Kwan Kung: A peek into Mumbai’s only Chinese temple

Seek and ye shall find, says the Bible.

It is after much searching that I finally found the city’s only Chinese temple. 

Kwan Kung Temple was built in 1919. Bombay was once home to a sizable Chinese community, See Yip Koon, who settled in Mazgaon in an area then called Chinatown. The Indo-Sine war of 1962 saw many of the community leave the city and country; today about a 1000 people remain. 

The area is completely residential with small buildings and bungalows crammed together. The only sign that the two-storey building houses the temple is a gate painted red and gold. There are no signboards or instructions anywhere around. 

On entering, we climb the wooden staircase to the first floor, where we meet the Tham family that looks after the temple. A perfunctory question about our intentions later, they hand us the keys. On to the second floor, passing by a mural of Fuk, Luk and Sau (the Chinese gods of blessing, longevity, and prosperity). There is Chinese calligraphy and paper lanterns all around. 

The temple is essentially a large room, in different shades of crimson. It is dominated by a painting of the  Chinese god of justice and courage, Guan Gong (or Kwan Kung; in English Confucius). He is believed to be powerful and grants wishes. The altar is decorated with Chinese sayings and figurines and offerings; incense sticks and candles emit a faint glow of light and high above, hang three lanterns. A small area at the side has statues of three horses, which the caretaker of the temple explains are believed to be the horses the god rode.

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The altar

It may be a small room but there is much to observe in the temple. A cupboard nearby has incense sticks, prayer pamphlets, paper money and moon blocks (wooden tools used to pray). On the floor is a carpet cut out in the shape of a tiger. One wall has a board covered with bamboo sheets containing numbers and Chinese script. On a small table lies a jar which contain fortune sticks containing numbers. On an earlier visit, a member of the Tham family, the caretakers, told me how they work.

“Devotees shake the jar till a stick falls out, the number on it is then matched with papers that line the wall to the left of the altar. Each paper is like a horoscope. They are interpreted by learned men who can tell devotees about his wish and what he should do in the future.” 

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Fortune tellers

Offerings here include paper money and gold/ silver paper; fruits, red envelopes, which contain anything from money to rice. The offerings are collected, burnt and stored in a tub which when full is emptied into the sea. Once the prayers are over, devotees simultaneously beat a brass bell and hit a gong thrice. 

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The ritual that signifies the end of prayer. Pictures courtesy: Kartikeya Ramanathan

The temple is a peaceful space and you can just sit there and enjoy the quiet, or look out from the balcony and observe the Chinese residents of the area interact with one another. 

Kwan Kung Temple is located at Wadi Bunder, Mazgaon. The temple is open throughout the day. On special occasions like the Chinese New Year, it remains open till 4 am. 

 

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An Everard state of mind

It is New Year’s Eve. The city is out in its finest, busy celebrating welcoming the coming year with the usual staples – fine drinks, fine food and overpriced entertainment.

In a quiet society made up of dilapidated buildings, a small group of people dressed in their Sunday best – suits, ties and dresses – are bringing in the New Year with prayer. The church is actually an open air chapel, with a small roof and an altar decorated with a simple cross.

The Mass over, it is time for merriment. The society’s basketball court has been transformed into a dance hall, with lights, Christmas decorations, a refreshment counter, seating area and pulsating music. There’s laughter and merriment all around. The celebrations go on till the early hours.

Everard Nagar may be a sleepy, tiny community but they certainly know how to celebrate.

I moved to Everard a few years back because the rents here suited my journalist-poor budget. Besides, I found the idea of a not-too-conservative Catholic colony where the neighbours don’t poke their noses into your affairs, quite refreshing.

Couples living in, late night parties, friends coming over and staying the night or for a few weeks, bachelors or people with pets: neighbours and landlords rarely raise an objection. As long as we kept the place clean, didn’t litter, cleaned our cars/scooters parked inside, no one interfered with our daily life.

On the rare afternoons I was home or early on a Sunday, I could smell the chicken curry and pork vindaloo cooking in people’s homes, making me wish I knew the neighbours well enough to invite myself over.

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Buildings don’t have names but are numbered from A-K making for very confused delivery boys

Despite the proximity to the highway, inside, the society is quiet and tends to have a soporific effect on people who are there. I’ve had a lot of friends move here so an evening walk usually brings me face to face with a known person. And I’ve discovered I have other connections, either through my village or through friends in the city, with the other residents.

Any wonder then that Everard reminds me of Goa?

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Stray dogs and cats roam around freely, always eager for free pats and back scratches. Pictures courtesy: Shraddha Uchil

There are a lot of old residents here, as is witnessed by the increasing number of death announcements on the society’s blackboard. They are religious to a fault. There is Mass every Saturday evening and on the first Friday of the month. And if you don’t attend it, like me, you will be asked why. At Christmas, the homemade stars and cribs come out and talented cooks and bakers will advertise their wares, making it easy to find a nice, boozy Christmas cake.

Everard prays a lot, but then they also like to party. Ask the older residents or any Catholic friend who has grown up in the city and their eyes will mist over as they talk about the legendary Everard Balls. The black tie events continue to this day – mind you, you won’t get entry unless you are wearing a suit (men) or an evening gown or dress (ladies).  The balls usually happen on Christmas/ New Year and Easter, depending on permission. There’s a live band and lots of good food and drinks.

There are get-togethers at every opportunity – Housie nights, quiz nights, karaoke competitions, rangoli-making competitions. The notices for these are pasted on the ground floor of our buildings, inviting us to come and join the festivities.

It is these things that helped me look past the leakage and flooding issues, the crumbling walls, the mosquitoes and frequent power cuts for the three years I lived there. My Sion house became a home, to me and many of my friends. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I still visit because many friends have moved there. And everytime I step in, it feels like I’ve come home.

Aside: History – Everard was built in the 1970s by Fr Sylvester Dias of Good Counsel Church (Sion church). The society has 12 buildings, with 230 apartments and two entrances. There are reports that the place will finally go in for redevelopment next year. It is sorely needed but something tells me that Everad 2.0 might lack the charm of its current version.

Read about the evolution of the Everard ball, by Shraddha Uchil here: Nostalgia and a Waltz  

Milk bar: Prasowy

It was, to use Twitter parlance, a #ftw (for the win) moment.

The day: 19 of my Euro trip
I was at: Prasowy, one of Warsaw’s popular milk bars
My achievement: I had successfully ordered a typical Polish meal and I could eat everything on the plate.

You see, I had walked past Prasowy once before and couldn’t muster up the courage to enter for fear of ordering something I couldn’t eat. It was only two days earlier, I had visited another milk bar and ordered Flaczki, what I thought was a beef soup but was actually tripe (I couldn’t eat the meat). This time, I was prepared – I had scanned the menu at my couchsurfing hosts’s home, made a note of translations and made note of exactly what to order.  prasowy
Prasowy is the hippest milk bar in Warsaw. It has a menu that changes daily – written on a chalkboard, all-white interiors and Ikea furniture. An open kitchen gives a glimpse of the variety of food (no, you can’t point and order) and they make all their dishes by hand. They host cultural events too and a notice-board has details of citywide events.

My meal was simple and consisted of food that is staple to the Polish lunch table. There was Gołąbki – minced pork mixed with onions and sticky rice in a cabbage roll; Zupa Pomidorowa or Pomidorowka – a rich tomato soup cooked in meat stock and served with either rice or potatoes or, in this case, pasta; and Ćwikła – a Polish and Western Ukrainian salad similar to a relish made with grated beets and horseradish.
The cost: 17 zloty (approx. Rs 350)
The experience: Priceless!

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Clockwise from left: Cabbage rice rolls, tomato soup with pasta and beetroot salad

Aside: Bar Mleczny or milk bars are essentially ex-Socialist era workers’ canteens. The food here was subsidised by the government with the idea of allowing poor wage-workers a good, nutritious meal. The milk refers to the largely dairy-based content of the meals. These days, from about 2010 onwards, they’ve transformed into homely cafeterias, offering local fare at cheap rates.