Birmingham’s strongest connect with Mumbai is arguably Asha’s, the restaurant franchised by Asha Bhonsle in parts of the world. It is readily recommended when you inquire about Indian food. From my last visit in 2011, the food lives up to its reputation.
In keeping with the India versus Pakistan syndrome, Wasim Akram, who spent a number of years on the county cricket circuit, has promised a Mughlai treat that will make us ‘forget anything you’ve eaten in Birmingham or Bombay’.
That’s a tall boast, though a verdict on this will have to wait till we return to Birmingham after a round-trip to Cardiff. Those in charge of restaurants that specialise in such cuisine in Mumbai can expect an update on my return.
Exploring the curiosities of taste buds is more therapy than hedonism. Such indulgence can take the mind away from the mundane, more so when in different places with their distinct culinary cultures. Distance always gives a different perspective. For instance, in England, the world appears bigger, less shrill, more ordered than the one I’ve left behind. Issues that have dogged our lives over the past few weeks find no resonance here. There is relief from the claustrophobia caused by the predictable.
The issue raised by BJP corporator Ritu Tawade shortly before I left Mumbai is a case in point. Distressed by women’s nightwear displayed outside shops, Tawade moved a motion against this, which the BMC’s general body approved, arguing that skimpily-dressed mannequins encourage men to think of women as sex objects and has led to a surge in crime.
Is this moral policing, morality misunderstood or appropriate action? To be honest, there is no cut-and-dried answer. Men who treat women as sex objects are not necessarily provoked by shop displays. It can be argued that they are provoked by their own sense of masculine superiority or are steeped in patriarchy or indeed that their moral sense is faulty.
Mumbai has long been India’s most liberal city and — despite recent events that suggest otherwise — still the safest for women in the country. And y et, this umbrage at women being depicted ‘poorly’ exists.
The conflict between the city’s cosmopolitan nature and its moral police is not new either and brings to mind the various confusions that the morality argument leads us to. Take the current crisis in Indian cricket that has many people confused by spot-fixing and betting. The two may be connected but they are not the same thing. In the brouhaha over the BCCI’s (mal)functioning, one hopes that in punishing the cheats, those guilty of spot-fixing are not forgotten.
Mind you, crime, sex and political chicanery top the news agenda in England too, currently. The abduction, rape and murder of a five-year-old girl has shocked the country. Jennifer Lopez’s skimpy leotard and pelvic thrusts in a TV reality show earned front page attention, as did stories of ‘cash-for-questions’ indicting some peers in Parliament.
Human nature does not change much from country to race to religion. What makes a good story does not alter much either. The difference is in the threshold of moral outrage in a society. In India, this threshold seems to be extremely short, thin and weak. In many ways I reckon this reflects the struggle to come to terms with our own age-old failings, depravities and hypocrisies.