Mumbai: Iranian kabaddi stars raid Irani restaurant, tackle Aab gosht
mid-day joins U Mumba captain Fazel Atrachali and coach Gholamreza Mazandarani at Mahim cafe
It's nine in the morning, a good time to visit an Irani restaurant for breakfast. But two Iranian members of the U Mumba kabaddi team - captain Fazel Atrachali and coach Gholamreza Mazandarani accompanying us - have no clue where they are heading when they set out of their Worli hotel.
They don't know what they are getting into when we reach Mahim. On entering the restaurant, the Pro Kabaddi League players are greeted by a fellow Irani speaking their language (Persian). That's when they realise they are in for some local cuisine. Cafe Irani Chaii's owner, Prof Mansoor Showghi Yezdi is thrilled over hosting the duo. His eyes light up and the hugs are warm and big.
Their entry creates a buzz. Fellow breakfasters wonder who these special guests are while the waiters inform everyone that they have some kabaddi players as customers. A quick look at the menu and its easy to see that Atrachali and Mazandarani are tempted by the fare, but even kabaddi players have to follow a restricted diet.
U Mumba captain Fazel Atrachali (right) and coach Gholamreza Mazandarani at Cafe Irani Chaii. Pic/suresh karkera
Atrachali, Iran's Asian Games-winning captain, opts for his favourite Aab Gosht (mutton in milky gravy); coach Mazandarani wants the same. U Mumba's young kabaddi player Siddharth Desai, a raider, who has accompanied the Iranian duo, says it's his first visit to an Irani cafe. He opts for bun-maska and tea.
The food arrives. We are looking for the rotis or some bread to go with the Aab Gosht but that's not been ordered. There's a good chance that bread and rotis are not part of their prescribed diet. The Aab Gost is devoured as is between sips of the famous Irani chai.
There's some kabaddi talk thrown in as well. The kabaddi exponents have been away from home for nearly a month. Do you miss home, we ask. "Not really, because I have been visiting India for kabaddi over the last four years. India is home away from home and there are various similarities in Indian and Irani cultures. It feels good to come to an Irani restaurant," says the U Mumba captain.
Atrachali has taken a liking to chicken biryani. "I like the spicy food here in India; love the chillies, the masala. I want to take some of that spice for my family members back home," he says. Desai is surprised when Atrachali reveals that he dabbled in wrestling and judo before deciding on his current passion. "I enjoy playing kabaddi because it's a team sport and I feel playing with your teammates gives one extra motivation. I love contact sports, I like fighting."
No matter how aggressive he gets on the kabaddi field, Atrachali stresses that he is laidback: "Having said that, I am energetic. I am also emotional. For example, I feel for an opposition player when he gets injured. I believe you have to respect everyone - your teammates and opponents! It's not only about winning."
Meanwhile, Mazandarani expresses his desire to guide U Mumba to a title triumph. "Whether it is Iran or U Mumba, I always tell my team that they must strive to win. Coming second or third does not satisfy me," says Mazandarani.
The Asian Games gold hasn't changed anything for coach Mazandarani, but that Jakarta triumph has had a positive impact for the sport back home in Iran. "We lost to India at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games in a closely-contested final, but we were confident of beating them this time. We did our homework well. The Asian Games gold medal provided our young players inspiration and motivation to take this sport more seriously. I can see more kids being attracted towards kabaddi," says Mazandarani.
Visits to India have afforded the Iranians a chance to watch cricket on television. "I watch a bit of it, but I am not aware of the rules and how to play the game. It's too time-consuming," Atrachali says with a chuckle. He has a favourite cricketer though - Virat Kohli.
After another round of tea, it's back to their Worli hotel and then to Ahmedabad for the next round of matches. The Irani meal was memorable and so was the experience of sitting in a crowded restaurant. Going by how happy they were, Atrachali and Mazandarani will forward for their next home-away-from-home moment. Before that, there's the Pro Kabaddi League title to achieve.
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