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More power to the city’s Irani cafes

Updated on: 19 February,2024 06:51 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Fiona Fernandez |

A freewheeling discussion to celebrate the Irani café in one of its outposts in Girgaum led to an expectedly nostalgic morning and offered interesting takes on how to keep its legacy alive. Sir PM was there...

More power to the city’s Irani cafes

Gustad Irani (brown shirt) chats with the audience at Cafe De La Paix. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Fiona FernandezYou were missed, and how!” Sir PM remarked, as he took purposeful strides towards his friend who was seated on a bench at the Cooperage Bandstand. He was in an unexpectedly cheery mood, much to Lady Flora’s surprise. ‘Did he consume something perky?’ She wondered. Her astonished face was a dead giveaway, and Sir PM saw right through it. “I know, I know. This is unlike my usual self,” he chuckled. “But you have to thank good Dr Viegas who took me along to this interesting session about the health and future of the Irani café in Bombay. I was hesitant at first but as soon as he dropped the name of the venue—the charmingly named Café De La Paix—I was sold. Do you recall that day when I had suggested that you accompany me to Girgaum, hoping we could quietly sneak out to the Opera House in case we got bored?”

Lady Flora was silently kicking herself for excusing herself from what seemed to have been an engaging affair, given her friend’s peppy state of mind. “So, tell me Pheroze… What is it about the session that has left you in a good mood, almost a week since it happened?” Sir PM was only too happy to share his experience, “Sure, but first let’s sip on some homemade pudina chai. It will revive those memories in a flash,” he smiled. “Dr Viegas has been a regular to the café. He was a consultant at Hurkisondas Hospital nearby, and so found solace and much-needed culinary respite, thanks to the bun-maska and kheema-pav that Dinshaw Irani would prepare with such love. So, there is great sentiment. They would discuss the day’s happenings, the city’s woes and the latest gupshup. I’d hear about it often. He reduced his visits after his beloved friend was raised to the heavens some years ago, but continued to stay in touch with his son, Gustad. On a recent visit, he learnt of a discussion on the Irani café in general by city chroniclers and those who had deep connections with the establishment in some form. Viegas couldn’t refuse the invite; since I hailed from the community and ought to be there, after all.”

“Pheroze, tell me more. What was the agenda?” asked Lady Flora, ever keen to get to the point. Sir PM was waiting to share those moments, “There was bun maska. Of course, there was chai. Most importantly, there was sentiment and nostalgia attached to a common love for the Irani café. The session was aptly called Bun Maska Mornings in Mumbai. It was a special gathering of Bombaywallahs who love the city, and by default, this charming, quirky ecosystem that welcomes all in their own amazing way. Aapro Gustad regaled all of us with stories of his early days watching his dad at work, and how he learnt the ropes from him. I loved how the gathering kept nodding and smiling at the soft-spoken fella’s heartfelt memories and life lessons that his father taught him. I also loved that he, inspired by Prithvi Theatre’s positive impact, was happy to open up his café for events that involve people engagement including poetry readings, stand-up shows and the like.”

By now Lady Flora was all ears. “Did others also speak, Pheroze?” she prodded. “My Lady, yes, of course. There were some who reminisced about their father’s tryst from Iran to the Irani cafe: others shared about its imprint and value across the city; how the cafés were sanctuary for people who worked during the multiple lockdowns. All of it made for a delightful, sepia-tinted morning. The casual vibe and the chit-chat with absolute strangers continued well after the session was officially wrapped up.”

Lady Flora stood up and applauded her friend. Sir PM was taken aback and waited for his friend to give her closing line. “Clearly, this discussion wasn’t just another adda but a humble attempt to preserve and support this unique Bombay treasure. I am glad you experienced it. Next time around, let me tag along. I would like to support the café. And yes, we are celebrating your next birthday there!”

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana

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