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January 11th, 2006

10 th January 2006


His name is Mustafa.

The name of the Chai Shop (Tea Café) is Khushali.

Khushali is located in Imambada, an Irani Shia Muslim neighbourhood in the heart of Dongri (the larger Muslim neighbourhood in Mumbai – dreaded, feared, known and unknown).

Dad introduced me to Khushali in October, during Ramzaan.

(Dad and I both retain our connections and memories with Dongri – he and I both grew up here – in two different generations!)

Since then, Khushali has become a regular jaunt, until recently, when I realized that Khushali serves as an interesting case in point of a ‘local public space’. I am examining what is the locality and publicness of this chai shop as against the locality and publicness of Marine Drive / Nariman Point.


His name is Mustafa (another name of the Prophet).


Let me outright announce that Mustafa is a lazy, eccentric, mad Irani (just like all those endearing Iranis of Imambada who I grew up with!)


“People come from all over to drink Mustafa’s chai – Kalyan, Dombivali, Faridabad , Agra , Kalyan, Dombivali,” Mustafa announces to his cuustommers/custombers. But indirectly, Mustafa is announcing his fame to me. Undoubtedly, Mustafa is the chai man of the neighbourhood. The faithful praying at Mughal Masjid in Imambada thrive on Mustafa’s chai – arre, Mustafa aaj nahi aaya . Uski chai ki badi aadat lag gayi hai (Oh no, Mustafa is not here? His tea is an addiction.)


His name is Mustafa, a man of his own.


I have no timings for lunch – kabhi do, kabhi adhai, kabhi teen, to kabhi sallang chai banata rehta hoon (some times 2 PM, sometimes 2:30, sometimes 3 PM, and sometimes, straight up till the evening, I make tea), he groans, yawns and stretches tiredly.

I have no way to determine Mustafa’s mood for lunch. On some days, the shop is closed just when I thought it would be open.

So here is Mustafa who defines the pace of his chai shop according to his whims and fancies, unlike the coffee shops of the world outside Imambada which set their pace to the ideal of the global city.


His name is Mustafa …


I walked into Imambada this afternoon. It is 1 PM. I am obviously an outsider, a stranger. I am dressed in a black body hugging t-shirt and black trousers. I certainly look like a journalist.

I make my way to Khushali.

Mustafa is getting a man to clean up the shop, readying for the month of Muharram when Mustafa will be serving tea to the faithful – to all of Imambada.


I am dazzled by the glass and chinaware crockery which he has laid out on one of the two wooden benches of his shop. I quickly bring out my camera to shoot the variety of tea glasses and cups. Mustafa smiles and says

Yeh bhangaar ka photo nikaal rahe ho (you are photographing this trash?)

Abhi aap isko bhangaar bol rahe ho, kal ko yehi cheezen antique kehlayengi (today you are labeling this ware as trash; tomorrow this trash will be labeled as antique), I tell Mustafa and think of Jonathan Raban and his Morrocan Birdcage (as outlined in Soft City).

(Strange are the ways of lifestyle, culture and the city … and time … and trends …)


Mustafa is ordering the man in the shop to clean properly. This man is as lazy as Mustafa. Mustafa is but the task master.

This way, place the biscuits this way so that cuustommers can see the labels.

Then he turns towards and me says with a tired, pathological look,

Cuustommers like these biscuits a lot.

(I wonder whether he is complaining about the biscuits taking over the popularity of his handmade cakes and bakery.)

Come on, come on, you lazy fool. Clean it up properly, Mustafa lashes. But the man is least perturbed. He is enjoying Mustafa’s nagging.


Mustafa makes tea for me.

A man on a Kinetic Honda parks the vehicle in front of Khushali. He is gregarious and lively. He greets the neighbouring kite shop owner and calls Mustafa out.

Here, mind my thaila (shopping bag) as I go to the mosque and offer prayers.

(Mustafa is also the watchman of people’s belongings in this neighbourhood.)

Mustafa comes out and takes the green bag inside.

Chai pee le (Have some tea)

No, no, are you mad? I will go and pray first.

What about your court case?

I have to go there in the afternoon.


Then the man notices me and suddenly comes close to me and looks into my face and asks Mustafa,


Who is she – yeh kaun hai?

She is a reporter.


Then he asks me,

What is your name?


Really? Zainab? Zainab!!! Wah . You are Zainab.


I look at the man. I know he is alluding to my religious affiliation as also to the history of my name (Zainab being the granddaughter of the Prophet who fought the battle of justice and Islam after the battle of Kerbala was over). He goes off to pray. Mustafa asks me and tells me,

Are you Mohammedan? I did not know.


The old man sitting at the corner of the other wooden bench (he has been there since I entered the shop) asks Mustafa,

Who is this?

My elder brother. He has a restaurant at Dadar.

How many brothers are you?

Six. One of them is in Iran .

And you don’t have sisters?



I ask Mustafa if he goes to Iran .

Do you go to Iran ?

Yes, once a year. Was there sometime ago.

So when did you come to Bombay ?

I was born here (he says very proudly). I was born in Siddiqui hospital, right here.


I want to probe more about Mustafa’s history. But then, the old man just throws the lit butt of his cigarette and Mustafa shouts,

Arre, what are you doing? You throw that lit butt around there, right in front of the scooter? The scooter will light up – there will be an explosion.

The man is careless. He pays no heed to Mustafa’s words.

Mustafa looks at me, points his index finger to his head and says,

People here have no science in their heads – kuch samajhte nahi hai – they don’t understand anything. The men in Iran are clean and sophisticated. They have etiquette. They don’t throw cigarette butts like this. You will not find cigarette butts like this on the streets there.

I look down and count that there are exactly three cigarette butts thrown outside the shop.


The cleaning of wares is still going on. Mustafa continues talking,

Do you come here in Muharram?

Yes, I do.

Then it will be nice. I will prepare kahwa . Here, this is the packet of coffee kahwa . But there is not much demand for kahwa among the cuustommers. I have to see what the cuustommers want.

He brings out the equipment for preparing kahwa and shows me the pores through which the tea/coffee will be brewed and strained.

See, this is what it is like.


Lot of Shias live here. Only Shias come here, to the chai shop – he has a strange grimace on his face when he says this. I am not sure if he is expressing a prejudice.


The shop will get crowded after namaaz. People will throng in like crazy here, to drink tea, he says.

I notice that some young men are already coming in the shop. I begin to get uncomfortable myself and decide that it is time to move.

I bring out money to pay Mustafa.

Are you leaving already?


I am not sure if he wants to talk more. He shouts for change and the lack of it in the cash counter. I collect the money and wish him Eid Mubarak.

Tomorrow the shop will be closed, he says.

Do you slaughter goats?

No, not me. The hajis (pilgrims returned from Hajj) do it. Lots of them.

Mustafa seems to be referring to the affluence and indulgences of the hajis . I am not sure about Mustafa’s own faith and practices. He seems quite reassured by himself, making tea, making conversation with cuustommers, groaning and whining, nagging and shouting, basking in his fame, wanting some more.


His name is Mustafa.

Khushali is the chai shop.

Mustafa is the chai maker (and also one of the space creators).


I walked out in the street to feel the flavour of festivities.

Kites are being made and put out.

Afternoon activity is slow and lazy.

Burkha clad women are making small fruit purchases. Some stare at me. Most don’t care. Sweets are being packed in pink coloured boxes.

And as I walk, I notice two beat cops on a bike, racing into a gulli . That sight evokes a quick sensation in me – contempt and aggression. I calm down.

Tomorrow this area will be policed heavily – after all, this is now known as a troubled area and will be for the rest of its life!


  1. January 11th, 2006 at 03:44 | #1

    i have read about the battle of kerbala, but never knew about the history of Zainab…. anyway Id mubarak.

  2. January 12th, 2006 at 02:26 | #2

    Thanks get2v!