food creates memories - nothing resonates truer than this.
When I wrote to friends and family that I had made Falooda – the overwhelming sentiment was, “Thanks for reminding me, I need to make some too.” So, it is most apt to share with you, what makes my Falooda memories. And for this, I have to close my eyes, for my love affair with Falooda began a long time ago.
Sometime in the late 1970’s Bombay, I was definitely less than 8 yrs old, most likely riding with my mother, brother and our ‘manny’ on the #64 Double Decker BEST bus to visit my father at his office in the heart of downtown Bombay, at Crawford Market. Bombay, in the late 70’s – appeared peaceful but only on the surface, as we later learned. The bus route would take me past school friends’ homes and I would crane my neck out of the window to see if they were there. It passed old buildings that would later become landmarks, small temples and churches that would encourage me to say a quick prayer, and bridges and markets to entice and engage my imagination – the ride was long but unhurried.
About an hour later, we would get off the bus to walk into a large compound of several cool, dark stone buildings collectively known as the CID office at Crawford Market. The buildings were covered in large pothos (money plant) vines amidst tall shady trees of jackfruit and ficus like they played hide-n-seek with the foliage. The tar roads were splattered in bird-droppings and paan stains that might be washed away only the next monsoon or by the grey water from the car-wash boy’s little bucket. While police vehicles whizzed past in and out of the compound, we would dodge our way to the first little office that housed my fathers’ work desk. He might have been a Jr. Police Inspector at that time with the Bombay Police but this was his place for his special undercover assignments.
The black stone steps to my father's CID office were familiar and the wooden swing door would creak as we tried to make a noiseless entry in vain. An orderly would acknowledge us with simple nod and walk indoors to announce our arrival never once assuming that we would be allowed into my father’s office without his permission. The black high back wooden chairs were worn but comfortable. An old Crompton ceiling fan or a table-fan whirled away as we waited for my father to join us. Perhaps we were going to a movie or a performance that evening or a quick family dinner. Who knows, we may have been part of one of his undercover stings that evening, because he seldom accompanied us home after.
Regardless of the course of the evening, restless children were not tolerated and to cool our impatience, my father would ask a constable to walk us across the street, past a vegetable market to a small ice-cream parlor, Badshah. That’s when I discovered the simple joys of Falooda. A bus-boy would drop off a couple glasses of tepid water, but we knew what we wanted even before he got there…. a Royal Falooda. A tall glass of rose-flavored milk, mixed in with sweet basil seeds and colored vermicelli, topped with a large glob of vanilla ice-cream. It was heaven in a soda-glass.
Thirty some years later, my school friends have now moved away, the buildings I once passed on the #64 route have been either replaced by new structures or are unrecognizable under billboards and awnings, the religious places have become controversial hotspots, and the graceful old stone bridges and bustling colorful markets are buried under massive flyovers. Father has long retired and the CID has switched gears from the pursuit of serial killers and jewelry heists to local and foreign terror threats. Yet, the memory of that cold glass of Falooda remains.
Perhaps it was the simple unhurried journey with familiar sights and fresh clean air and that 'puppy-in-a-car-window' feeling that culminated into a special treat. Perhaps it was the anticipation of its sweet goodness or the sheer quantities of cold ice-cream that we were allowed to consume often before dinner. Perhaps it was the special attention we got because father’s constable was with us – which translated only into dry glasses although their cleanliness was questionable. I have long outgrown the joys of a BEST bus ride across Bombay, openly admit that I am in denial about the name change from Bombay to Mumbai (even 15+ years later) simply because I have known and loved that city as Bombay, and I am most definitely disgusted by wet tableware. It also goes without saying that my once favorite front seat on the upper deck of the bus - now makes me fearful. But regardless of what made it happen, Falooda remains one of my favorite anytime desserts.
Falooda makes me smile because it is unassuming. It brings back memories of a playful, stress free time when an hour long bus ride for dinner was a joyous journey, filled with familiar sights and sounds. In the complex desserts that we see in patisseries’ and restaurants, Falooda begins as a colorful concoction that became muddled during consumption, but its delicious simplicity keeps it memorable.
Good food can make great memories. How often you make great memories - is up to you.