City Hangout – Maulana Aagan Chaikhana, Mohalla Kabristan
Lovely and sad.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Two blackened kettles, two ceiling fans, some wooden benches, a few plastic chairs and a roughly carved pillar makes it one of Old Delhi’s most charming chaikhanas, or tea houses. The air of Maulana Aagan Chaikhana in Mohalla Kabristran neighbourhood, Turkman Gate, is saturated with quietness. The street teems with people but inside there is the comfort of reclusion. This is an illusion for the chaikhana is rarely empty. The shop’s daily turnover is Rs 1,200; it uses 35 liters milk everyday.
The Delhi Walla met trader Raees Ahmad who is coming to the chaikhana every single day without fail since it opened 30 years ago. “You are walking down from some place and you see this tea house and you think you will stop here for ten minutes,” says Ahmad. “But you stay for hours and end up drinking 8-10 glasses of tea. There’s sakoon (relief) here.” The bench next to him is covered with the inside pages of Rozana Sahara, an Urdu daily.
Unlike roadside tea stalls, this chaikhana offers no tea-time snacks like fen or biskuts. The tea – too creamy, milky and sweet – isn’t great. Is this place so precious because Delhi’s tea house culture is almost extinct? The rich parts of the city have expensive cafes; the rest has pavement stalls that make tea on carts. A tea house – the space where you can sit for as long as you want and which serves tea alone – is an endangered specie: there are some in the Walled City and there’s one in Zakir Nagar, south Delhi.
The biggest tea house in Turkman Gate, this retreat of deep shadows and cobwebbed ceilings is soaked in sadness; it is anticipating a moment that is soon to follow. It could shut down. The owner who founded it is seriously ill.
“Maulana Aagan has heart problems and he is in a hospital,” says Faheemuddin, the tea house’s munshi, or cashier. Until a year ago Faheemuddin was an embroidery worker in Dubai; he returned after the recession claimed his job. Now, he spends his time reclined on a chair, his legs sprawled on a bench. Faheemuddin’s cash box is stacked with coins. A glass of chai costs Rs 7.
Dressed in a collared shirt and check lungi, the boyish-looking Irshad is making tea in the chaikhana for a decade. He says, “I’m 30 and still unmarried.”
Unaware of his frustrations, many customers who are addicted to Irshad’s tea kill hours sharing jokes and beedis. “Most of us are traders so we are not interested in politics,” says Ahmad. ‘Instead we talk about women and gambling.”
Then there are the lone customers. Probably dwelling too much on their private disappointments, they order their tea, settle down in their favorite seats and stare blankly with glazed eyes. The tea house is open daily, from 8 am to 10 pm.
Where House no. 1937, Mohalla kabristan, Turkman Gate Nearest Metro Station Chawri Bazaar
Irshad, the tea maker
Time is running out
Raees Ahmad, a loyal patron
Leave me alone
You think too much
Creamy, milky, frothy
Faheemuddin, the tea house’s cashier
The cashier’s register
Missing the lost years
Life is elsewhere
Let’s just be silent