|That's Mr Zend Irani in the blue shirt at the front|
I was conducting a Finely Chopped Food Walk at Fort for a corporate group a couple of evenings back.
We headed to Yazdani, the sixty year old Irani Bakery in Fort, at around 7 pm.
We were a bit anxious as we were not sure if they would be open. The participants, who had come all the way from Thane, were really keen to see the bakery and have Irani chai there.
We reached Yazdani and saw the shutters were half shut. There was a lone person standing by the bread counter.
“Bandh ho gaya” (It’s shut), he said.
We were really disappointed and felt deflated.
That’s when a white Nano drew up and stopped right outside the bakery. The door opened and I saw Mr Zend Irani’s face emerge from front the window of the car.
Mr Irani, is one of the owners of Yazdani. From what I understand, he loved boxing in his youth. I think he has Parkinson’s now (I have never discussed this with them or asked the folks at Yazdani about this though).
His body constantly shakes. He can’t stand properly. Or speak clearly. Yet, I have often seen him at Yazdani.
To be honest I didn’t pay much attention to him that evening. From the corner of my eyes I saw him struggle to get out of his car and walk towards the bakery which was right in front of him. I didn't think that he had seen us.
My mind was elsewhere. I was feeling sad that Yazdani had shut though I was earlier told they stay open till 8.30 pm.
Only to sell bread apparently!
Suddenly someone from our group told me to look towards the door and I did.
I saw that Mr Zend Irani had reached the door by then and was shaking violently by it. I thought that he was trying to go in.
Then I realised what was happening. Mr Irani was holding on to the door with one hand to steady himself and was vigorously waving at us.
He wanted us to come in!
The bakery attendant, who earlier told us the place was shut, was trying to reason with him. He told Mr Irani that the rest of the staff had left (bhaag gaya hain). That there was no one to make tea for us or make us bun maska (butter).
I didn’t want to inconvenience them and said we would move on.
Then I saw that Mr Irani kept waving at us undeterred and was shaking his head at his disapproving attendant. He can’t speak clearly yet Mr Irani made his welcome very clear to us and we trooped in.
We sat at a table in the bakery and Mr Irani sat beside us.
I am told that he had run at the Mumbai marathon to raise awareness for Parkinson’s. This evening he could not sit straight and his head drooped down.
I sat down beside him, held his hand and whispered ‘thank you uncle’.
He looked at me from the corner of his eyes as he couldn’t turn his face towards me. He didn’t smile. He can’t change his facial expression I think because of his illness.
He clasped my hand back.
It was the warmest and most loving hand shake of my life.
I just looked at him with awe and gratitude.
I remembered another walk at Fort one afternoon. It was with a young couple from abroad. We were about to leave once done when Mr Irani gestured towards the husband to come towards him.
He did and Mr Irani gestured vigorously at him and muttered something. That’s when we realised what was happening.
Mr Irani was eating a chicken sandwich and wanted to share it with this visitor from overseas.
I remembered how I have seen him so often at Yazdani. Sometimes he sits at the counter and tends to customers. At times he sips on tea and once I even saw him relish an ice cream from a cup. The challenges life has thrown him be damned.
His spirit is something that electrified all of us in the group. Even his staff got inspired to serve us some brun maska (crusty bread and butter) and khari biscuits.
The folks who had organised this walk had conceptualised it as a motivational activity.
And boy did we leave Yazdani all charged up.
It is because of people like Mr Irani that I say I am 'Fort Enchanted'.