When Mandvi Dogra, 23, moved to Mumbai from Chandigarh two years ago, she was homesick. She took up a temporary job at a travel agency in Opera House and was staying at a paying guest accommodation that was far from homely.
“In a new city where the work hours were hectic and there was a new language and new people, I felt like I just didn’t belong here,” the casting assistant says.
A colleague of hers then introduced her to the place many north Indian immigrants in Mumbai say is the closest they will get to home — Crystal restaurant.
“My eyes welled up when I had the rajma and kheer there. It felt like my mother had made it and sent it for me,” Dogra says.
Crystal, a five-decade-old restaurant is housed in Aaram Guest House opposite Girgaum Chowpatty, a three-storeyed building like many other Victorian structures in south Mumbai.
Like other old buildings, this one too is scheduled for redevelopment under the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority scheme. Redevelopment, which is likely to start in January 2011, would mean that Crystal will close down for three years. After that, perhaps, there will be a swankier Crystal.
“Three years?” was Anubhav Syal’s response when he was told of this. The 20-year-old student of St Xavier’s College is already upset.
“I come here once in ten days without fail. That is disappointing. And three years is a long time. My entire graduation…”
The restaurant looks shabby and dingy, but a few bites into their famous parathas, fruit cream and paneer bhurji will compensate for the lack of ambience.
It does not have a jazzy entrance, but the fragrance of rice kheer being cooked in a huge pot just outside the restaurant is enough to invite you in.
All south Mumbai sophistication left behind, this is where you can sit on plastic chairs, eat butter rotis with dal makhani on steel plates and listen to old Hindi songs play in the background.
All at a reasonable price.
“My father had opened a snacks’ shop here for college students in 1956,” says the restaurant’s owner, Kamal Khanna, 73.
“Then we realised that there were many hostelites and youngsters in this area who would love nothing more than home-cooked food. Since this is an old building, we don’t have much rent to pay, and thus have always kept our prices to suit our customers’ budget.”
The queue outside Crystal sees college students, hostelites living nearby, and employees of banks and retail outlets on Marine Drive and Opera House, and families from Chowpatty. Rajin Chaddha is one such regular.
“I’m crushed that I won’t get to come here for lunch anymore,” says the 26-year-old bank employee. “But I guess this building has seen a lot and endured many seasons, and desperately needs rebuilding.” Khanna “uncle” has arranged for a new branch of Crystal at Lower Parel.
It is managed by members of his family and has promised to deliver the same flavour and hospitality that old Crystal did.
The queues are waiting.