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Poor man’s bakery in Mumbai

January 15, 2007


MUMBAI: Tirandaaz Irani’s morning shift at the Yazdani Bakery and Restaurant in Mumbai’s historic Fort district is pretty much the same every day, and he’s hoping to keep it that way even as the city changes drastically around him.

The nearly century-old bakery, set amid crowded streets lined by massive stone Victorian-era buildings near India’s stock exchange, looks like a gingerbread house and stands in sharp contrast to the other shops, mainly selling electronics goods.

Irani mans a drawer filled with soiled rupee notes and dispenses quick change and chatter with old-time customers who sit on plain wooden benches with a cup of tea and a pastry or bread roll.

A wood-fired stove in the back bakes pastries, loaves of bread and a special pav, or bread roll, which costs one rupee and is the emblem of the store’s “your daily bread” motto.

The bakery, an icon for urban historians of what remains of old Mumbai, also has the health of its customers at hear, urging them via a chalkboard sign to: “Eat Finger Biscuits. Cure Your Cough.” “We are the cheapest in the world because mine is a poor man’s bakery. Put that down in writing,” he says gesturing to a reporter’s notebook as he sits behind the cash drawer.

But Irani, a descendant of Zoroastrian Persian immigrants to India who puts himself at “over 65 and still fighting fit,” is one of the last of Mumbai’s small bakers and fears people like him are a vanishing breed in the new India.

Five small nearby restaurants and bakeries closed last year, he says, hit by rising prices for flour, cooking oil, salt and yeast as well as skyrocketing rents as fancy new stores open to cater to those benefiting from India’s economic boom.

“We think we can stay because nobody will sink to our price level or serve our customers. But the changes are a worry because these new shops are just catering to the rich,” Irani says as he reads an invoice for bags of flour.

India’s poorest, estimated at nearly a third of the 1.1 billion population, have flocked to Mumbai from rural outposts in the past decade to find work.

Irani, one of several family members who pull shifts at the bakery, says his Parsi ethnic group earned a special place in India by fitting in -- and that is why they feel a need to serve food to the poorest.—AFP