If you believe that travel shows are your window to the world, there’s enough reason to start following our new show host Prajakta Mali! The effervescent Maharashtrachi mulgi, Mali is all set to revive the charm of rustic travel across Maharashtra and the joys of solo travel—a journey of self-discovery that she endorses highly—especially for women. While Mali can’t emphasize enough the dearth of female travel show hosts in India, she thinks, for better or worse, that’s slowly changing. “Women are more sensitive, tend to pay more attention to detail and bring in a fresh and new perspective,” she says.
As the host for LF’s new travel show Mast Maharashtra, Mali says she’s not just the face of the show to up its glam quotient. Instead, this Marathi mulgi is here to capture the essence of the vibrant and culturally rich state she was born in. Bringing to you the robust flavours of Maharashtra through its diverse heritage and culture, she plays tourist in her own state. In the bargain, it turns out to be a jhakaas journey of self-discovery, that has now left her a changed woman.
The journey from Mumbai’s Dharavi to Aurangabad’s Bibi ka Makbara has indeed been a revelation for Mali. She confesses that she has never explored her home state before. “I’ve never felt so connected to the land I was born to before,” she says expressing how Mast Maharashtra has allowed her to be more at home.
An offbeat adventure
the self-proclaimed water-baby, scuba-diving was always on her bucket list.
And this dream came true with Mast Maharashtra when Mali went scuba
diving in the azure waters of Malvan in Ratnagiri. Strapping on her scuba gear, as she dived into the Arabian Sea, little did she know it would turn into a life-altering experience for her. In Mali’s words,
the idea of leaving the world she knew better and diving into something far
mysterious was undoubtedly scary. After the initial bout of panic, it slowly transformed into a peaceful and calming experience, surrounded by schools of fish swimming
around and the colourful seabed full of vibrant coral reefs. “It was an
enriching experience,” she says.
Mali’s thirst for adventure doesn’t end with water sports. A secret wish to get dirty in kushti — the traditional Indian form of wrestling — led her to Motibaag Taleem, an aakhada in Kolhapur which is known for producing noted wrestlers. “Mai humesha se kushti ke akhaade par khelna chahti thi,” she says excitedly of her first-ever Dangal experience as she witnessed a live kushti match—a one-of-a-kind exhilarating experience that women are yet to gain access to, even as spectators. Considered to be the oldest sport in the world, kushti in India is still played on a mud field. However, there’s more to that clay than meets the eye. It’s not just dirt: it’s a mixture of lemon, milk, butter, ghee, camphor, turmeric all of which sum up to 12 ingredients making for a time-honoured recipe which in turn providee better grip on sweat-slippery bodies.
A cultural medley
A hardcore Punekar, who has now made Mumbai her home, Mali says no film can prepare you for the spectacle that is Dharavi. Mali’s escapade in the gullies of Dharavi was a window into Maharashtra’s thriving neighbourhood. People living in makeshift 10x10 pigeonholes, children studying on the sides of a gutter and women checking for when next to line up at the communal tap to fill their quota of water comes as a culture shock, as well as an eye-opener for those, who can't stomach the reality of Dharavi. “In Dharavi, Muslims and Hindus co-exist in harmony; you hear an azaan and an aarti being recited just within a few miles of each other,” Mali shares her awe and admiration as she grapples with the complicated workings of Asia’s largest slums and its flourishing leather industry.
“Dharavi gaye aur waha ke rappers se nahi mile toh kya kiya?” Impressed by The Dharavi Project’s underground fire rappers, Mali says, “Ekdum mast likhte hai. From highlighting social issues to voicing their pride as Dharavi kids, these rappers have found their voice.”
That said, Mali also got a chance to understand the workings of Dharavi’s very own leather factory and meet with Jameel Shah, the renowned dance shoemaker, whose clientele includes the likes of Kajol and Kylie Minogue.
On a culinary trail
The big fat Indian wedding is a paradox when it comes to Maharashtrian nuptials. Mali was smitten by the simple no-frill ceremonies and particularly with the Maharashtrian spread that screams ‘health’. Her personal Maharashtrian favourite is alucha fatfate, an authentic Maharashtrian dish made with colocasia and buttermilk. “What’s not to love about Maharashtrian food? After all, it’s sattvic” she exclaims. Quiz the Punekar about her favourite desserts and she recommends Pune’s Kaka Halwai Sweet Centre. “Expect modaks that are dunked in big tablespoons of ghee. Bas do khaake aapka jee aur dil, dono bhar jayega,” she laughs. And since we were on the topic of Pune, Mali recommends trying the city’s famous chaat, “SPDP,” an acronym for sev puri dahi puri, and a dish that combines two of Maharastra’s favourite chaats. In Mumbai, Mali finds comfort in Aaswaad’s Puran Poli-ice cream that is a twist on the classic Puran Poli, which is traditionally made during Holi.
We’re pretty sure we left Mali salivating at this point as her food recommendations kept flowing – Kolhapur’s taambda-pandhra rassa, Nagpur’s saoji curry, Pune’s famous thali from Shreyas and Junnar’s maswadi.
Not a fan of her own cooking, Mali thinks she does a pretty good job at making chapatis and the traditional Maharashtrian masale bhaat.” The chances of us being invited to her home to taste her cooking, seem unlikely. However, we find consolation in the fact that Mali’s solo-trip across Maharashtra is going to be one helluva ‘mast’ journey.
Catch the Mast Maharashtra show starting July 3, every Friday, at 8:30 pm only on LF
Images: Sohail Joshi for Mast Maharashtra