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Masti in the air

Menka Shivdasani

There were film screenings, theatre performances, art shows and, above all, good food. The Mumbai Festival packed it all... and with gusto.


Sunil Gavaskar and Milind Soman at the kite-flying contest during the Mumbai festival.

Never before has the city been so abuzz. With two festivals on simultaneously, you had to jostle your way through the crowds at Rampart Row, and wherever you looked, there were people eating, shopping, filling up art galleries and waiting impatiently outside tents that said "No parents allowed".

Mainly, though, they were eating and shopping, with the fancy restaurants along Rampart Row serving everything from Kabuli chaat to momos. Round tables were laid out in the middle of the street and people sat there and tucked in, with their bags full of artefacts purchased from nearby stalls.

In this city, if you want to attract crowds, you can be sure to draw them with food. Other attractions help — the man on stilts at the Food Zone outside Elphinstone College was a big draw, for instance.

In that chaos, you also had to be very careful about your belongings, as artist Gulbanu Merchant discovered when she displayed her paintings outside Max Mueller Bhavan. "I just put my water mug down for a minute and it disappeared," she complained. In the past, she has also lost paintings.

Still, if you walked away from the crowds, pushing aside the third guy who asked if you were vegetarian or non-vegetarian so he could sell you a culinary gadget, you would have found some really quirky stuff.

There was the tree trunk outside the Jehangir Art Gallery, deftly converted into a gigantic leg, complete with toes and toenails. It seemed so life-like, that you could be forgiven for looking up to see if there was a gigantic body and head attached.

If you wanted an evening well spent with music or literature, then the festivals had much to offer — multi-lingual poetry readings, theatre performances, film screenings, creative writing workshops, photography collections ... it was impossible to catch them all.

Let's hope some of the performances are repeated even after the festivals end, and that the spaces around Kala Ghoda — like the lovely garden at the David Sassoon library — are better used throughout the year.

It's a pity all this action was crammed into just two short weeks.

Away from this street-side excitement, in the luxurious confines of the Grand Hyatt, there was wine and tea tasting at IFOWS, the third International Food and Wine Show. The best wines from 17 countries including France, Germany, Italy and South Africa were on display, along with Indian offerings like Sula and the newly launched Flamingo.

The event included a chef's competition, cooking demonstrations, talks by Indian and international experts — including Rajeev Samant, CEO of Sula Vineyards, and Ch'ng Poh Tion, publisher of the Wine Review.

Also, for those who enjoy food, there was a Gourmet Safari, in which participants went to restaurants in different hotels, including Intercontinental Grand, for starters, the main course and dessert.

Being able to taste so many foreign wines — and, horror of horrors, actually having to throw some of it back into ice buckets — was clearly a new experience for many Mumbaikars. As Valerie Riboud, the vivacious vineyard owner from Provence, pointed out, "Many people are coming here just to drink, not to taste!"

Her Chateau Roubine wines were so good you couldn't really blame them. Then there were people who certainly had a long way to go before becoming connoisseurs. "What wine is that?" one man was heard asking, pointing to some little bottles. "That's not wine," responded the man at the stall. "That's olive oil!"

A booklet by SOPEXA from France described the varieties available, the differences and even some tips on how to handle a wine tasting session. "In a wine tasting situation," the booklet said, "you'll always find the connoisseurs and `pretenders', swirling wine in their glasses, snorting at it with their noses, and then making commentary with mention of fruits, flowers, spices, aromas, wet dogs... OK, so the connoisseurs are often discreet about it, while you can often tell the pretenders by their pompous proclamations."

If you want to impress people with your wine-tasting abilities, the trick is to tilt a one-third filled glass against a white background, and observe the colour, clarity, density and brilliance.

Hold the glass under your nose, and breathe in the aroma. Finally, taste the wine, and move it around in your palate — the tip of the tongue picks up sweet tastes and the sides and the rest of it pick up saltiness.

There's more, but on second thoughts, you might as well just pour yourself a glass, and enjoy it!

Picture by Paul Noronha

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