Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
skchai

Busybee

Recommended Posts

Since things seem to have slowed down a tiny bit on this forum, I thought it would be a good time to send out a mini-tribute for one of my favorite restaurant critics - the late Busybee, aka Behram Contractor, co-founder and editor of the Mumbai Afternoon Despatch and Courier, as well as the writer of perhaps the world's longest-running newspaper column, Round and About.

Through his Eating Out columns on the net, I began to view Indian cuisine as something approachable and at least conceivably knowable, despite the fact that I was outsider. Two things stuck out in his writing: One was his well-known subtle and often whimsical humor. But another was his modesty and unwillingness to pass judgement - his writing was relentlessly neutral or at most slightly positive. No superlatives or put-downs, no five stars or three forks or whatever. He was not a professional foodie, so no technical details either. Instead, he stuck to describing as meticulously as possible what he had just eaten, making me feel like I had eaten it as well.

So, despite never having set foot in Mumbai or for that matter any of the restaurants he reviewed, I was as crushed as everyone else by his untimely death a couple years ago. Luckily for us, his staff have put together an fine tribute site, busybeeforever.com, which contains an expanded archive of Eating Out articles (an alternative archive can be found here). In addition, Upper Crust, the magazine he founded with his wife Farzana shortly before his death, seems to still be holding up and is a great source of information on the contemporary Indian food scene.

Could anyone, including the Mumbai natives out there, provide me with anecdotes, comments, analysis, etc. about Busybee's role in developing India's food culture?


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Busybee was a consumate foodie if I have known of one. Was he pretentious? No.

I met him three times in my stay in Bombay whilst I went to school.

You have written of him, just as he ought to be remembered.

Farzana Contractor, his widow, is just as brilliant, and has taken on his tasks and kept his vision alive.

There is so much more to Busybee than just food. Busybee was all about Bombay and all things Bombay. He was political and yet non-partisan. Or as much as one be can be that whilst being political.

His paper, his column and his words were loved, adored, fawned over and admired by millions.

I am so glad you started this thread.

I shall send a link of this to Farzana. She had interviewed me for Upper Crust on my last visit to Bombay. My mother has been writing an ongoing column for the paper whilst she was in Mumbai. But since my fathers poor health, that column came to an abrupt stop. Maybe as things take turn for the better, she shall begin writing again. Busybee was inspirational. encouraging and endearing.

Busybee played a key role in Bombay life. At least that of those that loved newspapers, reading and discovering Bombay that could afford wonders both fussy and immediately simple.

I wish Delhi and other cities had discovered Busybee. But I hardly believe many Delhi folk, or those of other cities could be credited as being affected by his writing. I would certainly say Bombay has much to thank him for.

Maybe some of our Bombay membership can shed more light on the life and legacy of Busybee.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

skchai, you always have such wonderful insight into things. Also, your timing is always perfect.

I had been distracted by immensely heart braking and very personal family stuff in the last couple of weeks. I shall pay more attention here I promise.

This forum, and our membership that enrich it daily and with every post, have made it so easy for me to take a back seat when times have been tough for me.

I am here, and excited to see Busybee mentioned and also by all the wonderful posts that keep coming out in the threads.

Thanks to all that browse, post and enjoy this forum for making it what it is. :smile:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Suvir, do I detect an attack on incipient luvviedom on your part? Which can be defined as a condition where friendship and an excessive desire to say only nice things, clouds a more objective judgment?

Before I say anything more I should state that despite being a journalist in Bombay, I didn't know Busyee, don't know his widow, have never had anything to with Afternoon, the paper he started, or Upper Crust, the food magazine, he and his wife started.

Like most other Bombayites, I enjoyed Busybee's columns a lot and felt really sad when he died. As a journalist I appreciated his consummate ability to produce readable prose and a distinctive column, with such regularity. As a Bombay lover, I appreciated his immense love and knowledge of the city.

And as someone who eats out a lot in the city, I appreciated his reviews for doing more than anyone else to emphasise the variety available in the city. Unlike many other reviewers who tend to stick to fancier restaurants, Busybee would go both to the fancy ones and the footpath ones. He realised that the true food of the city is to found in its many small joints as much, or even more, than its expensive restaurants.

But that being said, I have sometimes wondered if we don't make a bit more of him than he might have desired himself. He was a good journalist, but not I think a great one - its just the absence of quality around him that made him shine so much more. I find the current attempts to treat his writings like Holy Writ, to be exploited to the hilt by his widom and remaining staff at Afternoon, to be doing increasingly less service to the man. Its now all seeming too stretched and forced - and the exact opposite of the lightness of his column.

The paper itself is looking increasingly pathetic. The only reason for its existence was Busybee's column, and its current incarnation with resurrected columns at the back and a combination of luvvies, has-beens and assorted space fillers (I never read your mother's column so please don't see this as a comment on it) in the inside pages, all printed on the cheapest newsprint possible, its all just looking desperate and pointless.

Farzana Contractor, his widow, is just as brilliant, and has taken on his tasks and kept his vision alive.

This, I'm assuming, is a joke? Whatever terms come to mind to describe her - the word 'strange' comes to mind - I don't think anyone could ever call her a 'brilliant' or even particularly good writer. Her occasional articles and columns are the most excruciating part of the paper and the best possible example of why it should be put out of its misery as soon as possible.

I'm really sorry to hear about your heartbreaking family stuff and without knowing anything about it, send my sympathies and best wishes for you. But please lets not lap into luvviedom on this forum,

Vikram

PS: And maybe you shouldn't send this link to Farzana!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Vikram,

Yes there is a lot of the luviedom you describe, that is why honesty had to be brought into my post and I had to mention that I had met him a few times, and had spent time with his widow and that they had written about me.

And that is also the reason I called upon you and others to qualify my remarks. And interestingly enough, you have said pretty much what I wrote. Which makes me quite happy.

My mother was always of your opinion that Busybee in some ways was a man even friends did not know. And I agree that we may have made him what he may not be comfortable with. But we do that to many, and many let it happen to themselves.

You certainly have little if any nice thing to say about Farzana, but I like the fact that she does not overwhelm the publications with her words. But perhaps, since you read the paper more often, even the few times she does write, it must be an irritation to you. Being in NYC, I have enjoyed the publications sporadically, and have not encountered her writings. I have seen photographs she has taken, and actually quite liked them.

And your comments about the paper being all about has beens, could very well be very true. That was one of the reasons Farzana asked my mother to contribute. Her pieces were not about Bombay, Busybee or anything Bombay, simply the musings of a mother, a traveler and a nurse. Unlike me, my mother had NO connection to Busybee or Farzana. And Vikram, I appreciate, respect and understand all you say. In fact, many a paper, business and organization suffer from the malady you describe. It is painful to those in the outside, and so very difficult for the insiders to move away from. But what you say is essential, and I feel maybe after some time, perhaps Farzana and the old team of Busybee loyalists would understand the need to either define themselves anew or simply put to rest the old writings and the Busybee admiration.

Tell us more about Bombay, its writers and its restaurat critics please. Please Vikram. :smile:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you skchai that was very intersesting. yes you are right things have been quiet here latelely. I wonder why.

And Suvir, you never cease to amaze me. Is there anywhere you have not been and anyone you dont know. Amazing!


Bombay Curry Company

3110 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. 703. 836-6363

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thank you skchai that was very intersesting.  yes you are right things have been quiet here latelely. I wonder why.

And Suvir, you never cease to amaze me. Is there anywhere you have not been and anyone you dont know. Amazing!

BBhasin, I am yet to meet you, come eat at your restaurant and meet the wonderfully gifted writer Vikram from Mumbai.

The list of those I am yet to meet, places I have yet to visit and foods I have still not tasted but wanted to, is endless and gives me hope for a future full of pleasant surprises.

You are kind to me..... I wish I knew as many people as some of those I know. I love people and I love people that enjoy life and can share their passions with others.

We have been quiet for the summer can do that to the best of us. I am sure we can liven the Indian forum with some fun spices and tonics and discussions. It will take only some creative play with ingredients and words that can get rid of the lethargy rather easily.

I am back in NYC.. and here to share in whatever way I can..... I am glad this forum still brings so many of us together and makes for much diverse chatter. It may have been slower, but it still is full of promise. I have great faith in each of us and our forum on Indian sub continental cuisine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Suvir - You really do seem to know everyone! Any interesting reminiscences that you have about Behram or Farzana Contractor would be appreciated. Thanks for your kind comments.

Vikram - Though we may differ on some details, we seem to basically agree about Busybee and the importance of his contribution to Indian culinary culture. I too appreciate your postings and hope you will continue to inform and enlighten us about Mumbai food scene.

Unlike Suvir, I do not know much about Farzana other than what appears under her byline. Nor have I had an opportunity to read either Afternoon or Upper Crust beyond what is published on their websites. Hence my comments come along with an astounding lack of direct knowledge. Nonetheless, that has never stopped me in the past . . .

Given that it is a medium-circulation regional newspaper without a major financial backer, perhaps it is too much to ask Afternoon to challenge the big boys in terms of depth of news coverage. Nonetheless, I find it hard to believe that Mumbai would be better off if the paper is, as you put it, "put out of its misery". At the very least, it provides a distinct voice and competition that keeps Midday, as well as the nationally-distributed giants, on their toes. Furthermore, while set of bylines does have a "luvvy" appearance to it, this circle of friends includes people like Mario Miranda, Dom Moraes, et al, and hence it would seem that they are a big plus, notwithstanding the need to broaden the range of contributors.

Regarding Upper Crust: Unlike Afternoon, it seems that a very large percentage of its articles are written personally by Farzana. I have not personally found anything she has written "excruciating". Even if might be desirable to spread the writing chores more, she has clearly put in a huge amount of willpower and effort into keeping the magazine going. Furthermore, she and the other writers manage to provide information on contemporary culinary developments that are hard to find anywhere else. Other than (of course) this illustrious egullet group, the only other regular sources of timely analysis of India's culinary scene that I've had access to have been Jiggs Kalra's columns in the Singapore-based New Asia Cuisine and Wine Scene magazine, as well as sometimes Magna Publishing's Savvy CookbookMagazine, now seemingly kaput or at least offline. So I'm grateful that Upper Crust exists, and that Farzana has chosen to maintain Busybee's legacy of promoting Indian cuisine as a proper topic of study and appreciation.


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh !! I knew Behram, I also loved his columns when I was young and in Mumbai -- never found anyone like him in NYC.


anil

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oh !! I knew Behram, I also loved his columns when I was young and in Mumbai -- never found anyone like him in NYC.

I'm very, very envious that everyone on this list (well almost) seems to have known Behram personally except for me. Any recollections you all would be willing to share?

Also, besides the Upper Crust crew, who else today who is carrying on with his type of food journalism?


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

suvir - hello, i'm a mumbaikar from london via new york and i had the privilege of meeting with busybee a couple of times. he was an unbelievable goldmine of info on where to score miya food - he knew the bombay central/muhammad ali road area like the back of his hand and ooof, the food we ate!

he was a huge cricket fan too, and i enjoyed the way he took on mid-day (after taking them to the top).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
he was a huge cricket fan too, and i enjoyed the way he took on mid-day (after taking them to the top).

Another example of what I mentioned in the previous post!

Welcome to you Howler, another person-who-knew-Behram.

This might be digressing a bit, but I'm not really in the know about why Contractor decided to start Afternoon in the first place. I've heard that Mid-Day was a result of him and some of his acquaintances leaving TOI en masse. Why did he leave Mid-Day? Was there some sort of falling-out?

Also, now that you mentioned it, what did people think of his cricket writing? Has any one read his Howzzat collection of articles? Seemed like his wry approach to life fit in quite well, but Busybee was apparently quite serious about the game. Here's what another Mumbaiker had to say:

"I always felt Busybee’s presence through his writings."

Sachin Tendulkar

Desperately trying to steer this posting back towards food. . .

Busybee's love of food and cricket were often intertwined. In his review of Purohit's Gujarati Thali Restaurant, he wrote:

In 1948, I went to [brabourne] stadium to see John Goddard's West Indies play Combined Indian Universities in the opening game of their India tour. Polly Umrigar had been selected for the universities. At lunchtime, I almost went across to Purohit's for a thali. If I did not, it was because I could not afford it.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
suvir - hello, i'm a mumbaikar from london via new york and i had the privilege of meeting with busybee a couple of times. he was an unbelievable goldmine of info on where to score miya food - he knew the bombay central/muhammad ali road area like the back of his hand and ooof, the food we ate!

he was a huge cricket fan too, and i enjoyed the way he took on mid-day (after taking them to the top).

Hello Howler!

I was taking a backseat on this thread. I was by no ways a friend of Behrams. I met him socially with good friends of his. It was his widow that I have spent time chatting with (being interviewed by) and via phone and email conversations.

In the limited time I spent chatting or in Behrams presence, he did leave me with a lasting impression.

Many an evening in Bombay, I would take friends, visitors from overseas, and family members visiting from other parts of India to the Central/Muhammad Ali road area. And often rather late at night. It was one of my favorite things to do in Bombay. There was a wonderful earthy and yet spectacular aura about the area late into night. I am a huge fan of Jama Masjid in Delhi, but this area came close for the most part, and actually in some ways even left more of an impression.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

thank you sir.

fwiw, i'm a genuine (maharastrian) mumbaikar, now stuck in london. but at least getting home's a lot easier.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

aahhh that was tongue in cheek - or perhaps foot in mouth.

at the risk of boring everybody with the obvious, india is a bit like imagining europe as a single country: each state has its own cuisine (which itself is as varied as in any country), language (and accompanying dialects), dress, customs etc. mumbai is the capital city of the state of maharastra ... and the natives are called maharastrians; their language, natch, is marathi.

i am a maharastrian; genuine because anybody who lives in maharastra is technically one, too (though i can't imagine a punjabi, say, EVER describing himself as a maharastrian just because he lives there).

mumbai's the new york and los angeles of india, and so EVERYBODY's there from all over india - which means, growing up, i regularly ate

in parsi, goan, konkani, gujarathi, punjabi, bengali, andhra, hyderabadi, kutchi, ismaili, sindhi, marwari, and south indian households. wow, what a way to grow up, i'm jealous of myself.

fyi - 'mumbai' comes from 'mumba devi', the goddess of the koli fishermen. 'mumba-bai' is local slang for the 'lady mumba'. 'bombay' is what the brits concoted out of 'mumbai'. just as they got 'kedgeree' out of 'kitchri'. actually, there's a fascinating english/indian dictionary which traces all the words that got into english from the sub-continent, like 'bungalow', 'jungle', 'thug', 'shawl' etc. but thats another thread.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
..... mumbai is the capital city of the state of maharastra ... and the natives are called maharastrians; their language, natch, is marathi.

i am a maharastrian; genuine because anybody who lives in maharastra is technically one, too (though i can't imagine a punjabi, say, EVER describing himself as a maharastrian just because he lives there).

.........

Actually in the early '60s the State of Bombay was split into two - Maharastra and Gujurat.


anil

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

the state of bombay actually went all the way to karachi pre-independence, and as you know, the state maps got re-drawn mainly along regional language lines.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

without downplaying the general khichrification of indian words that the brits engaged in, i'm not sure that bombay is a simple corruption of mumbai. isn't it supposed to be a contraction of bom bahia from portuguese days?

having grown up all over india i don't have allegiances to particular cities (though i lived in delhi longer than any other indian city), but as a 10 year angeleno (only recently self-exiled) i'm bemused by the juxtaposition of new york and los angeles, given that (anglo) inhabitants of both cities love to hate the other. i've always thought delhi was to bombay/mumbai as l.a is to new york or san francisco--more of a sprawl than a city, with less of a definitive culture, and with more of a chip on the shoulder. the difference i guess is that los angeles' non-european restaurants blow new york away (especially the chinese and vietnamese food in the san gabriel valley and garden grove respectively, mexican and salvadorean food in east l.a, korean food in koreatown etc. etc.), whereas delhi is far more gastronomically monolingual than bombay/mumbai.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...