On a recent vacation to Mumbai, I had the opportunity to visit some amazing places and meet certain intriguing people. Searching for local delicacies, my parents and I were walking on the streets of Dadar, looking out for some bakeries or confectionaries, or any place that sold something sumptuous. On asking a few people, we got to know about "The Persian Bakery" that made great confectionary items.
We entered the lane and, after a few minutes, had walked into paradise: a place with the heavenly aroma of freshly baked cookies and cakes, a foodie's delight! I hopped from one counter to the other, picking out things that I liked. Fresh stock was being brought to the counters from an adjoining room, which I assumed was the kitchen, where all the baking was done. I was rapt.
I asked one of the workers at the counter: "How old is the place? What is it famous for? Who runs it?" He shrugged and said that he didn't know; he was new.
"Yes dear, what do you want to know?" I turned around to see a handsome old gentleman sitting at the cashier's counter, looking at me. I walked over to him and asked him: "How old is this bakery?"
"We've been here since 1934," he announced with pride. Seeing my amazement, he asked me further: "Do you want to have a look inside?" I nodded in delight. "Go ahead," he said.
I walked into the huge kitchen that had massive ovens heated with wood. Workers were stacking trays of food and some were packing items for sale at the counter. The gentlemen followed me inside and shared the details of what all was being made and how.
"You've been taking care of it all along?" I asked. "First my father did. Now I do. Years ago, my parents emigrated from Persia and my father set up this place," he said.
"Your kids also help you?" I asked. "I just have daughters, no sons, and they are married; so it's just me; and I don't even know how long I would be able to run this place. The landlord wants me to vacate so that he can sell it off to a builder who will demolish it and make a multi-storey building. Till that happens, we're here. Look around and see how things work and you can eat whatever you like," said the gentleman.
Seeing me hesitate, he said: "If a bird takes a beak-ful of water from the ocean, the ocean doesn't dry up."
I was touched by his generosity, although I was still hesitant. He called up his "mistri", the man who decorated his cakes, and told him to make a big chocolate pastry for us. He took a fresh-baked cake, sliced it up into the required size, layered it up with chocolate and handed a slice each to us. As we were devouring our pastry, the gentlemen, whom I will remember fondly as Faredoon Uncle, told us about the popular items of his bakery. He handed us another piece, which we declined politely.
"This is for you. Who will eat all this?" he asked. "Can I take it with me?" I enquired. "You'll throw it," he said. Faredoon Uncle, I never throw away food, especially when it's chocolate. After we took your leave, we came back to our hotel and I had the rest of the pastry the next morning with a steaming cup of flavored cutting chai. And I promise you, whenever I visit Mumbai the next time, I would visit your bakery again. Unless the worse has happened and I find a high-rise building instead of a place that smelt of food and affection and was run by a fine-looking Irani gentleman who worked on a value system that people seem to have long forgotten.