Irani Chai in Irani Cafes
The Irani cafés or restaurants were set up for the main part by Irani Zoroastrians from the Iranian provinces of Yazd and Kerman who fled the persecution of the murderous rule of the Islamic Qajar dynasty (1794 – 1925 CE) of Iran especially during its first hundred years in power. The Iranis were aided in their flight to the west coast of India by the Parsees of Bombay (Also see Parsi Assistance). For many Irani Zoroastrians, the Parsi housing colonies in Bombay’s Fort district were their first home in India. Once the initial Irani refugees had established themselves in Bombay – and later in Poona some two hundred kilometres to the southeast of Bombay, as well as Hyderabad in south central India – they in turn provided assistance to other Iranian Zoroastrians seeking refuge in India from religious persecution in their homeland. Irani Zarathusti migration from Iran to India continued into the 1900s. (Also see our page on Demographics for a discussion on group names and migrations.)
The Irani Zartoshti immigrants to India were a hard-working, industrious and self-reliant lot. Lacking the capital to establish themselves in trading, banking and industry as had the Parsi Zoroastrians, the Irani Zoroastrians – determined to be self-reliant and productive – established modest cafés and bakeries.
Irani cafés soon became iconic features in their localities. They were known for good, honest, reasonably priced food and beverages. Their clients were invariably individuals of modest means for whom the cafés provided a place to drop-in for an inexpensive cup of tea, wholesome snacks or a meal – or even to congregate and socialize, for the cafés served a social function as well. By welcoming everyone, the Irani cafés created a micro environment that was classless and casteless – free from societal and religious distinctions and divisions. Some café owners even posted signs saying ‘everyone welcome’ or ‘all castes welcome’. Others displayed religious icons from different religions on their walls.