Numerous plates of pakoras and glasses of chai were passed across tables occupied by regulars and a few first-timers at Cafe Samovar on Saturday. Its owner Usha R Khanna, who started the cafe in 1964, welcomed people. After being a part of the city’s cultural fabric for five decades, the cafe at Jehangir Art Gallery bid farewell to Mumbai on Saturday.
“When I moved to Bombay I wanted some company. I am not highly qualified. I started the cafe so that I could make some friends here and feed people who live away from home,” said 87-year-old Khanna. Hundreds of patrons patiently waited outside the cafe for their turn to grab a chair or share a table. Patrons wrote about fond memories at the cafe on a large board set up at the entrance. As more people queued up, colourful kites, embroidered umbrellas, part of Samovar’s decor, were taken away one by one. The cafe allowed its regulars to carry a piece of Samovar with them.
“How will I take the atmosphere, the familiar smell, the changing sights at the cafe with me?” asked Bollywood actor Jackie Shroff who has been a regular at the cafe for the last 40 years. Shroff, who worked at a travel agency next door and his then girlfriend and now wife Ayesha, who used to study at Max Mueller, often visited the cafe during their courtship. “I never expected such a beautiful place to shut down. They want the space for an art gallery, but Samovar is like a piece of art itself,” he added.
Kabir Bedi, Khanna’s family members, theatre personality Devieka Bhojwani, columnist Malavika Sangghavi also shared their memories of Samovar at the gathering.
The family-run cafe had been fighting a lengthy legal battle with the founding trustees of the art gallery who have claimed the space for a gallery for sculptures.