SODABOTTLEOPENERWALA – NOSTALGIA. HERITAGE. BHONU


Disclaimer – This is not a review. It would not be fair to review places or things that are sentimentally close to your heart.


Being a Zoroastrian Irani, I feel proud of my community’s contribution towards evolving the cultural landscape of a city back then known as ‘Bombay’. Irani cafes or restaurants are what initiated the dining out concept in colonial Raj. Irani restaurants were among the first community spaces that threw open their  doors to people of all caste, creed, religion and socio economic status alike, and served them copious amounts of chai with bun maska. You could be a British Army cadet, stock market babu, or a roadside vendor – an Irani restaurant would serve you equally and generously.

The journey of the Irani restaurant has been beautiful and colossal. What started off as a single Irani gentleman selling chai to officegoers from his ‘sigdi’, which later culminated into restaurants that served Parsi dishes and bakery products in addition to the humble chai. And then there is SodaBottleOpenerWala (SBOW) which is attempting to redefine the Irani cafe experience, without altering the sanctity of what an Irani cafe should be. Modern yet quirky, idiosyncratic, and nostalgic – dining at SBOW, which has just launched at Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), tugged at my heartstrings because it is a beautiful attempt at trying to preserve the dying legacy of Irani restaurants.

Restaurateur AD Singh took his concept of a modern Irani restaurant to Gurgaon, New Delhi, Bangalore, and Hyderabad before returning to the homeland where it all began. As I dined there on the preview night, a bit skeptical about how a Mumbai Irani themed restaurant would fare in a city where the original Mumbai Irani restaurants already exist, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the two – the old Irani restaurants ‘then’, and SBOW ‘now’. And it is within these similarities, and differences that lies the charm of Mr. SBOW.

The Look:
Then: Large spacious rooms, high ceilings, and cramped within that  space – glass paneled tables with red chequered table cloths. An Irani cafe was an extension of the owner’s home, and the steel Godrej cupboards and wooden showcases with curios was proof enough. The sound of the fan whirring above your head while you tucked into melt-into-your mouth mawa cakes, made up for the sweltering heat.

Now: I spent half an hour just absorbing the microscopic details that have gone into creating the Instagram worthy ambiance of SBOW by architect Clement and Sabina Singh. The basic framework of an Irani cafe exists – wooden tables and chairs, red chequered tablecloths, mismatched lamps, ‘bannis’ selling confectioneries, and vintage tiled flooring for you to click your feet against. In addition, you’ll also find a large mural of the wall from Merwan’s, a Royal Enfield gleaming proudly at the entrance, and a toy train that chugs across the perimeter of the restaurant’s ceiling. Portraits of Parsis adorning the walls, and a smattering of assorted curios give the place a far more homely vibe.  And then there’s the blackboard listing out the establishment rules, a common sight at The decor perfectly encapsulates the old and the new, is a beautiful amalgamation of an Irani restaurant and a Bawaji home, and this remains the most cherished aspect of my meal at SBOW that evening.

The Bawa OCD for cleanliness extends to the toilet too.
Rules for eating at my restaurant


The People:
Then: An Irani restaurant was lot more about the feel and the food. It was about the faces that ran the place. A space ‘where everybody knew your name’. The uncle at Koolar & Co. won’t think twice before cautioning you about mosquitoes and the rise of dengue. Mr. Zend of Yazdani bakery makes for a lovely companion to chat over chai or khari, if he is in the mood that is. And then there’s the grand maestro, Mr Boman Kohinoor of Britannia who will regale you with stories of the British, lovingly spoon out food into your empty plate, and even show his letter from Queen Elizabeth to a lucky few. These grand old men are what keep the spirit of an Irani restaurant alive – you are not simply a customer, you are family.

Now: The faces behind SBOW today are a friendly lot themselves. Chef Manager, Anahita Dhondy, not only knows her food, but is doing a commendable job bringing regional Parsi cuisine to the fore front. Chef Darius Madon picks up the baton from her, as the Mumbai chef, and it will be interesting to see where he manages to take SBOW. Mohit Balachandran, brand head and cuisine director, commonly known by his moniker Chowder Singh deserves full credit for compiling and innovating the SBOW menu, that not only contains traditional Parsi dishes, but also dishes that showcase the best of Bombay!

The Bhonu:
Then: What started off as humble places serving chai-brun maska-khari, Irani cafes also gave impetus to the bakery boom in Bombay. They later became spaces you could to for a complete meal and get your fill of akuri, kheema pav, dhansak, kababs and more. Jimmy Boy introduced the Parsi wedding feast, outside of a baug, and after that there was no looking back. Most of these continue to remain the go-to places for Mumbaikars who are looking at dining on authentic Parsi fare outside of a Parsi home or wedding, with their idiosyncrasies in place. Read: closed on weekends, only open for lunch service.

Now: What I loved about the SBOW menu was that they’ve not just restricted themselves to Parsi food. Of course there are the staples – berry pulao, dhansak, salli boti, prawn paatiyo. But then there are the dishes that showcase the best of what Mumbai has to offer – Bhendi Bazaar Seekh Paratha, Goan Sausage Pav, Eggs Kejriwal, Haji Ali Fruit Cream – which in my opinion deserve just as much fan fare. Absolutely gorgeous are the Bawa inspired cocktails that not only have funny names, but also include some Parsi ingredients such as cane vinegar or Raspberry Soda.

(Clockwise): Salli Mutton, Cocktails, Dhansak, Raspberry with Cheesy Fries

Must try on the menu –
Tareli Macchi – the baked version of the fish we fry at home. The marinade masala tasted just like the one we make!
The Eggs Kejriwal – a stupendous version with perfectly cooked eggs slathered on a firm, buttery toast.
The traditional, piquant Prawn Paatiyo, that demands dhandar on the side.
The Bhendi Bazaat Seekh Paratha – juicy, melt in the mouth seekhs paired with a surprisingly light paratha.
The Rustom Banwatala – a delicious mango juice and vodka concoction served in a Banta bottle!

(Clockwise): Bhendi Bazaar Seekh Parathas, Cocktails, Eggs Kejriwal,
Prawn Paatiyo.

The underlying question here remains, will Mumbai accept Mr. SBOW – a city where the original Irani cafes still remain, a city where everyone has sampled authentic Parsi food atleast once in their life? The answer if a big, resounding Yes! Sadly, with the number of authentic Irani cafes dwindling, and most of them present across the other end of the sea link, the launch of SBOW could not have come at a better time. As Finely Chopped so rightly put in his blogpost here, SBOW will work for the slightly high end target audience, who may not be able to deal with the eccentricities of Fort’s Irani restaurants (read: open only on weekdays, for lunch).

Everyone seems to be asking me ‘ How authentic or real is the food at SBOW?’ I am strictly following the board outside the restaurant that reads ‘ We know your Mumma’s Dhansak is the best, but give ours a shot’, and I would recommend you’ll to do the same. The Lagan nu Custard may lack the sugary burnt top, and nutty cinnamon flavour that most custards do, but the non Parsis on my table didn’t seem to notice.

It is a beautiful coincidence that the original Irani cafes were situated in Bombay’s original office district – Colaba and Fort. And this modern, revamped Irani settles down in Mumbai’s newest office hub – BKC. Chef Anahita told me on the opening night, ‘SBOW is the 2015 version of an Irani restaurant like Britannia’, and I’ll have to agree with her. Hoping they have a long, delicious stint ahead like their older counterparts. Jamva Chalo Ji!

P.S.: Anyone else notice the uncanny resemblance between my father and Mr Rustom SodaBottleOpenerWala? Cannot wait to take him there for some Dhansak, and a Brandied Bawi cocktail.  #LoveTheName

SodaBottleOpenerWala, Ground Floor, The Capital Building, G Block, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai. 

Zenia Irani is a Clinical Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist by profession, And a food, lifestyle, and fashion lover by passion. This blog is my personal diary.Come read it and share my adventure. Get in touch with me on zenia.irani@gmail.com for any collaborations or comments.

Parsis out to welcome NaMo in San Jose, California. Sept 27, 2015


The Early arrivals

The few who got there early to beat the other 38,000.

They came from far and wide. Treasure Island, Morgan Hill, Sunnyvale, Foster City , Campbell, South San Francisco & San Jose

Surprised at the rare sight of a typical Bawa, the bearded Khojas, The Memons, The Gujju Bhais and even the Marathi, several of them greeted “KEM CHA-OO”.

Welcome NaMoji banner Welcome Namoji Parsis 2 Welcome Namoji Parsis 7 Welcome Namoji Parsis 1 Welcome Namoji Parsis 6

And Mani Rao attended the event in Chicago also !

FullSizeRender

There’s Something About Parsis!


Flames of faith Religious rituals are an occasion for the Parsis to bond and keep alive community bonds . Photo: AFP

Hindi films that churn the box-office mill have never been known to be kind to the diversity of the country’s culture. Without losing much sweat you will find the money-minting Gujarati, the loud-mouthed Punjabi, the bookish Bengali, the drunken Christian, the nasal accented ‘south Indian’, the Nepalese ‘bahadur’.

And then you have the Parsis. Clad in black caps and white vests, the Parsis are there to provide comic relief in the most heavy-duty melodramas. So much so, that efforts to do something different with the Parsis also end up wallowing in all the stereotypes associated with the , as one can find in the poorly conceived 2012 Shirin Farhad ki toh Nikal Padi. It had a pair of middle-aged Parsis getting hitched as its premise. Ironically, the characterisation in the may have fallen flat but late marriages are a reality in the .

Just as global warming cannot be shooed away as a myth any more, neither can the alarmingly low birth rate of the Parsis. The facts are out there. Going by demographic estimates, the population that stood at 69,601 after the 2001 census will trickle down to 23,000 by 2020. The ‘’ will then be relegated to the status of a ‘tribe’.

The Indian government pitched in last year with the ‘Jiyo ’, a Rs 10 crore worth scheme that promises medical and legal assistance to married couples wanting to have children.

The issue has also got due attention in the visual media. But while Qissa-e- ( A Tale), a documentary by  the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) won the National Award for being the ‘Best anthropological/Ethnographic’ in 2014, a more recent fiction like The Path of Zarathustra has been condemned by many in the . Director Oorvazi Irani has been censured for being ‘anti-religion’ for including certain deviant doctrines of the Zoroastrian faith in her . Conversely, the has also received an enthusiastic response, as is evident in the fact that its screening has been extended by a week in cities like Mumbai and , which have a sizeable milieu.

The problem might have gained visibility in the public discourse over the last couple of years but the riddle remains: Why has a once thriving been teetering on such a dire existential precipice? As the legend goes, the Zoroastrians fled Iran (which was then Persia) as the Arab invasion began sometime in the sixth century ad. Those who crossed over to Gujarat and were granted asylum became known as the Parsis.

Ervad Khusroo Madon, a progressive priest in Mumbai, explains, “Four thousand years back, the prophet Zarathustra was the first to preach the presence of a single God, in that it can be taken as a principal religion that has been the forefather of several world religions like Judaism and Christianity.”

Despite being followers of the earliest monotheistic religion in the world, the Zoroastrians are one of the most scattered communities in the world. On looking back, the ease with which these people have adapted to foreign environments has been exemplary. Madon states, “The Parsis have always been a philanthropic and peace-loving lot who had no trouble in mingling with the other Indian communities they came in contact with.” But now this very ability to walk with the times appears to be the reason why the Parsis are facing a steady decrease in numbers.

Dinshaw Tamboly, a well-known figure in the in Mumbai elaborates, “Parsis are a 100 percent literate . Whenever any shows that high a degree of education, they might register a gradual decline, which in our case is happening through our dwindling numbers.”

Tamboly continues, “Women have always enjoyed equal status with men in our. This gives them the freedom of choice when it comes to marriage. Some choose to pursue careers and not marry at all. Besides, there has also been a rise in trends like young individuals opting to migrate abroad for education, interfaith marriages and newlyweds planning small families.”

Shilpi Gulati, who made Qissa-e- along with Divya Cowasji (a herself ) remarks, “My understanding of the has largely been informed by a close personal and professional relationship with Divya Cowasji fir the last seven years as I learnt to identify and reject the various stereotypes projected by mainstream cinema about the Parsis. Working on Qissa-e , in particular, was a great learning experience as it made me aware of the problems associated with representing a which is almost romanticized in India.” The documentary tries to see Parsis as one of the earliest communities which had mercenary ties with the British and went into the post independence industrialisation of India with equal zest. Gulati adds, “It (making the documentary) pushed me to re-look at the Parsis through a more critical historical lens where it became important to understand why the enjoys its current privileged status in Indian society while so many other ethnic minorities don’t.”

One of the ‘Jiyo ad campaigns reads, “Panni ja isn’t a spell from Harry Potter. It means ‘Please get married’.” While the country is struggling with issues of over-population, the Parsis indeed seem to be a different paradigm altogether. Tamboly observes, “Parsis have always been involved in the building of the nation and in return have never asked for any concessions from the government.” He further maintains, “The Jiyo scheme shows an acknowledgement of the people by the Indian Government. That said, it is a modest effort at best. Though the plan is bearing positive results, when you put things in perspective, in Mumbai we still have a much higher mortality rate of 750-800 deaths to 150 births a year.”

Running parallel to the issue of declining birthrates is the question of who in the contemporary times is a true . The rise in inter-faith marriages has been a point of contention in some parts of the . While men are entitled to induct their children from such marriages into Zoroastrianism, women are not given the same rights. Madon, who has been performing initiation ceremonies for children of women from inter-faith marriages notes, “One of the big issues the orthodox Parsis raise is that only those who are born can follow the religion. But if you delve into the holy texts of Zarasthustra then you will find that the prophet always maintained that Zoroastrianism is a universal religion.”

But for every wishing to guard their ethnicity in an iron grip, there are also people like Tamboly. He has recently been involved in the construction of a prayer hall in Mumbai for those who wish to be cremated instead of being taken to the ‘tower of silence’ after their demise. On being asked about the strict customs that are purblind to the winds of change among the young in the , he warns, “If the religious limitations by the clergy are not modified then the will practically face the possibility of gradually fading out.”

Even while the country’s government tries to jump start the ’s growth, the internal differences of opinion about the basic principles of how the Parsis should adapt to the changes in front of them will decide the fate of this unique and influential . Qissa-e- ends with a list of Parsis— the likes of Dadabhai Naoroji, JRD Tata, Homi J Bhaba, Sam Manekshaw, Freddie Mercury—who have been on the cutting edge of their respective fields. Here’s hoping that a pioneering does not become a relic of the past.

usri.basistha@tehelka.com

Click Here for the link where it originally appeared in Tehelka Magazine

New exhibition in Honolulu, : Parsi Silk and Muslin from Iran, India and China


Dear Zarathushtis,
Information received from Pheroza J Godrej and Firoza Punthakey Mistree of an exciting new exhibition co-curated by these two dynamic ladies at the East West Centre, Honolulu Hawaii, USA , which is part of East West Centre”s Arts Program, . The exhibition Parsi Silk and Muslin From Iran, India and China, will be from October 11, 2015 to January 24, 2016

The exhibition will focus on the textile traditions of the Parsi and Iranian community including secular as well as ritual clothing as used by Zoroastrian priests. Textiles will be used to display aspects of Parsi community life, Parsi history in India and Iran, and the various cultural influences on Parsi and Iranian Zoroastrian identity. Artifacts such as porcelain and furniture pieces and photographs will be used to provide context for the textiles displayed.

The exhibits will also include Zoroastrian Iranian Costumes of Yazd and will highlight the continuity of our culture and its unique place in modern day life in Iran and India. Viewers will gain insight into the history of the community, its rich and complex culture, the Zoroastrian religion, and the contributions of the Parsi and Iranian community to South Asia.

The co-curators see this as a compact travelling exhibition which they hope to show in many parts of the Diaspora. It consists of 65 objects on display and represents the development of our material culture in terms of costumes and textiles which we as a community have adopted and adapted over the years. The vibrant history of the Parsi Iranian Zoroastrian community is deeply woven into the textiles and costumes of our people and in a way these objects are there to speak for the community’s past and its future.

This promises to be a very exciting exhibition and those visiting Hawaii over the Christmas holidays should visit.

Admission is free and the gallery will be open Weekdays: 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Sundays: Noon–4:00 p.m Closed Saturdays, October 12, November 11, 26-27 Closed Saturdays, & October 12, November 11, 26–27, December 24–25, 31, January 1 & 18.

For further information: +1 808-944-7177 arts@EastWestCenter.org http://arts.EastWestCenter.org

The exhibition is supported by grants from Richard Cox: Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute: The Hawaii Pacific Rim Society and Aston Hotels and resorts

Attached : Flyer and Handout

Dolly Dastoor
FEZANA JOURNAL

ParsiHandout-MR

ParsiFlyer-MR2

Phiroze Amroliwalla


Friends,

Through this appeal I not only seek your vote but also your blessings.

Please forward the attachment to all your contacts and friends and let us together take the first step towards improving the functioning and image of our august body.

For this reason we need to elect only those candidates who are known to be scrupulously honest, and who will function without fear or favour or any groupism.

In God I trust,

In the service of our community,

Phiroze Amroliwalla

NB :  From the feedback received, I wish to confirm that I am and will continue to be in India if elected.

Click Here – First Voter Appeal