One last cuppa

elizabeth mathew | Updated on January 23, 2018

Kazim Bhai, owner of Garden Restaurant in Secunderabad. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Counting days: The 70-year-old Garden Restaurant in Secunderabad. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Kazim bhai wants the court to order the entire structure demolished rather than parts of it, as the latter would leave the 70-year-old building unstable and put lives at risk. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Secunderabad is set to lose some old-world flavour with the demise of Garden, a restaurant much loved for its Irani chai and dum biryani

Secunderabad, Hyderabad’s twin city, is the lesser-known, oft-ignored shy sibling. But the quieter twin has a charm of its own — a medley of old and new, coexisting in harmony. But sometimes they clash, as they inevitably must, when a spanking new metro rail snakes into its laidback innards. The first casualty is the 70-year-old Garden Restaurant.

The metro section connecting the busy Jubilee bus-stand to the railway station near Falaknuma Palace will cut straight through what is one of the city’s favourite hangouts. The restaurant occupies a significant 285 yards the city is trying to acquire for the metro section.

Sumptuous legacy

“You are lucky I picked up your call,” the owner, Mohammed Kazim Shamsuddin Khorrami (better known as Kazim bhai) tells me, as we sit down at the iconic Irani cafe started by his father. Besieged by calls since the news of its impending demolition, Kazim bhai confesses he hasn’t talked this much on his phone before.

He has petitioned for a stay after a revised measurement last year showed that an excess of 93 yards had been earmarked for acquisition. Alternatively, Kazim bhai wants the court to order the entire structure demolished rather than parts of it, as the latter would leave the 70-year-old building unstable and put lives at risk. The back-and-forth with the municipal corporation and his lawyers has left the restaurateur speaking fluent legalese and, as he waits eagerly to hear from the court, he is appreciative of the community’s support for his beloved Garden.

In easy-flowing Dakhani, a trademark of the region, he reminisces about his restaurant, life and Irani chai. In the early 1940s, Garden began as a small teashop that also served snacks. Thanks to its ideal location, it did very well and in 1953 a restaurant was opened next door. “This spot has always been an adda (hangout), since the time of the British. They used to stay in the cantonment area, and on their way to visit the Nizam at Falaknuma and back, they would stop here for a tea break.” Of course, the chai served here is a far cry from the delicate teas that the English swear by. “Not like the hot water masquerading as tea they serve in star hotels,” scoffs Kazim bhai. At Garden, the milk is boiled to one-third its volume and gains a reddish tint before it is added to the tea decoction at the very last minute. The thick, sweet concoction is served in porcelain cups, the tea usually spilling into the saucers. Some connoisseurs prefer to drink it from the saucer, usually accompanied by crisp onion samosa or the buttery, crumbly Osmania biscuit dipped in the hot tea to soften it.

Garden soon became equally famous for its dum biryani, and in the ’70s, Kazim added an AC restaurant. Even today the restaurant’s dum biryani is prepared on a wood fire, which lends it the special flavour that customers have come to know and love.

“My customers know the taste so well that agar kuch namak-mirchi kam hua (if there is any discrepancy in taste), they are the first to point it out,” he says.

Despite his attachment to the building — his parents lived in rooms above the restaurant during the initial years — Kazim bhai remains pragmatic about the impending closure, saying, “Progress is essential. If you refuse to move with the times, you will get left behind.”

He is already looking ahead, with plans to reopen Garden at some other location.

His customers, however, turn emotional at the looming loss of a way of life.

Far away in the US, Aishwarya S Kumar sees it as the end of an era. “I remember often asking my dad to get me biryani from Garden on his way home from work.”

Hyderabad-bred Manoj E remembers how every drunken escapade of his would end at Garden. “One biryani and kheema roti was our standard order. In fact, we picked our drinking spots based on the proximity to Garden,” he says. Kazim bhai is all too aware of this — most of his business takes place after 10pm, when fewer dining options are available to night birds.

Another Garden loyalist, Ashhar Farhan organised a “Last Biryani at Garden Restaurant” event to gather regulars together before the iconic place shut shop forever. Ironically enough, by the time he arrived for the event, they had run out of biryani. Kazim bhai said 300 had signed up and he expected not more than 200 to show up. But he ended up selling 2,000 plates that day!

Chai-time stars

Garden’s star patron was none less than the painter MF Hussain, who often dropped in barefoot in his trademark manner. Rumour has it that he would get off a plane at the old Begumpet airport and walk all the way to Garden for his favourite chai.

Once he brought along the actress Madhuri Dixit to sample the chai; she was then working for his film.

Kazim bhai recalls the crowds gathered for just a glimpse of the man. “I asked him once for some paintings for the walls and he said he would instead do the décor for Garden when we renovated. Sadly he was exiled and passed away before any of this could happen.”

Published on April 10, 2015

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