Mumbaiwale: Who’s been decorating the water tankers in Fort?
Earlier this month, walking through Fort, my friend Frank D’Souza drew my attention to something strange – a handcart-mounted water tank painted bright yellow. Across one side was this slogan: ENO Kaam Shuru Sirf 6 Second Mein; EGO Kaam Bigadey Sirf 6 Second Mein.
It was funny. It was smart. We laughed. We took a picture. We moved on.
Then we found another tanker with a similarly cheeky line: Life Mast Hai Yaar, Tu Bata Kya Haal Chaal Hai. And another, with a painting of the nimbu-mirchi talisman. And other that quoted from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge: Jaa Simran, Jee Le Apni Zindagi. Over that week, we’d found eight tankers but no clue to who’d been decorating them.
We did notice that the tankers carried the hashtags #RKC or RKC Badlega India, somewhere on the sides. Who was RKC and how was he planning to change India?
The answer hit me one night when I was going over the art in my head. Could RKC stand for Raju Ki Chai, the restaurant just around the corner from the Horniman Circle HSBC bank? The little tea shop’s signage and décor had enough overlaps: bright yellow interiors, those kitschy motifs, loud fonts and general happy vibe.
My hunch was right. Restaurateurs Ally Mohammad and his partner Dev Sanghvi are the brains behind Raju Ki Chai and the water tankers. “I’ve been in the business for close to two decades,” says Sanghvi, 35. “But I always dreamed of opening a chai shop, a neighbourhood tapri that always seems more comfortable than a restaurant. Where the adrak chai has a josh, a kick, you’ll never get in a proper restaurant.”
But tapris tend not to value hygiene, comfort and convenience – qualities you’d associate with posher eateries. So Mohammad and Sanghvi decided that their new venture should be a mix of classy and comfortable, a place office goers and the truck drivers would frequent. “And we’d do honest tea, not with milk powder, the way some stalls and restaurants now do,” Sanghvi says.
They also wanted their place to incorporate Fort’s vibe – old buildings, old businesses, bustle, lots of pedestrians and history. “People are tense here,” Sanghvi says. “Those who visit the High Court across the road are angry, sad and generally stressed. So our visual palette is vibrant yellow, happy, cheeky and makes you smile.”
Mohammad and Sanghvi took inspiration from truck art, picked their own symbols and came up with the funny lines themselves. And six months ago, when they noticed that a water tanker parked right outside the store was in a bad shape, extending the visual scheme felt natural. “Tanker owners don’t have the money to decorate but they are integral to Fort,” Sanghvi says.
They hired Kamal Morya, who decorates trucks, to transfer his designs to the tanker, keeping their branding to the minimum. Over the last few months they’ve decorated 22 tankers, aiming to paint eight more. “Tanker owners were tough to convince in the beginning – they’d ask me what I was getting out of it,” Sanghvi says. “It costs us Rs 4,000 to paint each new tank. But it makes people smile, they take pictures against the tankers, they notice something they wouldn’t have before, so why not?”
The restaurateurs plan to decorate the neighbourhood’s handcarts next. Will you be able to spot them all?