Irani cafes like Khayyam, Cosmopolitan, Azizia, Madina and Shadab in the Old City were names as synonymous with Hyderabad as the Charminar. Now, only a few vestiges of a once-thriving cafe culture remain.
The story goes that whenever MF Husain would travel to Hyderabad, his first order of business would be to walk from Begumpet to his favourite haunt — the Garden Café — for a cup of chai. Barefoot, he would spend hours nursing the cafe’s strong, milky tea, served in porcelain cups and saucers. Once, he even convinced the actress Madhuri Dixit to accompany him to the landmark Irani eatery.
But it isn’t just venerated artists and famous actresses who frequented Garden, and other cafes of its ilk in Hyderabad. From students to businessmen and the working class, the Irani cafes in the city served as the ideal addas for every type of patron, over decades. The cafes Khayyam, Cosmopolitan, Azizia, Madina and Shadab in the Old City were names as ubiquitous and as synonymous with Hyderabad as the Charminar. With time, however, these Irani cafes — famous for their milky tea, brisk (and often brusque) service, and greasy yet satiating food that didn’t hurt the wallet — have been reduced to little more than relics, a throwback to a bygone time.
LAST ONES STANDING
The Old City still has many Irani cafes, but they are gone from Secunderabad, whereas Hi-Tech City never had them. Asgar, however, doesn’t think all is “lost”. “The restructuring of the city has affected the business, but they [cafes] still thrive. We believe that people in Hyderabad could never stop drinking tea,” he says.
Interestingly, the Irani cafes that are still standing — Bahar, Nimrah, Alpha and Seena — are doing good business. They still attract patrons, and the Instagram generation occasionally drops in for an Osmania biscuit with their chai.
However, the mood inside the cafes has altered significantly. Gone are the patrons perusing a newspaper over several hours, or engaged in long conversations. The leisurely, laidback air of these establishments has been replaced by something more fast-paced, ever-changing. All that remains of that elusive atmosphere, resides in the realm of memory and nostalgia.