"Have you been to Britannia?"
This was one question I got from many people, which left me wondering what was so special about this place. So, I decided that on my next visit to Bombay ( yes, I still prefer Bombay over Mumbai, Kyonki Bombay ki baat hi kuch aur hai ), I must pay a visit.
Armed with a dangerous appetite, and my camera, I set out on a sunny day looking for Britannia & Co.. Located on a cosy corner at Ballard Estate, found it without much difficulty.
The first impression on entering was that I have entered a place set in the 1940's. The walls wouldn't have seen paint for years, and the furniture looked quite old too. There were pictures of Mahatma Gandhi and the Queen of England on the walls. Also, a recent looking life size cut-out of Prince William and Princess William (a.k.a Kate, she can't be called a Princess). The place looked steeped in history, quite literally so.
My eyes frantically searched for the whole purpose of my visit here, for a chat with Mr. Boman Kohinoor, the 90-year young proprietor of the place. And I wasn't disappointed, for I spotted him sitting three tables away with his younger brother, with a napkin around his neck, enjoying a bowl of soup. Simultaneously, calling out stewards' names as though taking attendance, and they'd reply with a respectful "Yes Sir!".
The food offered here is typical Parsi fare, and I settled down for the famed Berry Pulao, Sali Chicken with Chapatis, and Dhansak. Our food arrived, and so did Mr. Boman. "Enjoy your food; stay happy, be happy" was the first thing he told me, and went on to ask what I was waiting for, "Would you like some fresh lemonade, To Beat The Mumbai Heat?"- a classic dialogue of his, a friend had already told me about.
Not wanting to let him go so soon, I asked him when the place was first started. That was enough to get him started. His father had started the place when he was just 9 years old, with the idea of serving authentic Parsi food. Being British Raj times, it was easier to start a business with a western name, and hence Britannia & Company was decided on. The furniture was Polish, and hasn't been changed since the place was started, he said proudly.
|Berry Pulao, the berries which give that zingy flavor are still imported from Iran.|
The man is a storehouse of information, and wit. He quickly showed me some of his possessions with child-like enthusiasm, various reviews about the restaurant, and the gem of the lot- a handwritten letter from Her Highness Queen Elizabth II herself. Another letter from Prince William and Kate thanking him for his wishes on their wedding completed his collection.
He went on to talk about various celebrities who frequented his restaurant, about how the 'badmaash' junior Bachchan always came with many women except Aishwarya (" 'I will not allow you inside if you do not bring your wife and daughter next time', I've told him"), and also about his visit to Mangalore fifty years back when he enjoyed fish curry and rice.
"I will not disturb you while you eat", he said and walked on to the next table. Only to return the moment I put my fork down, ready with a little notebook, to take my order for dessert.
"Can I take a picture with you, Sir?", I asked him; "Why do you want your picture with me, young lady ? I'm ninety. You must find a Prince William soon for yourself, to take beautiful pictures with" was the quick reply I got. Nevertheless, he did oblige.
If you do not have a thing for sweetish food, you might not like it here. Yet, if only for a chat with Mr. Boman, you have to enter Britannia & Co. The thirty minutes or so that I spent talking to him taught me one thing - that age does not matter. It is the zest for life and the joy you take from little things around, that makes you young or old.
"See you soon doctor", he told me as I left the place; I will be back very soon Sir, I silently told myself, as I walked out of Britannia, back again into the 21st century.