BANGALORE: A long time ago, in the 19th century, Zoroastraian Iranians came to India, to carve out a place for themselves and start a better life, only issue being they were extremely short on money. Bombay as it was known back then, was already home to another Zoroastrian community, the Parsis, and the Iranians started working for the Parsis as caretakers and helped them in their day to day life. After a hard day’s work, every evening they used to get together over cups of hot tea and coffee, and reminisce about the days of old, their country and their future prospects. One fine evening, it so happened that, an enterprising man served everybody tea and charged a small amount, and thus the ubiquitous Irani Cafe was born, and went on to become an indelible part of Mumbai’s cityscape and culture. From Mumbai, the Irani cafe traveled to most major cities, with Hyderabad boasting of more Irani Cafes than Mumbai itself. It may not have really taken Bangalore by storm, but in the older areas of the city like Shivajinagar there are several old cafes which still remind one of the old times like Arifa Cafe near Russell Market. Though now with the advent of new age coffee shops like the CCDs, Baristas and which have captured the imagination of the youth with snazzy interiors and a marketing blitzkrieg, these quaint old cafes have been hit in a bad way. In the 1950’s there were over 350 cafes in Mumbai itself, whereas now there are barely 25. One of the few which still stand and famously so, is the Kyani Cafe, a heritage landmark in South Mumbai.
It wasn’t just the ambience, tea or coffee which brought back the patrons so often. The cafes served up a variety of snacks which added spice to the regular discussions over the hot beverages. One could ask for deliciously crunchy brun maska( butter applied on a soft bread with a hard crust), chunky mutton samosas, kheema pavs, akuri (a scrambled spicy egg preparation, chicken dhansak( a spicy chicken gravy prepared with various pulses), cherry cream custard, cheese khari biscuits, coconut jam or the famous Dukes raspberry drink. Of course if you happen to be particularly hungry you could go for the Parsi bhonu(meal).
Another characteristic of Irani cafes and probably one which live on even when they fade from public memory and the fast changing landscapes of all cities, is the extremely funny instruction board which goes – No talking to cashier/ No smoking/ No fighting/ No Credit/ No outside food/ No sitting long/ No talking loud/ No spitting/ No bargaining/ No water to outsiders/ No change/ No telephone/ No match sticks/ No discussing gambling/ No newspaper/ No combing/ No beef/ No leg on chair/ No hard liqour allowed/ No address enquiry/ – By order !