Taste of life: food for thought … business, caste and taste, all in this portion


It’s been almost 25 years since I had my first meal cooked by Chavan mom. She ran a khanaval in a two-room apartment in the famous Khandke chawl in Dadar. Most of his clients were students from my college. They knew where to go after they couldn’t stand the food served in the college mess. Granny was always smiling, and she never counted the roast his clients, mostly young men with enormous appetites, ate. The chicken curry she cooked on Fridays and Sundays was loved by everyone.

mom’s her husband was 70 years old and had diabetes. He worked in a factory in Parel and was forced to sit at home after losing his right foot several years ago. Since Granny Finding him unnecessary in the kitchen, he often sat with diners and regaled them with stories that had local henchmen and famous gangsters, cricketers, politicians and union leaders as heroes.

mom’s his stepfather had come to Mumbai for a living during the last decade of the 19th century with his wife and a toddler from a village in Konkan. Proletarian Bombay flourished in Parel at the time. Textile factories were still in need of labor, and migrants from Konkan and Marathwada regions ensured a steady supply. They worked together in the mills and lived together in chawls close. Regarding food, the caste decided who cooked for whom and who ate with whom.

Most of the workers would come to Mumbai without their wives. When they moved to Mumbai for a living, they took with them the deep-rooted evils of the caste system. They ate mostly in khanavals belonging to men or women of their own caste. A person risked “pollution” if he accepted food from the hands of people of so-called “lower castes” than his own. Eat in a khanaval headed by a “higher caste” person was sometimes permitted. There were separate seats for clients from the so-called “lower castes”. They were also supposed to eat from separate utensils.

As the number of workers increased, khanavals prospered too, but not all could afford to eat in a khanaval. An ingenious system has emerged for such people. Families looking for additional income welcomed workers who did not want to eat there khanavals, at their home. Each family would take two to three guests at most. The diners ate whatever was prepared for the family and paid a fixed amount for the food each month. The monthly fee would typically be 25% lower than what they would pay in a khanaval. Women from families providing food were not afraid to cook for a few more people each day as the arrangement was extremely cost effective.

The customers not only saved money, but also didn’t have to worry about dining with people from the “lower castes”. There would always be rumors about cooking food in a khanaval by someone from a “lower caste”, or a guest lying about his caste to enter a khanaval. This deeply rooted mistrust of food followed everyone everywhere. Families offering food would always know the caste of their clients as admission was strictly based on the references provided. This eliminated the risk of “pollution”.

Since some khanavals were “strictly vegetarian,” reinforcing the notion of “purity” associated with caste, customers had the option of selecting families who served non-vegetarian dishes.

Mami’s mother-in-law also fed a few workers in their village of Konkan throughout her life. This institution and the arrangement have unfortunately not been properly documented to date. He finds a fleeting mention in the Marathi novel “Godu Gokhale”, written by BV Varerkar, in 1932. A friend of the protagonist Godu dines at her neighbor’s house with her husband because she does not have time to cook and wants to save money. money.

I had often wondered if this system also existed in Pune. There were families who fed the students daily, but this arrangement did not involve any monetary transaction. Since Pune did not have a large proletarian population and the caste system dominated and controlled by the “upper castes” was rigid, it was highly unlikely that such a system existed in the city. While documenting khanavals in the 19th and 20th centuries, I had never met a family that only offered food to two or three people for money. Until Induaji Nalawade introduced me to Tarabai Mahadik.

Nalawade was pretending to be 104 when I met her five years ago. She sold flowers outside the Kasba Ganpati temple. Talking to him was delicious. His memory was vivid, as was his mind. She knew Pune like the back of her hand and always answered my questions in detail.

Mahadik was his distant relative who lived in Ganesh peth in Pune. She arrived in Pune from a village in Satara district in 1930 at the age of ten, after being married to a vegetable seller. Mahadik had 14 members of his family, who lived in a three-room apartment building in a dilapidated wada. Her husband and older brother were the only winning family members. Mahadik started working at the age of 15 after giving birth to a boy. She was employed to wash utensils in a khanaval.

Two years and another baby later, one of her neighbors asked her if she would cook for a friend of hers who worked at the Khadkee munitions factory. Her husband agreed. Since Mahadik did not go to his house to cook, the gentleman started to have dinner at Mahadik’s.

Mahadik cooked for the whole family and the guest, while her husband served her food in the living room. She soon had two other clients. Mahadik continued until the 1980s, after which her family forced her to retire.

Mahadik never spoke to his clients. She never ventured into the living room while they were having dinner. They all belonged to his caste.

Maintaining the integrity of the caste was, and unfortunately still is, largely dependent on who cooked or handled the food. It also depended on who you were dining with. What you ate determined your social status, your economic worth, who you marry and where you live.

Women like Chavan mami’s mother-in-law and Tarabai Mahadik earned for their families and maintained the “sanctity of the caste system”.


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