29.10.07

Khush Amadid!*. .

“Quintessential, unassuming catering, poised between East and West, the Irani tea-shops are peculiar to Bombay; oases of musty tranquillity in the city’s frenetic life”
Gillian Tindall, City Of Gold The Biography of Bombay

Irani Chai, Mumbai exists to remember and document, through words and visuals, the Irani cafes of Mumbai. Unique to the city, and set up by enterprising Irani migrants who arrived between the late 1800s and 1950s, the departure of these once everyday small businesses from Mumbai’s landscape is being noted. Tabloid journalists craft articles celebrating these Mumbai institutions. They grieve, and reminisce.

Older Mumbaikars lament what is being lost as they witness another café close, or watch it morph into something vastly different. Some hanker for the days when, they say, hour upon hour could be sweetly passed at the local Irani - bun maska and chai a satisfying, and economical, accompaniment to spirited conversation with friends and family.


In recent years film and urban studies students, braced with the same sense of impending loss, have rushed to capture the corner Irani; “Sometimes I feel it is fashion now for young students to say they are studying the Irani cafes” quipped one proprietor of a long-established Irani recently.



And with great affection many recall the ‘classic’ physical features of the city’s Iranis – marble-topped tables, bentwood chairs (some say from Poland
, others insist Czechoslovakia), mirrored walls, signage announcing "all are welcome, whatever caste" and those exquisite painted-glass images of Zoroaster, Jesus Christ and others.


Yet what sits behind the nostalgia for these distinctly Mumbai social spaces? What are the stories of the families who started them, and what are your recollections of time spent at your favourite Irani? Beyond the fading allure of bentwood chairs and marble tabletops lay a multitude of memories.

Irani Chai, Mumbai invites you to share yours.

“A strange, dignified charm cocooned these restaurants which sprang up at every street corner, from Colaba to Bombay Central. Later, smaller Iranis were to spread to the rest of the city, deep into the suburbs, standing sentinels on little known streets”
MG Moinuddin, Bombay magazine, Dec. 7 1986

IMAGES top to bottom:
YAZDAN RESTAURANT & STORES, Dadar, c1920
KYANI & CO, Dhobi Talao, c1980
B.MERWAN, Grant Road, c1980
MARINE RESTAURANT, Dhobi Talao, 2007
Advertisement, CIRCLE RESTAURANT, Fort, 1939
REGAL RESTAURANT & STORES, Byculla, 2007

* Khush Amadid - welcome in Dari and Farsi