The lingering scent of fragrant incense sticks mixed with the aroma of Akshara’s infamous kombdi vade and warm smiles at the doorstep defines Bambai Nazariya in a nutshell.
Nestled in the bustling lit up lanes of Versova, Bambai Nazariya is a socially inclusive cafe run by the transgender community, founded by Diego Miranda and Glenice D.
Despite global advancements in the rights and awareness of the LGBTQ+ community, there still exists a gaping hole in their social acceptance. Diego and Glenice’s Bambai Nazariya is one of the few initiatives that has made strides in making the community feel a part of the mainstream.
Only Warm Smiles And Chai
Started seven years ago as an initiative to do something for the transgender community, Bambai Nazariya recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
Talking about the birth of Bambai Nazariya, Diego says that it was more about realising his father’s vision than just a business idea. Adding that he always wanted to do something in the hospitality industry, he recounted his father’s words about always giving back to not only the transgender community but also the physically handicapped and senior citizens, who often have no one to look after. With the help of Tweet Foundation and Humsafar Trust, his father’s dream slowly came to fruition.
Diego shared his experience of working tirelessly to network and understand the grievances of the transgender community, so that he could create an inclusive space that could also empower them. He hired members and trained them to manage the front desk and also cook in the kitchen.
This unique chai house in the lanes of Bombay stresses on the importance of educating and re-learning stereotypes ingrained in people’s minds about the transgender community. The flashcards on every table at the cafe help people familiarise themselves with the community, and the meanings behind words like “Hijra”, “Kinnar” and “Khushra”. These phrases are usually used by people to mock or look down upon transgenders, and that is exactly what the founders and the staff wish to change through the cafe – people’s Nazariya.
On being asked about the reason for picking the quirky name, Diego says, “Everything starts from the streets. We wanted to keep the essence of the street alive and keep that old Bombay vibe glowing in the modern day Mumbai through our menu, the interiors, everything. Nazariya is simply taken from our tagline – Nazariya Badlo, Nazaara Badlega! We wish to bring a change in people’s outlook regarding the community.”
According to Diego, that’s all that the community really needs – a new and different perspective to look at the community and see the potential in them to achieve things everybody aims to.
Apart from their delectable menu full of Mumbai street food like keema pav, chaat and misal pav, another reason to give Bambai Nazariya a visit is for their warm hospitality, or as Diego puts it, their ‘Mehmaan Nawaazi’. It’s beautiful to see how a small space has become a safe haven for many.
The cafe is dotted with antique pieces like a gramophone, a retro TV, and an album of Rishi Kapoor’s Bobby. You also need not shy away from picking up a novel from their mini-library full of books like ‘The Many Colours of Anshu’ and ‘The Boy in The Cupboard’, which can be interesting reads as you dine al fresco.
The red and white table cloths, the wooden interiors and the old school windows and doors, all make you feel right at home. “That was exactly what we were going for,” boasts Diego as he talks about the spirit of the cafe. “It’s not just a cafe, or a chai house, it’s their home.”
Akshara, one of the employees at the cafe, beaming with glee, calls Bambai Nazariya her home. She very dearly looks after anyone who pays the cafe a visit as her own guest. When you come to Bambai Nazariya, you’re not only stepping into Akshara’s, but the home of all the employees working there, who shower you with immense love and of course, scrumptious dishes!
‘Dekho, Magar Pyaar Se’
Akshara shares how Bambai Nazariya became a place of comfort for the staff because of the acceptance and support they found at the cafe, more so compared to their own homes.
“Just the fact that the transgender community gets represented here and have gotten the opportunity to work is my favourite thing about the cafe,” says Akshara, talking about what it has been like to work at Bambai Nazariya for a year now.
The café has touched many more lives than just the employees working there. Interestingly, a major chunk of regulars at the cafe consists of people above the age of 45. More than the millennials or the Gen Z, they like to have their evening cup of tea at the cafe with some crispy snacks.
Diego pointed out how overwhelming the impact of the cafe is, with an increasing number of people wanting to visit with their different outlooks and appreciating the initiative of the cafe on social media too.
Despite the mass appeal of Bambai Nazariya, Diego wishes to run it as a stand-alone restaurant and continue helping a few more individuals from the community at present. The cafe is currently hiring more employees, although he has not completely ruled out expanding the cafe. “If everything falls into place, why not. We would love to branch out.”
A community as historic, sacred and natural as the Ramayana and Mahabharata still do not have a place in the society and are denied basic human rights. Despite making significant strides in guaranteeing fundamental rights and protection under the Constitution, the government falls short of social inclusion and provision of basic amenities such as providing appropriate washrooms to the community.
On this, Akshara adds how it is difficult to share washrooms with males and females who often give them the eye if they ever use binary toilets. “We have to use washrooms when we reach home then.”
Even travel is a hassle for them in the city of Mumbai. The local trains have compartments for females, the physically challenged, and the dabbawalas, but not for the transgenders. They find it difficult travelling in either of the compartments as they are welcomed with a cold shoulder, ending up travelling in the compartment for the physically challenged.
But none of these things has crushed their spirits. “You treat people with respect to get respect. That’s all I have learned from Bambai Nazariya. By working here, I want to send out a message that just because we belong to the third gender does not make us incapable of work. We have a lot to offer and this cafe is a symbol of just that,” says Akshara.
Like many from the community, Akshara is looking forward to social acceptance and provision of services for the kinnar community. “I wish to urge all the members of the community to accept opportunities coming their way and make the most of it to be independent.”
On being asked if doing something else for a living was an option, Akshara quickly replies, “No. This is my home now, I cannot just leave a part of me and go now. I want to stay here.”
Be it the warm hospitality or a mean plate of keema paratha, Bambai Nazariya, just a small room with bigger hearts and even bigger smiles, is a home away from home.