Best Vada Pav

December 2017, Navi Peth, Pune.

It was a small shop at the edge of the road where traffic met from 4 different directions and halted before the signal. Inside, three tables and four chairs around each. Dignified, playfully round, just-fried yellow batata vadas gleamed from inside the glass counters while pavs sat smiling on top. A stack of newspaper cuttings were holed into a pin-stand on the wall. I was standing outside to get an auto to take me to Savitribai Phule University.

Decided against it and went in after I heard the vadas sizzling cozily inside the tava they were swimming in. Ordered two vada pavs – one for now , one for later. Sat waiting at one of the tables and watched men in office clothes reading the newspaper hurriedly and slowing down only to eat vada pav.

I bit into mine as soon as it came. Hot. Steam escaped from the gaps of my teeth and I let out an oval howl. Pushed the vada around the walls of my mouth so they wouldn’t linger on the tongue for very long. I imagined my vada as a Victorian lady holding the edges of her skirt, face wrinkled, eyes shut, trying to cross a puddle.

Pav soothed the burns but only until I bit into the chili which gave me a renewed sense of mouth. I finished the rest of vadapav carefully, biting enough of both to sustain heat and burns in equal measure. But the thing with a vadapav is, no matter how careful you are, it will do whatever it wants to in your mouth. On top of everything, with a chili in hand, one can never sit still. Even half-eaten, you can neither keep holding it or throw it. Eventually it will make a home in your mouth and you must learn to shut up and let it.

I took the other vadapav and put it in my bag. Lunch sorted, I thought. Ten minutes later, outside Savitribai Phule University in the auto, I took it out of my bag and ate it the same way I ate its twin.

It was a happy day.