My father Khodabux Merwan Irani came to Bombay in about 1920, he was 18. When he came to India, not a single word of Hindi did he know, but still he learnt Hindi, Gujarati, everything, on his own. He had a very tough, tough, tough time. They were from Iran - Kerman, near Kerman, a small place called Jupar. They were farmers -wheat, and we had an orchard also, and in that orchard was watermelon, pomegranate, apricots, and mulberry.
The very starting of the Cosmopolitan, it was I think in 1932, my father was running the Good Luck restaurant on what is V.P. Road now. He started at Café Cecil, another Irani café now gone. He asked them if he could work, for nothing, to get experience you see. He went to Café Cecil and said 'can I work over here?' First they said no, and he said 'I don't want anything from you, but let me work, let me learn something', so they allowed him to work.
I remember when we started making biscuits, about 1956, we had no experience whatsoever, for three months, believe me, we used to prepare biscuits, and they were like wood! We actually threw the first batches into the sea! But one day at closing time, 11o'clock at night, I said I must keep trying - I prepared khari biscuits, and by God's grace they started to turn out beautifully. So then we began doing cakes - plum cake, currant cake, I just taught myself! We still prepare Christmas cakes here in December, and people just love them.
The success of these places, on the street corners? Look, Iranis mostly, in the old times, they did not care what the Indian people said about them - they do what they had to do. For instance I will tell you, my great grandfather, he had a donkey, and that donkey wouldn't pass over the bridge. The river was full and there was too much water there and the donkey doesn't want to go because he is afraid, so my grandfather, he carried the donkey on his shoulders and passed across..that is what the mentality was..they always found a solution to any problem, and made things work. Resourceful people; very, very, very practical.
My wife Freny, by God's grace, she has helped so much with this business, especially since my father died in 1976. Her father was a baker, she knows hard work. We met in 1967, and married in 1969. Our son Humin was born in 1970. Today he works here also.
I am Iranian, no doubt. I have an Indian passport, but I am Iranian, although really I am just a man living on the surface of this earth, and soon it could be time for me to make a move. In this area there was Yazdani Restaurant, Original Persian Restaurant, Hardings Restaurant and Stores, Café Shirin; they are all gone now. Original Persian had a very, very, very good name. We have lasted longer, but who knows for how long; I think the future for the Irani restaurants still left in Bombay is bleak.
RUSTOM KHODABUX IRANI
From an interview with Rustom F Irani, Mumbai, November 2007
IMAGES, top to bottom:
-Rustom K Irani, Mumbai, 2007
-Advertisement featuring Rustom Khodabux Irani and Cosmopolitan Restaurant and Stores, ca 1950
- Sheryar Kavyani, ca 1960
-Cosmopolitan Restaurant and Stores, Prathana Samaj, Mumbai, 2007
-Rustom K Irani with son Humin, right, and Irani tourist, ca 1990
-Freny and Humin Irani, 2007