Taking time out to walk through retroscapes and consume nostalgia. .

We are taking a little time out from Irani Chai, Mumbai to continue our research in different ways, part of which sees us walking through retroscapes and consuming nostalgia like we never have before, on three continents! We will see you again sometime in 2017, so do check-back from time to time!

We'll leave you for now with Darius Cooper's lovely piece Don’t Worry Darling, We Have a Legend and a History, Too from his wonderful anthology Beyond the Chameleon's Skill.  The upstairs 'family room' of the Bombay Irani is the setting for the poem; a space where for the cost of a couple of refreshments time could stop for a while and couples could retreat, albeit not completely.  The eyes and ears of the café waiter were never too far away.

This city, fed
on rumours and insults,
and customarily
so indifferent to truth,
becomes inquisitive
you fall in love.

But don't worry darling,
we have a legend
and a history too.

Cobblers wait
for the straps of her slippers
to break.  Then,
sly glances can be stitched
into leather.

Grasping the main bell
of the temple
we daily pass,
the devotees suddenly pause.
The idol is in front.
You, both, are behind.
To-day, for whom,
shall this bell
be rung?

You have looked at the sun enough.
It's time for privacy
on the first floor
of non-descript restaurants.
These do have names -
"A Star of" ...something or the other,
and since this is the first time,
for you, that's symbolic

The staircase
to the dingy first floor
is perilous,
but so is your love,
strangely assured
by a chair, a corner,
and an ancient marble-top table
with a crack
running down the center.

This strange earthquake
into which
your innocence
suddenly opens,
makes your foothold
all the more firmer
in climbing these stairs.

The ceiling is very low.
You are warned
about hurting your head.
But you disregard the sign.
After all
this is only
the first floor.

The smirk
on the waiter's oily face
has to be tolerated,
like the surfeit of sugar
in that badly served
cup of coffee -
its coarse cream
forming on the rim
of a difficult day
divided by
crowds, and

Time is short for awkwardness,
so you kiss,
waiting for her hair
to tumble out
of the rubber band.
It does,
and your face,
tenderly draped
behind her saree's border
will be carried
home soon,
and repeatedly kissed,
the saree folded
over a late evening hanger.

Two-thirty noon!
It's time to leave
your "star of" ...something
or the other.
And after you leave
the table is wiped clean,
and the chair,
put properly in place.
Only the crack
across the table remains
carrying traces
of your breadcrumbs
and orange bottle rims
miraculously missed
by the waiter's duster.

And who will come after you,
and what traces they will leave behind
in that crack,
it really does not matter.

Like us, my darling,
they have a legend
  and a history too.

- Image : King Edward Restaurant and Stores, Fort, Bombay, 1970s by Pablo Batholomew © Pablo Bartholomew

- Poem : Like Us My Darling, They Have a Legend and a History, Too Darius Cooper from Beyond the Chameleon's Skill, Poetrywala, Mumbai, 2011. © Darius Cooper.


Entrepreneurial spirit. .

A nice piece on Mumbai's Irani cafes by Michael Snyder accompanied by Hashim Badani's sterling images appears in this month's Virgin Australia Voyeur magazine.



Poetic License does B. Merwan

Ritesh Batra and Poetic License hosted another of their nights at beloved Grant Road Irani B. Merwan this week.

Farah Khan spoke.  So did Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Here’s a video diary of the event - with thanks to bLOGiMLY who was there on the night!


Ritesh Batra and Poetic License embrace Mumbai's Irani cafes

Ritesh Batra, director of hit flick Lunchbox says he is out to save Mumbai’s Irani cafes. Those that are still left, anyhow.

To that end his production company – known as Poetic License – will be hosting events at Irani cafes from time to time. The first event was held at Ali and Aamir Irani’s landmark Café Koolar at Kings Circle. Events at Kyani in Dhobi Talao and Café Excelsior in Fort followed soon after. 

More info here :


IMAGE : Ritesh Batra with Radhika Apte and Kharat Kataria upstairs at Kyani, Dhobi Talao. Courtesy K. Ahswin of IndianShowBiz.com


BBC World chows down at Britannia!

BBC World paid a visit to Britannia, Ballard Estate this week.


UPDATE! B. Merwan, Grant Road : staying open, for now

That's right, Grant Road's iconic B. Merwan is not closing down, just doing some maintenance we are told. So the cafe is staying open, at least for now. And that's good news!

IMAGE : B. Merwan, Grant Road, 2014. Photographer INDRANIL MUKHERJEE, 


"old is gold" : B. Merwan, Grant Road

The ferocious rapidity of change in Mumbai continues - Boman and Soroush Nazrabadi have shuttered the doors and windows of Grant Road's B. Merwan cafe for the last time, 100 years after their grandfather Boman Merwan opened them up.

In 2007 we interviewed Boman Nazrabadi - here is an excerpt.

My grandfather came over from Iran. From Nazarabad. His name was Boman Merwan Nazarabadi. B. Merwan. As far as I know they could get a better life over here so they came from Iran and started these places. There was nothing like that in Bombay then my grandfather told me – no places to buy quick snacks and everything.


This area, this place around here, has grown like anything because the trains come here, and people come from all over, from suburbs, from Virar, Andheri, Borivali so when they came down they want something fast so first they come over here and get a chai or a mava cake or both!

Here is the perfect location next to Grant Road Station, it was my grandfather’s intuition or whatever you want to call it and you know, in Bombay, people have come from Maharastra, from all over, they used to come from many, many different parts of the country, but there was not so much population at that time that my grandfather first started out.

I started here in 1951 after I left college in Pune. My brother Soroush has been working with me for many years also. We are the third generation. Many of the Irani places have changed now, they have become Chinese or pizza or beer bars. I wouldn't like that! No, I wouldn't like it, the old is gold.

From an interview with Boman Nazrabadi, Mumbai, April 2007.

IMAGES : Top picture of Soroush Nazrabadi,2005, 
copyright Sue Darlow, used with permission 

All other images of B. Merwan cafe taken 2005 by Sue Darlow originally published at http://anothersubcontinent.com/ copyright the estate of Sue Darlow and used with permission.


Remembering B. Merwan in 16 minutes, 25 seconds : Brun

Atul Sabharwal's fine short film Brun documents daily life at Grant Road's B. Merwan cafe as it was in 2005. The film's firepower is about to double with news that Boman and Soroush Nazrabadi will close the landmark Grant Road café next month.

Take a look at Atul's film, and remember. You can almost taste the chai when you watch Brun! An evocative piece Atul wrote for us in 2007 on making the film can be found here.

With thanks to Atul!


Sharada Dwivedi

We have been really saddened by the news this week of the unexpected passing of Sharada Dwivedi. Sharada devoted her working life to researching Bombay and those of us who have a passion for Indian urban history have all benefitted from her fine work.

When we first set-up Irani Chai, Mumbai Sharada was enthusiastic and very supportive; in fact she was so excited she offered to share a piece she had written several years earlier on Yazdani Bakery in Fort with us. 

We extend our condolences to all who were touched by Sharada.

You can read her piece on Yazdani Bakery here.


An upcoming exhibition : January 14 to 20

Mumbai artist Gautam Benegal - whose work on Irani Cafes was featured here back in 2008 - will be exhibiting his work at COOL CHEF CAFE, Worli Village, from January 14 to 20. Here Gautam shares with Irani Chai, Mumbai the mainspring behind his work on Irani cafes.

I am currently working on a series of painting on the Irani cafes of Bombay. The Irani restaurants some of them well over seventy years old represent the quintessential nature of cosmopolitan Bombay and were the first eating houses where people from all classes, castes and persuasions were welcome. The old world interior of an irani restaurant was unique and irreplaceable.

These were the places where a migrant worker could get the cheapest non vegetarian meal in the city. And he would often be rubbing shoulders with poets painters student leaders and journalists for whom the corner Irani was a common meeting point. With time these restaurants are shutting down and currently there are hardly 26 restaurants in all of Bombay.

Their spaces are taken up by multinational banks and garment franchises and very soon there will be none left. I understand that transience is a natural condition of human existence. And though resignedly accept it, I still feel a pang of remorse as familiar faces and architecture melts away around me and that which was considered commonplace and taken for granted by us only a few years ago, now becomes unattainable and priceless as bits and pieces of living history are lost forever.

I try to capture the transient face of Bombay , now forcibly and jingoistically stamped Mumbai, that within the space of a hundred blinks reinvents itself a thousand-fold, as builders, land sharks and estate agents savage it and parcel it out over and over. I need anchors and mnemonics that mark the moments of my life, the places I have been to and the faces I have seen at end of day, for those are the things that make up my living soul.

For when all is said and done, and vision obscured, tastebuds dulled, and flesh demeaned by age, we are but the sum total of our memories. There is no greater sadness than the collective Alzheimer's of a callous populace that does not recognize its own treasures, that cannot cry at the corruption of its ancient rivers or the demise of a simple cup of Irani chai.