Mumbai's Cafe Samovar shuts after five decades

Indo Asian News Service

Mumbai, March 31 (IANS) Cafe Samovar, a favourite haunt of intellectuals and celebs including Amitabh Bachchan, M.F. Husain and V.S. Naipaul, students and commoners, finally downed shutters on Tuesday after over five decades as loyal clients, some in tears, thronged it for one last time.

Located inside the Jehangir Art Gallery, surrounded by heritage buildings like Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum, the Kala Ghoda square, David Sassoon Library, Lion Gate and Hornbill House, the cafe was opened over 50 years ago by a young Usha Khanna, the niece of Bollywood legend Balraj Sahni.

"Living in Juhu, she had three children under 12, had never run a restaurant, knew no one who did, had no financial backing of any kind, had never seen a balance sheet but Samovar became a landmark because of her grit and integrity, love, fresh air and good intent," Malavika Sanghvi, daughter of Usha Khanna, told IANS on the last day Tuesday.

Such was the food quality that the three children's school tiffins had a daily selection from Cafe Samovar, and Usha Khanna relished the food there till the last day, Sanghvi added.

Like the cafes in many museums, art precincts and other public places worldwide, Samovar proved an instant hit with artistes, theatre and movie actors, intellectuals, mediapersons and celebs besides students and common folk for its homely and healthy menus priced reasonably.

People relished the mutton chops, vegetarian and kheema parathas, pulaos and biryanis, lassis and dahi vadas, varieties of tea and coffee -- with guaranteed free replacement if anything was cold or got spilled in the 700-foot eatery.

Malavika said that as news of the impending closure of Samovar spread in the past few weeks, "we were overwhelmed by the public support and pleas to revive it".

Ready to bid a graceful goodbye to her creation, the 90-year-old Usha Khanna suddenly became enthusiastic and wondered whether it could be revived on the terrace of the Jehangir Art Gallery.

Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Shaina N.C. organised a meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis where Malavika and her sister Devieka Bhojwani appealed to the government to help preserve an important slice of the city's cultural heritage.

"Fadnavis gave us a patient hearing but made no commitments. We have approached the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corp for a suitable place in that area," Malavika said.

The Jehangir Art Gallery, which owns the space where Samovar was located, has been wanting it back for its expansion plans.

The matter was fought out in courts for nearly three decades. The cafe won extensions on lease, until the final one which ended on Tuesday, leading to its closure.

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