Indian and Persian hospitality and classism

This morning, we wandered around Mumbai and ended up stopping at the famous B. Merwan & Co. bakery, a much loved Irani bakery that’s been around for over 104 years which is famous for its bun maska pav, mawa cakes, biscuits, and breads. Chris found it when doing a search for must-eat things in Mumbai, and so of course, we had to stop there for a bun maska pav, which is basically a slightly sweet, cottony soft bready bun that’s filled with a layer of butter and cream on the inside. You can tell it’s extremely popular given the number of patrons coming in and out with their breakfast buns. It’s a simple but seemingly nostalgic place where it’s obvious that it’s been much loved and appreciated for countless decades due to the wear of its walls and floors.

As soon as we walked in, a little elderly Irani lady that was probably just an inch or two taller than my own mother walked up to me and put her arm around me. She asked me to sit down and asked what I’d like. I asked for a bun maska pav, and she immediately called out my order in a soft but commanding voice to the staff, who soon after brought over my pillowy bun and chai tea cup and saucer. She came over to check on us a couple of times and was constantly warm and smiling with us. She was like the epitome of Persian and Indian hospitality. You definitely never get treated that kindly at any Chinese spot; I can guarantee you that.

Before we left, I had to use the restroom. She noticed I was standing up and asked what I needed, so I told her. She hesitated. “We have a toilet, but it’s an Indian toilet. And the staff use it. Is that okay with you?” she asked, unsure of how I would respond.

I said it would be fine. She responded, “Are you sure? The staff use it.” She seemed more concerned about how I’d feel that the bakery staff use the restroom rather than the fact that it was a squat toilet.

I prepared my tissues for toilet paper and my hand sanitizer. I can deal with this. It’s the first and only time so far on this trip that I’ve had to use a squat toilet. I became an expert at using these things in China and Vietnam years ago.

That’s where the classist aspect of India still persists; she didn’t think I’d approve of using a toilet that people of a lower class or social status would want to use. She also probably didn’t think I even knew what an Indian toilet was.

I loved that cushiony bun, and I also thoroughly enjoyed my tiny cup of Irani chai. The bun came with the chai, and Chris got a juice, which all just cost 40 rupees, or barely 60 US cents. I’m starting a very long and even more endless lists of things I want to try to make as a result of this trip. That soft, milky, pillowy sweetness could become addictive.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.