by adsorption of water-soluble dye onto a hydrated aluminium substrate rendering the colour insoluble in water. The end product is coloured either by dispersion of the lake into the product or by coating onto the surface of the product. Lakes are more chemically stable than water soluble colours and can also produce brighter and vivid colours. These are suited for products containing oils and fats or in products that lack sufficient moisture to dissolve colours. The more finely ground the colour particles in a lake, the more effective the colour. This means that a high colour value is obtained by using a lake with minimum particle size. This can also lead to substantial cost savings. However, standardisation of lakes can pose a challenge as minor batch to batch variations are common in pigments.


Before any new ingredient is used in food, it must undergo a risk analysis and shown to be safe at its proposed levels of use. In addition to this and for some categories of specialty food ingredients (e.g. food additives), it must also be demonstrated that there is a real technological need—if this need cannot be established, then the substance will not be authorised for use in the European Union.

Food colourings are tested for safety by various bodies around the world; different bodies can have different views.

Amit Bharadwaj, CEO, Ajanta Colours says, “We are not into making natural colours because they are costly and even the Western countries are groping to address problems of stability with such colours. Most users are callow about the application of natural colours”. He adds that the innovative efforts are limited by the fact that manufacturers have to comply with the permitted list of colours stipulated by regulation. “As far as India is concerned, we are strong as a country that can manufacture colours. We have to meet the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) in India, but we also need to follow the regulatory requirements in countries to which we are exporting the food colours. Whether it is natural or synthetic, the key thing is to meet the desired specifications of the product as stipulated by regulation. Even if there is a tilt towards natural products, if the desired specifications are not met, then this serves no purpose”, he concludes.

Srinivas Tilak, director, Mayur Colours says,” In Western countries there are a huge number of food colours that are available as compared to India. In India the regulatory restrictions are severe in that there are only few permitted colours like Tartazine, Brilliant Blue and Sunset Yellow. Within this framework, manufacturers dilute the colours using a base like Sodium Chloride. During the earlier days, pulverized sugar was used as the base”.

Organisations like the Mumbai-based Neelikon believe that it is important to develop a product anticipating potential regulatory changes and keeping in mind the need to excel in quality and purity standards. In food products, more than the purity (dye content), it is the impurities that are important says Satyen Turakia, Director-Marketing, Neelikon.

Colours & Controversy

Food colours have also been the subject of controversy in the West; for instance, Cochineal and carmine (also called carminic acid) are derived from an American insect. These colorants are used to impart a deep red shade to fruit juices, strawberry milkshakes and candies. Some synthetic colours have been reported to cause attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children. There have been number of studies on this subject. While the results have not been conclusive, they have certainly not been reassuring too.

“We are living in a world that is dictated by global norms and regulation—more so when you have to export food items. This is the reason we are earnest about meeting European food standards, KOSHER and OSHA certifications”, says Vijay Nair, marketing manager of Ahmedabad-based Nova International. He adds that Nova is in the forefront in meeting FCC (Food Chemicals Codex) norms.

Satyen Turakia says, “The dye content is the value of colour in a product. It is measured in terms of percentage of the active component. We can have 92% active colour and balance 8% can comprise of Sodium Chloride, Moisture, impurities”. He further adds, “The impurities fall into four categories—Dye intermediates, Insolubles, Metallics and Subsidiary dyes”.

Dye intermediates refer to un-reacted dye that remains in the end product. Insolubles refer to water insoluble contaminants. Metallic refers to lead, arsenic, mercury, iron, nickel and cadmium. Subsidiary dyes are generated due to secondary reactions between parent components of raw materials. So long as the non-active components are within permissible limits, they are okay. This shows that the chemical reaction has been able to control the production of non active components.

Mr Turakhia adds, “If we have 99% active colour and 1% is the lead contaminant, then this can be a serious hazard. But if we have 90% active colour component and balance are non active components like sodium chloride, metal, moisture, etc within the limits, then this is a safer proposition. We can dilute such a product with sodium chloride and make it as a product with 20% dye content”.

The key challenges according to Mr Turakhia are the increasing levels of complacency in China and India as compared to Western Europe, Japan and USA when it comes to regulatory compliance. “Unscrupulous suppliers end up spoiling the brand image of India by supplying inferior quality products. As far as India is concerned, there are no barriers with regard to food colours as there is no one to check the quality control, manufacturing facilities or competency of people involved in the manufacture of dyes. Purity of food colours have to be checked at the ppm (parts per million) level. But as is true with other industries, the enforcement of regulation is lax in India”.

What is alarming is the alacrity with which food colours are used for non-food applications and vice versa. Metanil yellow, which is not a food colour, is widely used in Mumbai and Gujarat for colouring food items and delicacies like Ghatia. The ubiquitous pan (betel leaf) is coloured with bright red/green non-food colours. In Jaipur, food colours are used for non-food application even though it is illegal. Moong dal (pulse) is glazed with Tartarazine, tea is given an artificial colour.

If there any casualties related to such indiscriminate use of non-food colours in food items, we do not know as there is no visibility in the mainstream media about such incidents. China, too, had grappled with milk adulteration, adulterated colours in pet food and tooth pastes in the not-too-distant past.

Mr Tilak adds, “This craze for natural colours is actually a Western influence. In reality, the natural colours do not disperse as well as the synthetic ones. They are also exorbitantly priced. The only natural colour that I know is Annato, the yellow colour that goes into Amul butter. Annato seeds are grown widely in Ratnagiri. They are similar to fenugreek seeds but have good colouring potential. Extraction of natural colours is done using oil or solvent.”
Adds Mr Turakhia, “Until two years back, there was a requirement for food colours to be sold with an ISI label. With that restriction removed, it has now become a free for all.”

 “We made a few recommendations to the BIS but it has been five years, we are yet to receive a response, “says Mr Turakhia. “ Due to the lengthy process involved in getting new synthetic colours approved, we have kind of stayed away from new innovations”, he sums up.

The enforcement of regulation has to be stricter and the unorganised sector needs to be kept in check. Look at the irony of the situation. India has severe regulatory restrictions on food colours but also as many unscrupulous traders and trade practices. Some colours that are used during the Holi festival also get substituted as food colours. Now if this is not alarming, nothing else is. At the end of the day, no one has the right to play with the lives of others.



Ratanlal Purohit

5 years ago

A lot of colourful information, collected from Manufacturers and trade.

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