It was 1923. Britannia and Company, one of Mumbai’s oldest Parsi restaurant was established in the city then called Bombay.
That same year, Boman Kohinoor, the 93-year-old man, who now runs the restaurant was born.
A few days ago, CNN Traveller initiated a campaign in which the nonagenarian Boman expressed his desire to meet Prince William and Kate during their visit to India. On April 11, Boman was able to meet Will and Kate! The entire campaign was too cute, went viral and made a lot of us go awww. I too went awww.
With this inspiration, I visited Britannia and Company that serves the cities best Parsi food. My only objective was to meet the man and talk about how he felt when his dream came true.
While I reached the restaurant, a journalist was around asking him questions. I waited at one of the tables with a fresh lime soda. To beat the Monday blues, a group of office goers had come to the restaurant for lunch. On other tables were laid back foreigners who seemed to enjoy the Parsi and Iranian cuisine.
In the meantime, I got talking to the manager and Boman’s son who was running the show. The old and iconic places shutting down in Mumbai is not something new to the city. I asked him, what is your plan? A lot of old places have been shutting down. To which he added, “This place is also going to shut someday. In July 2017, the lease gets over.”
Ballard estate, the area in south Mumbai where the restaurant is located is a heritage area. The land belongs to the Bombay Port Trust(BPT) and thus, the lease belongs them. The building is owned by another landlord and as per the Pagdi system, the owners become sub-tenants.
With so many channels involved, running the show may not be the easiest task.
While I was just about to digest this, “Britannia Uncle” as he is fondly called got free. I asked him what keeps him lively and he said, I learnt my fitness lesson from my grandfather. I used to walk five miles every day, then he pushed me to jog five miles and then eventually I ran five miles every day.”
Adding that, ” Soon, I won a sports competition and that’s when my grandfather was satisfied with me.”
“After a few years, he realised that I have grown up and he told me to stop being a womaniser and settle down. Within six months, I got my girlfriend home and we were married.”
His eyes sparkled when he spoke about his wife. “In 1993 she died. The Berry Pulav was her dish actually. She gave it to me and used to train the cooks.”
In earlier days, the restaurant got the cooks from Goa and then Mangalore. Today, most of the cooks come from Jharkhand. “The people from Jharkhand are hard-working and they respect the work,” he said.
I asked him what keeps him going and prompt came the reply, “I cannot stay at home for long. Every day I dress up and I am back to work. This place is like my home.” When food is cooked with love and served with love, people will sure come to visit.
At the end, I again asked the question, what is the future of this restaurant?
“Madam, in 1950, I made a note of Parsi restaurants in Mumbai and back then there were around 470 restaurants. Today, there are hardly 40 left. You know why? Children want to become doctors, engineers, lawyers and no one wants to work in a restaurant.
He added, “In the British era, we had few licences and taxes to pay. Today, there is so much more paperwork and so many taxes…”
This made me realise the times that we have been living in. Do all old school things have to come to an end? After a year, will we talk about stories and headlines stating – An end of an era.
It won’t be surprising if that happens. Do we prefer not going to these places because people know about them, but do not want to really visit them?
In the recent times, iconic places in Mumbai that have had headlines An end of an era and have shut down.
What have we done to stop this? Dear world of the internet, maybe the next campaign to go viral should be save the iconic places of Mumbai and support them to grow.
Let us all go awww on those as well.