The poles were unloaded from the LCV alongwith the loose bundles of coir rope. The loaders also unpacked the tied-up whitish tent-cloth with the colourful borders. They had barely half a day to set up the 50 odd stalls along the sides of the already narrow and busy street. Children were excited as they gawked at the workmen going about tying up the poles together with the coir and they ducked when the bundles of tent-cloth were thrown over and around the stalls. By evening, the make-shift stalls/ stores were ready. The stall managers had already arrived before that and supervised the last bit as they directed the workmen to put up the cloth banners, extend a shelf here, adjust the height there, etc. The local electrician who spent much of his time repairing old “mixies”, and irons, was now so busy, that he forgot his mid-afternoon tea, which the local dhaba boy brought him. The residents of that narrow street were over-excited, despite the fact that their neighbourhood would be swarmed over for the next 2 weeks. Afterall – the Malvani Mela (Fair) was held only once a year.
The streets and lanes that abut this Malvani Fair in Central Mumbai also had some stalls, mostly serving fresh food and other forms of entertainment – like the usual rifle balloonwala, the four seater merry-go-round; the 6 seater manually run “giant wheel”. But all the crowds were headed to the maidan, the field which on non-Mela days is open for children to play cricket in the afternoons, and to tie up the buffaloes and cows in the night. This maidan had been converted into an amusement park of sorts, wth the fluorescent lamps rotating with the fifty feet high giant wheel (which was electrically operated), and the Maut ka Kuan (Death Well), where the dare-devil motor-cyclist would ride his rickety mobike along the shaking wooden boards that line the side of the “well”, keeping him in a horizontal position defying gravity and using the centrifugal force to support his position.
The crowds mill around the main street of the Mela, buying knickknacks for the kid brigade – fancy hats, cardpaper bugles and drums, while the womenfolk regale at the bangle stall, where they also giggle and haggle for that fancy earring. And families throng the “studio” where they can choose the background scenery or even pose next to the popular film celebrity – like the Madame Tussaud tourists, except for the price – this place is much cheaper. And the highlight of this Mela or Fair is the special eats that one can take home, supposedly from Malvan – a coastal taluka along the Konkan coast – the sugar and jaggery coated “khaja“, fried flour sticks, apart from the petha, candied ash gourd (similar to the ones that Agra is famous for). And there are not one or two such stalls, but at least a dozen and a half in this small stretch of the fair street.
And finally, if one is spiritually inclined, the famous Prabhadevi Temple, is open to all the devotees and faithful, but is never too crowded for the visit unlike the other temple, just a hop, skip and jump away from here.
To experience a Mela in its true style, like it is in small towns and villages, pure and unalderated, head to the New Prabhadevi Road anytime after sundown, and just let your hair down. This Mela which is held post Makara Sankranthi is open till 30 Jaunary 2011.