When three city girls put together a Mumbai lexicon of sorts for a cultural studies project in college, they realised that it had the potential to be transformed into a book. It took some encouragement from their Mass Media professor at KC College, a quick response from publishers HarperCollins and three years for Cutting Chai and Maska Pao to materialise.
“The idea was to create a Bombay culture dictionary. Since we had grown up in the city, it seemed like the most natural thing to do,” says Digantika Mitra, one of the authors.
The book is a slim little labour of love by three 22-year-olds – Mithila Mehta, Priya Sheth and Digantika. Cutting Chai is best described as an alphabetical list of Mumbai-isms – from its most common landmarks (Gateway, Queen’s Necklace, Oval Maidan etc) to cultural markers (Bollywood, of course, and Lover’s Rocks, defined as “…a snug spot by the sea”) and food (baida, cutting chai, vada pav), among other things.
Each entry has a cute definition – Kabootar Khana, for instance, is “where pigeons wine and dine” – followed by a short write-up.
“You can never have a fixed set of words about Bombay. Plus, we had to pick things that were city-specific rather than Indian,” says Priya, who presently works as a business journalist.
Some delightful entries are about Mumbai’s distinct parlance, or what is known as Bambaiya Hindi: words like rapchik, dhinchak and jhakkas make sense only when you’ve lived in the city, although aila owes its national fame to Sachin Tendulkar.
Mithila, now an MBA student in Ahmedabad, says, “These words were the most difficult to write about, because their meanings are so abstract.” Mithila, the painter among the trio, also had the added task of illustrating these words.
Jhakkas therefore has a balding man with a wide grin expressing wholehearted approval with a thumbs up.
Photographs, mostly shot by Digantika, accompany all other entries. A shot of a hand with a gold bracelet and cell phone for Bhai is apt, while the boy holding two kulfi sticks with the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in the backdrop is rather delightful.
Cutting Chai isn’t strictly coffee-table in its genre, and while you may not look it up for information before exploring Mumbai, it might yet inspire you to head out and do just that.
Cutting Chai and Maska Pao (Collins, R250) is available in book stores now