South Indian tale of Iranian cafes

The people of Hyderabad have some unique traits that makes their city what it is.

Ask a person from Hyderabad their most important matter and they will make the sun go down discussing Hyderabad’s halaat (conditions). Six years in Telenaga, the city is now a whole new world of political and cultural mishmash. So far, Hyderabad’s infamous “life goes on” attitude still lingers in places uncommon to Telengana’s state culture.

While the plebeian’s address to ‘go on’ is the city’s innumerable Iranian cafes; it happens to cure just one other characteristic of Hyderabad’s people:

Their undying thirst for chai. 

In close proximity to the city’s commercial areas;  Iranian restaurants punctuate a long stretch – all the way from Hyderabad’s old residences to Secunderabad’s cantonment. With monikers like Nimrah, Ilyaz and Saba, these hole in the walls have ‘cafes’ preceding their names.

Descendants of Iranian restaurateurs say their cafes are the final call of their departing culture in Hyderabad. Most Iranian cafe owners have immigrated to Iran; taking the city’s tea culture back with them. They have now handed over their legacy to unfrequented corners that could have thrived as Farhang-e Irān or culture of Persia in Hyderabad.

Café Paradise, on the intersection of Rani Gunj and SP Road (now Paradise Road) was known for its Iranian tea and the Suleimani [black tea with herbs.] Dishes like Biryani and its accompanying meat gravies propelled the cafe to fame. No longer just a greasy spoon, the cafe now stands three floors high, as the ‘Paradise Hotel’ which caters to Hyderabad’s growing middle class.

From cafe to mezzanine
From cafe to mezzanine

Now, most Iranian cafes can barely afford the rent in Hyderabad’s commercial pockets. Special Irani chai; the champagne of their cafes, is as faded as their menus. Biscuits and tea alone sell out the most while septuagenarian dishes are still limited to the imagination of the cooks.

The cafes’ poor conditions, though, doesn’t stop patrons of culture and tea lovers from visiting. Some cafes possess remnants of old Iranian coffee-house decor like wooden benches set against uncluttered tables. Subtle Persian masonry appear only to trained eyes. 

Hard to get by and hard to spot
Hard to get by and hard to spot

The upkeep of Iranian cafes is now in the hands of indifferent Munshis [Urdu: manager on a contract]. Poor hygiene and an all-male crowd is one of the major reasons for the cafes’ unpopularity. Traffic policemen frequent the place when they are not attending to the bottleneck of Hyderabad’s roads. And, they dine for free. Once a symbol of a romantic culture, Iranian cafes are the haunt of daily wage workers too, who refuse to pay or order less food.

Embattled for customers, the cafes are neither cool enough for Hyderabad’s student crowds nor safe for women. The only women in these cafes are part time maids or beggars who share their home with the cafe’s surroundings. Most cafes annex a cigarette shop which attracts more customers than the cafe on a whole.

And those are on the better days.

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