While strolling down the vibrant footpath of Colaba Causeway, starting from Cafe Mondegar, our feet came to a halt upon discovering some colorful chalk words on the brick-laden floor, primarily suggesting the prices for tea and coffee. To the left, what appeared to be an old electronic items shop on the ground floor of 'East & West Court' caught our attention. Slightly inside the door was a handwritten placard stating: 'Nafrat ke bazaar mein Mohabbat ki dukan (A shop of love amidst a market of hatred)!' Peeking inside, we gained an understanding of its transformation. S. Alibhoy, once a store dealing with electrical goods, classic items, CDs, and DVDs, is now a 'mini cafe room,' as the place likes to describe itself.
The handwritten placard inside the mini cafe room
Colaba Causeway stands as a popular shopping hotspot in the heart of South Bombay, and its proximity to the majestic Gateway of India and the backside of the Taj Hotel adds another reason for the crowd to throng to the place. The pavements accommodate stalls selling sundry items, ranging from clothes and jewelry to bags and shoes. Along the row, several stores, including restaurants, cafes, and outlets of popular brands, can be found—this newly revamped cafe being one of them.
In addition to its other offerings, the cafe distinguishes itself by attracting patrons with its unique decor, transporting them back to the '90s through the use of discarded items and old classic electrical pieces. To add to the nostalgic ambiance, background music dating back to the late '80s and '90s sets the tone.
Tahir Babaker, the owner of the shop, stands amidst this unique atmosphere, dressed in a top-to-bottom black attire with black specs. As he explained, 'I could not do much but use the available items with me at this shop to decorate this place.' Alongside Babaker's attire, even his photos displayed on the old, dusted glass shelves hint at his forgotten longing to be a model back in time.
The 1938 shop that withstood time
Seating area inside the cafe
Babaker's maternal uncle bought this space in 1938 and established an electronic shop, which he successfully ran for several years. According to Babaker, it was the first-ever electronic shop in Colaba. When Babaker assumed ownership, his uncle, offering valuable advice, suggested the possibility of opening a food joint in the space. Recognizing that Causeway already had cafes and restaurants serving both vegetarian and non-vegetarian items, they decided to adopt a "vegetarian-first" approach when they opened the area seven months ago.
Call it the advancement of technology that prompted Babaker to notice a decline in the sales of electronic items, becoming a major reason for him to transition from it to a cafe within the same shop. "I deal with classic electrical accessories that do not yield much profit," says Babaker, a resident of Mumbai Central. However, the 46-year-old has retained a few items within the shop, which he sells to other stores specializing in antique electronic items across the road in a Parsi colony. He also keeps a selection for sale to locals who visit the shop.
Tahir Babaker, the owner of the shop-turned-cafe
Although Babaker is aware that the primary reason people now visit his shop has shifted, more towards the vibrant and quirky cafe than the classic electrical items, it's the bright, quirky cafe that captures attention. In an almost 100-square-foot area, S. Alibhoy houses four colorful tables, with a few dupattas used as curtains, stacks containing some electronic items, and the seating area separated by a creeper of CDs hanging from a thin rope tied from one corner to the other. "I would always collect the items I liked while traveling in the city and have kept those here," says Babaker. What overshadows all these are numerous quotes, poetic lines, and slogans handwritten and pasted on the walls, glass shelves, or hanging from the ceiling. The lines depict the romantic characteristic of the writer, none other than Babaker himself. "I have written these from my own experiences," he says, adding that he has noticed college-going students appreciating the quotes on love "even if their definition of love might be different.
On the other hand, the cafe aims to satisfy guests' cravings by offering a variety of items, including coffee, shakes, and snacks like pasta, noodles, sandwiches, and more, totaling up to 60 items—all managed by Babaker's daughter. Right behind the seating area is a small kitchen, separated only by a curtain, with a seat at its entrance reserved for Babaker's daughter. Babaker and his family have ensured that guests have ample entertainment options while waiting for their orders. Therefore, they have placed various board games on the shelves, which were initially chargeable but are now offered free of cost.
The artists displaying the hand-made journals
Babaker also collaborates with artisans who use handcrafted techniques on leather to create diaries and journals, giving them a refined antique appearance. As some artists displayed their works to us, Babaker emphasized that this collaboration serves as another source of income for them.
Simultaneously, the owner is currently looking forward to opening a similar cafe in Mahalaxmi. However, more than that, he is keen on establishing the existing cafe in his old electrical shop as a go-to place for locals. In the past seven months, he has observed local residents, primarily college-going students due to its proximity to several colleges, and even international tourists who visit the Gateway of India and stroll the streets of Colaba Causeway later. "I am trying to understand the preferences of guests so that I can improve the services here," Babaker says, sweetening the conversation by offering us toffees.