City Food – Chai ki Dukan Tea Stall, Mohalla Qabristan
Museum of tea kettles.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
So many tea kettles in such a tiny shack. One is stuck between a mug and a jar. Another one perched by the gas range. And then there is this tea kettle hanging in the far corner, that looks like it hasn’t been touched for ages, trapped in the silken cobweb that has formed about it. The sight is most fragile.
The place, indeed, is like a museum of chai kettles.
Simply called Chai ki Dukan, Muhammed Waseem’s tea shack in Old Delhi’s Mohalla Qabristan neighbourhood exists like an unconscious work of art. Usually, tea stalls look ordinary in the first impression, revealing their beauty gradually on a more attentive examination. But this place grabs all the attention at first glance, and the more time you spend gazing upon it, the more bewitching it gets.
The stall is located in a narrow alley. One of its two doors is made of disjointed wooden bars, and is painted with a shade of light-green so delicate that you fear the sun’s first touch might be too much for it to survive. This morning, a curtain-like plastic canvas is hanging from it, which is of a green shade too. It is covered with dust, and somehow these folds and shabbiness give a texture of agedness to the establishment, which was founded about 20 years ago. The customers often sit on the upholstered bench outside on the lane. Its leather cover is torn, revealing the foam underneath. The bench’s overused status evokes all the unseen patrons who must have sat upon it over the course of years. Mr Waseem likes to sit on the bench too, during his idle moments, quietly watching the street bustle.
Though visitors are not expected to step inside, as there is only enough room for the owner to make tea, you ought to ask permission to enter. Not only you’ll see all the tea kettles, including the one with the cobweb, but there’s also a wiry basket to keep eggs, and a large wall clock, its hands frozen at 2.43. The daylight shoots in through a narrow opening, which turns the whole setting into one of those renaissance-era, lightly-glowing paintings.
The shop opens daily from 7 am to 10 pm, and the chai is delicious. But that’s beside the point.
The dream world of chai