Eating at Ananda Bhavan

I had to find Ananda Bhavan without haste…So on the walk back (to catch the 1817 limited stop fast train from VT to Mulund) to VT from Nariman point, I decided to hunt out the place. Finding it was no big deal, everybody knew in the Fort area. Appeared to be a meeting place for Southies of Tamil or Mallu origin!! There it was…The smell of sambar and ghee wafted from the doorstep and every seat looked taken. A few hung around tables that were about to be vacated, looking with pleading eyes (go on, get up & go) on the other hand the guys sitting were finding reasons to delay their departure…this seating tug of war went on.. I joined this group waiting for a seat. And finally got one where a couple of guys were animatedly discussing the merits of living in Matunga vs Dombivilli..

How did I end up here ( this was in 1982)? As a South Indian in Bombay, fresh from Kerala (after a two-year stint in Chennai), I was desperate for proper South Indian food. There were plenty of Udupi restaurants, but the sugar in the Sambar and other dishes somehow put me off. The search for a proper Tamilian or Malayali vegetarian joint started in right earnest. A benevolent uncle who had spent decades in Bombay came to the rescue, he suggested the Ananda Bhavan in Fort on Cawasji Patel St, at Fort.

Typical of such café’s, the ambience was dull; the walls had not seen paint for sometime. Table boys were on their toes, busy cleaning tables at the earliest possible opportunity with a ‘vazhaka thundu’ later polishing off with a rag soaked in some strange chemical (to keep flies at bay – Phenyl??). As soon as a plate was seen empty, it was pulled away & dumped into a plastic bucket they lugged around (Steel Glasses were the responsibility of another boy!!). The waiters (slightly older – hence not termed boys) were running around, shouting orders to the cooks in the kitchen. I marvelled at the efficiency, some 6 waiters, 5 boys, some 25-30 tables and the orders were in continuous flow. The system worked, rarely did a wrong dish land up in front of the waiting, drooling, hungry man…You could overhear conversations in Tamil and Malayalam…an odd Kannadiga or a Northie speaking Hindi.. ‘No Smoking’ screamed one board. ‘No hair combing at basin’ reminded another…

The scowling manager/owner dressed in traditional dhoti and white shirt sat behind the glass topped quadrant unit next to the door. His symbol of power was the bell. One press of the button, you heard a dull tinkle (wonder how people heard it across that busy room – I guess if they did not, the next sound was a loud bellow) and the nearest waiter had to quickly amble across and find out what was wanted by Periyavar... In front of him, there was the pin-stand where the bills brought by patrons for payment were punched in, under the glass table was a calendar with a bright Murugan picture and many time expired notices…the cash-drawer was open and notes would go in, Chillar would come out…everything went on like clockwork. For those so inclined, there was a bowl of Beeda (pre-prepared South Indian Paan), which you could buy for Rs2/- on the way out.. The whole place smelt heavenly…

Ancient fans droned away slowly on the ceiling, grime from many decades coated those fan blades…The board on the wall announced ‘Today’s special’. I have always wondered who decided the special, the manager or the cook or was it team effort like we have these days? Today it was Sevai, served piping hot…That was what I ate and I still remember the Sevai (spicy version) with Chutney and Podienna…Super - Ugran.

It was soon to become a routine, Ghee Roast, or vada sambar or vada rasam or sevai….On Saturdays it was a half day at office, so it was lunch – a proper ‘thali’ with Avial and semia payasam all the other stuff. Many of the waiters were from Palakkad, so we had a lot to chat about when they hovered around.

Finally rounded off with filter coffee served in the steel glass and ‘dovarah’ !! Delicious…reminded me of Ashoka Bhavan in GB road, Palakkad….

I miss it all and wonder if others remember the place, like I do…. I am not sure if it is still around, but it surely is in my memory.

Two other mentions of Ananda Bhavan - thanks to google.


indianadoc said…
Chaaya assalayi... Cd really smell the aroma of AnandaBhavan here!!...that ws a good write up...cravings for a malayali food!!
maddy said…
thanks for passing by, wish we had something like an ananda bhavan here..hv to go all the way to london for something close to it, chennai dosa or madras dosa in eastham...

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