City Hangout – Peepal Tree & Sant Lal’s Tea Stall, East of Kailash Enclave
Landmarks in corona.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The lockdown has eased. One has to get used to stepping out of the house carefully (gloves and mask) and to get acquainted again with the city’s little nooks and corners, that make up its soul. One such place is a peepal tree near south Delhi’s East of Kailash Enclave, just opposite the new multi-storey police station.
The area around the gigantic tree feels like a village square, and it’s easy to imagine its social life unfold throughout the day, with people sitting and gossiping in its shade. A tiny temple is scooped into the peepal’s trunk. The idols of Lords Ganesh and Hanuman are sitting snugly, facing the road that is yet to recover its former trafic.
The ground beneath the tree is like a coarsely woven carpet made of tree leaves’ shadows. The mild afternoon breeze is making the shadows flutter, giving a feeling of steady motion, like a softly flowing stream.
This is just one aspect of the place.
The trunk on the other side has a different kind of shrine. It’s a chai stall and… it’s open. “We re-started just two days ago,” says owner Sant Lal. His kindness can be felt in the tone of his voice—something harder to work out from his masked face (obviously).
The establishment has absolutely no frills—just a laminated menu hanging from a branch and a few stoves and kettles. The makeshift character belies the stall’s durability. It has been here since 1985. “I established it after arriving from my village in Jaunpur (UP).”
Sitting on a low matted trunk behind his tea stove, Mr Lal wonders if things will get back the way they were before the coronavirus altered the very texture of life.
He confesses being anxious about the future, as he trys to reclaim the old days. His masked cooks are making samosas. One is filling the samosa pastry with spiced aloo mash, while the other is deep frying the samosas in the karahi. A few masked customers are standing about the stall, standing apart from each other.
Everything looks like the pre-corona days, except of course for the masked faces. And for the fact that hand sanitiser bottles are prominently placed on a table for customers. There are also white circles drawn about the tree, for customers to obey the precepts of physical distancing.
And yet there is something out of the ordinary about this tree refuge. Of course, it’s the temple idols in the little temple—they are the only faces that aren’t masked.
The stall opens daily from 7 am to 7 pm. Tea is good and samosas delicious.
Soul of a tree