Trans Inclusion: Queer Cafes In Mumbai, Bengaluru Serve As Hubs For Acceptance And Employment

Spaces like Bambai Nazariya in Mumbai and Pride Café in Bengaluru are providing employment opportunities to transgender persons to smash stereotypes

For those who have lived in Bombay before it became Mumbai, Bambai Nazariya defines nostalgia.

Three prominent posters at the entrance of Bambai Nazariya, a café in Andheri, Mumbai, that has provided employment to people from the transgender community, elaborate on the term ‘Kinnar’, a colloquial term used for transgenders. Interesting facts busting the various myths around the community are also scribbled on the menu card, in tiny notes that are kept on each table and on the unmissable blackboard in one corner.

The aim of the café, situated on a quaint lane, is to offer people a space where they can interact with transgender employees, understand them, or befriend them. The larger aim, of course, is inclusion. And this is being done at the café in a non-preachy manner. The simplicity and the interesting and fun decor are proof.

The beautiful name board in pink and the green wooden frames covered with a transparent sheet to protect them from Mumbai rain welcomes the customers. For those who have lived in Bombay before it became Mumbai, Bambai Nazariya defines nostalgia. For those who are new to the city, this café is a tour back in time.

God is in the details—the table with its green chequered cloth, the mismatched glass jars with “kiss me” chocolates in bright red wrappers, the painted kettle, the gramophone in one corner, walls adorning with posters of ‘Umrao Jaan’ , Rekha and the iconic image of Dilip Kumar and Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam give the place a very Irani Café vibe, something that has been purposefully done.

Over 95 per cent of the things in Bambai Nazariya are from a bhangarwalla (scrap dealer) shop. The furniture and all the other items in the café have been purchased from flea markets and are restored to go with the overall mood. The mismatched wooden chairs, too, have found their way into the café from a second-hand furniture market. Even the air-conditioner is a borrowed one.

There are two sitting areas—inside and outdoors; and both have different décors. The café is not palatial, but there is an abundance of warmth, love, care and affection.

“For any transgender seeking work at Bambai Nazariya, the only criterion is to have ‘the willingness to change’ mindset. Our tagline is nazar badlo, nazariya badlega

As one enters the cafe, it gives happy vibes. Hindi songs are playing in the background. Occasional peals of laughter pierce the air. Business is often brisk—office goers and collegians walk in for quick bites; some come for leisurely meals. The old-world charm is a hit with youngsters.

A few customers walk in. Soniya, the senior transgender employee, welcomes them with a namaste. A few tables are rearranged to accommodate the big group. After scanning the menu—a mix of Indian and continental fare—they decide to leave. Soniya smiles at them and requests them to come back soon.

A former employee of Mumbai-based Humsafar Trust—which promotes LGBTQ rights—Soniya came to work for Diego Miranda, the owner of the café, about two years ago. “I have been with this café since it opened. It is always packed. Many people come just to see us. They are curious,” says Soniya.  

Miranda, who is living his father’s dream through this café, says: “My father (Francis Miranda) had this desire of empowering transgenders with employment that would make them financially independent. I have tried to fulfil that dream of my late father. It has not been easy. I do not come from a privileged background. I live in a chawl in Andheri. But when there is a financial crunch, you learn to reinvent,” says Miranda.

Eight years ago, when he decided to set up a café and hire transgender employees, sourcing funds was the biggest challenge. “After my father passed away, I became the sole earning member of my family. I, along with a friend, started selling burgers on the street. Whatever money we collected became the seed capital for this place. Even today, we open the café everyday not knowing if we will be able to cook a meal the next day,” says Miranda.

Cafés With a Difference: Soniya at the Bambai Nazariya café in Andheri, Mumbai Photo: Dinesh Parab

The food, nevertheless, is a hit. “Our food is popular because it has a ‘home-made taste’. Many recipes are shared by our employees who also prepare the dishes in the kitchen. There is no division of work. Everyone does everything,” says Miranda.

Three transgender persons are presently working here. For any transgender seeking work at the café, the only criterion is to have “a willingness to change” mindset. Miranda wants his employees to be just them. “No education or communication skills are required.  When people come here, they need to know that this is the home of transgender employees; a home where they feel safe. Our tagline is nazar badlo, nazariya badlega,” says Miranda.

Customers walking into the café out of curiosity is something that the staff has gotten used to. They don’t feel awkward if food is served to them by transgenders. It’s a welcome change. “From being treated as pariahs to being served food by transgender employees, the advent of inclusiveness is bringing in the much-needed change in mindsets,” says Visha.

Love for the job and for their community is what brought Khushi, Rahula and eight other LGBTQIA+ persons to the wheels of pride.

Soniya and Visha say their life has changed since they started working. Many customers now know them by their names. They often pose for pictures on request. Another sign of inclusiveness.


“Transgenders must change their mindset. Education is the most powerful tool. Today, when inclusion is an important part and society is changing its outlook towards us, the community too must change,” says Soniya.

Such inclusive-driven cafes that are now opening in many cities are helping the transgender community achieve their aim.

Bengaluru’s ‘Pride’

Amid the hustle and bustle of Residency Road lies a quiet corner with a mini yellow truck. ‘PRIDE CAFE’— the name stands out across four sides of the truck, which overlaps with bright colours of red, green and blue. Almost as equally bright smiles meet your eyes when you peek inside the vehicle. Khushi and Rahula stand tall, wearing a PRIDE badge on their t-shirt, eager to ask you about your day, if you need food or something to drink. “Have this adrak chai, you will love it.” Love for the job and love for their community is what brought them and eight other LGBTQIA+ persons to the wheels of pride.


Everyone loves food, so we thought why not make it a bridge to spread love?—is the general consensus when asked about the conception of such a space. The café is the brain-child of Shubha Chacko, Executive Director at Solidarity Foundation, an organisation based in Bengaluru, supporting the LGBTQIA+ community and sex workers for more than two decades. In January this year, the organisation, in partnership with WeWork (a co-working space), Amadeus and Agape Hospitality Consultants launched a first of its kind Pride Café, a food truck, to provide employment and visibility to the members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Veteran actress Arundhati Nag at the inauguration of Pride Café in Bengaluru Photo: Pride cafe


The food truck lies right outside the co-working space on Residency Road, which is filled with employees rushing to take a chai and snacks break in between their meetings. “We push our candidates to speak up for themselves. Many persons from the LGBTQIA+ community are often demoralised and under-confident owing to society’s stereotyping. But we aim to train them to express themselves, so that when people come and interact with them, they’ll know who they really are, instead of believing a narrative,” says Sasha, who heads the food truck and manages the sales.

Employees of the food truck receive not just culinary training from Agape Hospitality’s centre at Lingarajapuram, but also training in English speaking, hospitality and service skills.


Sasha had a dream to work in the hospitality sector. However, after graduating with a degree in hotel management and setting foot in the industry, she was met with traumatising and derogatory terms. “It wasn’t a safe space for me,” Sasha says. She soon stumbled upon the Solidarity Foundation and took on the role of administration and documentation officer at the Foundation. Coincidentally, at the same time, there was talk of a new Pride Café in Bengaluru, a first for the city.

A year and a month later, the project is very close to their heart. As the truck manager of the Pride Café, Sasha does the work she loves, in a safe space, and helps the community as well. “Shubha, Rekha G (the project lead) and every single employee treats this project as their baby,” Sasha says. A separate ‘livelihood’ team goes on the ground to trace and sensitise LGBTQIA+ members about the existence of such safe spaces. The saying ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ resonates with the project’s success. “We collaborate with our allies who then help spread the word. Even our employees learn and understand and make their friends aware of such spaces,” Sasha says.


Allyship is prominently visible across the mini truck’s journey —Aravani Art Project, which is an Indian public art collective, run by trans and cis women in the city, painted the colours on the truck. The inauguration event witnessed the presence of drag performer Alex Mathew, popularly known as Maya, the Drag Queen, and renowned theatre artist and actor, Arundhati Nag. “And it certainly won’t stop here. We are looking to open similar spaces across the city with the help of our allies,” Sasha says. The truck operates from 10 AM to 6 PM through the week. The menu includes poha, classic French toast, sandwiches, roti and dal makhani, among an assortment of dishes. “Please have the adrak chai, you won’t regret it,” Khushi and Rahula make sure to mention their “special” again.


Haima Deshpande in Mumbai & Anisha Reddy in Bengaluru

(This appeared in the print as 'Trans Inclusion ... Served Hot And Fresh')