Man Behind Quaint Café Run by Trans Persons

Bambai Nazariya

In an overcrowded metropolis like Mumbai, to think that a mere 500-sq-ft space is trying to ‘change your outdated perception’ is quite a stretch. But as you pass through several bylanes to find the hidden gem that is Bambai Nazariya, located behind Mukesh Chhabra Studio near Versova Beach, you’ll find yourself delightfully surprised.

The partially asbestos tinned-roof café has a number of famous artwork such as The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo (modified to accommodate an aluminium teapot), The Mona Lisa holding a cup of tea, and a welcome sign that reads, “Nazariya badlo, nazara badlega” (Change your point of view, and the view will change).

Besides the modified artwork, what’s even more endearing is the warmth with which the staff greets you as you enter.

Our server Akshara hides her mischievous smile as she says in Marathi, “If you want something extra spicy, just shout out ‘Aai Shapat’ (mother’s swear).” But we politely decline, taking her word as Gospel truth that her spicy Missal Pav or Pav Bhaji would be too much for our weak spice tolerance. We opt for their famous ‘pink chai’ instead, and Akshara prepares and serves up the pink glass of hot brew while giving us a lowdown on what goes into it. “We don’t use artificial colour at all. It is pink because we add beetroot.”

As I sip on the delicately flavoured beetroot tea, I look around the ‘library room’ to see a mirror that reads in bold crimson red — “Dekho magar pyaar se (Look, but with kindness).”

A home converted into a café, Bambai Nazariya, which opened in January this year, has three seating areas, and hires only trans persons who have either lost their job during the pandemic or couldn’t find suitable work.

Bambai Nazariya
The café is interspersed with quirky artwork and cleverly worded signboards.

Meanwhile, Akshara finally finds time from the busy kitchen, and explains, “Soniya, our kitchen chef, isn’t available today. But we all cover for each other on such days.”

Then she delves into her own story. “I am a Mumbaikar,” says the 23-year-old, who works as the concierge-cum-floor-manager. “I came to know of this vacancy through a friend. I was surprised to learn that there was a vacancy for a trans person. I was previously working as a receptionist for a CA office but lost that job during the lockdown. It was heartwarming to know that there was finally a space that would accept me the way I am.”

She continues, “I knew when I was seven that I was different. My family didn’t accept me for the longest time. I knew that I was a kinnar/ trans person, but I wanted to be someone someday. Aam aadmi kuch na kuch karta hai, toh apun kyun nahi kar sakte (If the common man could be somebody, why not us)?”

This was the thought that drove her work ethic. She veers off-topic for a second and says, “I have a dream. Just like the Late Sindhutai Sapkal, who was a social worker, I also want to adopt orphaned kids.”

Speaking about what she likes about Bambai Nazariya, she says, “When people enter at first, they are shocked to see trans people running the café. The same people they see begging at signals or in trains or doing sex work, are serving them at the café. This is how we are changing perceptions.”

A Different Point of View

Bambai Nazariya staff
(L-R) Akshara, Soniya and Mahi of Bambai Nazariya café.

This was the ideology that prompted 28-year-old Diego Miranda to start the café with his girlfriend Glenice D’sa.

The young entrepreneur is shy at first to speak about his life-long dream of continuing his father’s legacy. But after a little prodding, he says, “Back in the day, it was even more difficult for trans persons to find jobs. My father would always help them out with whatever he could. He kept telling me that if I could help them, I should.”

Diego recalls days when he’d come back from school and see his father inviting the community over for a cup of tea, giving them money, and even Christmas gifts. “He had even taken our family to one of their homes because he was invited.”

Unfortunately, Diego’s father passed away three years ago and did not see the café come to fruition. “I shared this idea with Glenice seven years ago that I wanted to give back to the community with a café named ‘Bambai Nazariya’,” he says.

Speaking about how he realised his dream, he says, “I was just a 21-year-old selling homemade snacks like burgers and hotdogs in Marol with my two friends to fund this dream of starting a café. We started with a tiny kiosk called The Food Story.”

Wanting to be in the hospitality sector for some time, he did many jobs at big-ticket F&B companies as well, gathering a corpus to start the café.

“Diego is only completing his father’s dream of helping the LGBTQ community, as it is so difficult for us to get jobs,” adds Akshara. “I went for at least four interviews during the lockdown where I was rejected just for being a trans person. I felt so dejected. But here, we treat guests as our own even though outside they disown us.”

Mahi Malini Pujari, 28, the other floor manager, adds, “We have ‘Bambai’ in the name to indicate that we are changing ‘old Bombay’s’ nazariya.”

Bambai Nazariya's famous pink chai
Bambai Nazariya’s famous pink chai and croissant sandwich.

Diego says he asked Humsafar Trust, which works for LGBTQ rights, for help in coordinating with trans persons who needed jobs. “I was ignorant about so many things. But they helped me to know the community. They invited me to one of their festivals as an ally, where I put up a stall selling burgers and made a lot of connections. That’s how I spread the word about my upcoming café,” he says.

Mahi adds, “I used to work with Humsafar Trust before this when I got to know about the opening at Bambai Nazariya. I had prior experience working in a café that employed trans people called Third Eye Café. But that closed down due to the pandemic.”

“It has been two months that I have been serving guests and the response has been phenomenal. We see a lot of young professionals who are aware of the trans community and our rights. And it feels great that people are finally recognising us even though it is later than we would’ve liked,” she says.

Elaborating on her journey, Mahi says, “I wanted to study till Class 12 and get into hospitality studies, but I failed Class 10. Then in 2016, I got an opportunity to work in Navi Mumbai’s Third Eye Café. I worked there for two years before the pandemic struck and I lost my job. During the lockdown, I used to get rations from NGOs that helped the community.”

At the café, everyone speaks of ‘mehman nawazi’ (hospitality). “We have this small home and there’s no such concept of waiters or anything. We treat people like you do when you have guests over,” says Diego, adding that this is just how he remembers his father treating the community. “Glenice and I also help out in the kitchen or with serving guests, whatever be the task.”

Akshara adds here, “If you live with someone from the LGBTQ community, please accept us as we are. And to the community, I’d like to say that if someone is offering you a helping hand, trust them and you’ll succeed.”

Their busiest days are the weekend when crowds make a beeline for their delectable cinnamon rolls and croissant sandwiches, priced from Rs 60 to Rs 300. Their plans involve expansion to different places in Mumbai, but as the café is in its nascent stages they’re still hoping to get more funding before branching out.

As we near the end of our discussions, Mahi sums it up well, as she says, “This is my third chance to be in the hospitality industry and I have every intention of proving myself… But when people’s perception changes, then, and only then, will our future change for the better.”

Diego Miranda and Glenice D'sa of Bambai Nazariya
Diego Miranda and Glenice D’sa of Bambai Nazariya.

Edited by Divya Sethu

Author: Aaron Ryan