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Akshay Kumar. DOMA. And falafels.

July 05, 2013 21:20 IST

Akshay Kumar. DOMA. And falafels.

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Aseem Chhabra in New York

Aseem Chhabra glances at the week gone by in New York

The United States supreme court's June 26 ruling that declared the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional was welcomed by people around the nation and the world -- but especially so in New York City where the modern day LGBT rights movement started. 

After much celebratory words that spread on social media sites, I saw a tweet that said people were going to gather outside the Stonewall Inn at 5.30 pm to mark the historic occasion.

Forty-four years ago New York City’s gay and lesbian activists rioted outside the Inn, still an iconic tourist destination. Since then the bar at Sheridan Square in New York City’s West Village has become a gathering point for activists and others to commemorate significant LGBT developments. 

I was there two years ago, the night New York Governor Andrew Cuomo legalised same-sex marriage. And I was there again on June 26.

It was a muggy afternoon, but the New Yorkers who gathered outside Stonewall Inn -- a rough estimate of at least a few thousand people - were in a mood to celebrate and remember the years of struggle.

There were moving speeches by elected officials and representatives of several LGBT organisations. People walked around holding equality symbol flags handed out by volunteers from the Human Rights Campaign. I saw people holding placards for a couple of the city’s mayoral candidates, including Anthony Weiner and Christine Quinn.

Most of all people seemed happy. The supreme court ruling has triggered a major change in the lives of same-sex marriage couples in the 13 states where these unions are legalised. The federal government will now recognise their marriages.

And this was a clear sign that America is moving in the right, positive direction.

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Photographs: Aseem Chhabra

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Akshay Kumar. DOMA. And falafels.

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Akshay Kumar likes to live a happy life and so he will never direct a film. He vacations every year for a couple of months in New York City since his wife’s best friend lives here. And he enjoys walking randomly in New York City, often recognised by the city’s desi cabbies, who then offer him rides and then narrate their life stories to him.

These are some of the things we learned about the star as he sat in a relaxed state for the press day of his new film Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Dobara. The film is scheduled to open in August, but its promotion started early. 

The film’s promoters brought director Milan Luthria and Akshay to the Plaza Hotel’s grand ballroom and the city’s desi entertainment journalists showed up in big numbers for the event.

We watched songs and trailers from the film, and Akshay even read a couple of dialogues. 

Mostly, Akshay was his charming self, laughing, breaking into Hindi and especially Punjabi, the language he seems to be most comfortable in.

It was a fun afternoon even though the star arrived about an hour late. But the press seemed pleased, especially since we do not get to meet Bollywood stars on a regular basis in New York.

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Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/India Abroad

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Akshay Kumar. DOMA. And falafels.

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In September 1981, a few weeks after I arrived in New York for the first time, I went to attend the famous Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park. 

Before the concert started I was looking for something to eat on the west side of the park when I was drawn to a food cart selling something that smelt like a fried Indian snack.
I then realised that the food item was not Indian but Middle Eastern and it was essentially a deep friend ball of chickpeas, parsley and cilantro with spices.

That is how I discovered falafel, one of my favorite comfort foods.

My favorite falafel place in New York City has always been Mamoun’s, a little hole in the wall place on MacDougal Street in the West Village.

I discovered Mamoun’s soon after that fortuitous afternoon in Central Park. And what I liked best about Mamoun’s -- besides, of course, their delicious food was that they charged only one dollar for the falafel sandwich.

I know this was the early 1980s, but even then it was hard to imagine a healthy, delicious meal for a dollar.  That price increased to $2 and eventually to $2.50. Still it was the best deal in town.

The lines are always long at Mamoun’s. I often see Indians standing in the line, but the food is served fast and fresh.

There is very little space to sit in the eatery and the best option for me is to take the sandwich to Washington Square Park and eat there while one watches the world pass by.

Last week I stopped over to buy a falafel sandwich at Mamoun’s and I was pleasantly surprised that they had again raised their prices. The sandwich now costs $3 -- a 300 percent increase from the early 1980s. 

But I am still amazed that one can get a delicious meal in the Village for just $3.

Aseem Chhabra has been a New Yorker for more than 30 years. This column first appeared in India in New York, the weekly newspaper published and recently relaunched by Rediff.com in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area.


Photographs: Aseem Chhabra

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