Kunal Vijayakar revisits the New Year parties from Mumbai of the ’70s
My earliest New Year’s Eve memory is of my late dad in a white dinner jacket, cummerbund; my mother trying to knot his bow tie. My mother herself sporting a bouffant and a tightly wrapped ’70s-style sari.
We lived at Mazagon Docks. A community of shippies, a mix of Parsis, Anglo-Indians, Christians, and Jews, with the odd Maharashtrian, Punjabi, and Tamilian thrown in. New Year’s Eve was held on the tennis courts. I could just about see them from our balcony. Coloured flags from different shipping liners festooned the four sides. A ship canvas was stretched across the asphalt floor and powdered to make it easy to dance on. A band, often Maurice Concessio’s, would start tuning before sundown, and young musicians’ Brylcreem-ed hair shone like their black tuxedos. Glasses were polished, tubs filled with mixers, and booze from the foreign ships arranged in a row. Waiters wore white gloves and black bows. After a while, the only way to tell the guest from the waiter was to see who had had a drink too many.
The band played everything from country to rock ‘n’ roll, from Elvis to The Beatles. The one song I remember, as my sister and I peered above the balcony, was Rose Garden, a song written by Joe South, and recorded by country music singer Lynn Anderson. We’d see the dancing, and hear the clink of glasses till our weary ears would hear a sombre Auld Lang Syne played as the party wound down.
Years later, when it was my turn to party, we were no longer at Mazagon Docks, but the Willingdon Club and the Bombay Gymkhana were a good representation of the days gone by. The tux was gone, but jacket and tie was de rigueur, the music was still from the ’60s and ’70s, and Nelly’s Band, Concessio and Goody Seervai still ruled.
Today, the New Year, for me, has become quieter, and more about the food. Not just because rock bands have been dethroned by DJs, and Auld Lang Syne replaced by Beat pe Booty.
This New Year countdown started with Christmas. My cousin, Poonam Gonsalves, married to a Bandra East Indian, has plied me with goodies. First from her son Nikhil Gonsalves’s Mexican takeaway Coma Coma: a feast of Empanadas (stuffed fried pastry) including one called Mexigoa, with a vinegary Goan tang, Bayou Burrito with prawns, Barbacoa Burrito, unbelievable tenderloin with spicy habanero. And Carnitas Burrito with pulled pork. All washed down with a white milky drink called Horchata.
She then sent me a parcel of home-made East Indian sorpotel and vindaloo distinct from the Goan and Mangalorean versions. She also insisted I make a Christmas breakfast of two-day old sorpotel topped with a runny, sunny-side egg, to be wiped with pao.
Lunch was with our friends Neil and Minu White. Minu is Filipino, and their lunch always has a traditional dish. This year, it was a Meat Caldereta, a Spanish-influenced stew: meat cooked with tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and bell peppers, with liver spread to thicken the sauce, and chilies.
Minu also made her version of a pork vindaloo, and her smiling cook’s version of a Yakhni Pulao. And to end, Filipino Leche Flan — a richer version of the caramel custard.
If all goes well, I hope to spend this New Year in the quiet of the Broacha’s [Cyrus] Zirad house, under the stars with meat on the spit and a wish for all to be healthy and happy.