City Hangout – Ashok Kumar’s Onion-Scented Tea Stall, Gurgaon
House of tea.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The idea of an onion-scented chai might not appeal to all, but it really is delicious. And, for the record, the chai doesn’t taste of onion.
The unnamed tea stall near old Gurgaon’s Budheshwar Temple in the Greater Delhi Region actually clings to an onion warehouse. The tiny establishment has been here for five years and is run by the charming Ashok Kumar, who has a tendency to promptly remind his customers that he shares his name with a Hindi cinema legend. The gentleman modestly adds that his town lies between the holy cities of Kashi and Prayagraj, in UP—“I’m from a place where Goddess Sita ji went under the earth.”
The stall’s white counter is painted in red with the word chai, in Hindi, and is attached to the warehouse like a limpet. But it is the latter that seems to be an extension of Mr Kumar’s shack. Indeed, customers tend to sit inside the warehouse on plastic chairs with their thermocol glasses.
The warehouse’s walls are in dark shades of blue, and look like oceans in coffee-table atlases. A miniature wooden temple is clamped beside the only switchboard; the presiding idol of Durga fills the chai shop with a sense of soothing assurance, as if the faintly smiling goddess were here to dissolve all the problems of daily life.
This afternoon, a couple of young labourers from the adjacent vegetable mandi are having their lunch with a glass of chai, their muffled chatter intensifying the quietness.
Soon afterwards the tea seller’s landlord arrives, and announces a hike in the rent. Mr Kumar joins his hands in a plea and urges him to postpone the hike by a month. It is a moving sight.
The stall opens daily from 6am to 8pm.
Ashok Kumar’s blues