City Hangout – Vasudev’s Tea Stall, Hauz Khas Village
Chai with kindness.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The night is cold. Vasudev has rustled out a small fire from wooden twigs he picked up from the pavement. Dressed in cap and woollen overcoat, he is fortifying himself with a glass of steaming ginger chai. He is alone in his tea stall, which lies on the roadside, midway between Hauz Khas village and Aurobindo Market in south Delhi.
The establishment is very modest but very comfortable. A plank of cement laid across two chunks of concrete serves as a seat for customers. The boundary wall on the back is crowded with idols of many gods, giving the stall a homely feel, as if this open space were part of a cosy god-loving household. And even in the dark, you can sense the shadows of the many dogs milling about—they all are strays, but they feel loved here.
Pointing each of the shadows one by one, Vasudev says, “That’s Cheeku, Tiger, Meena—she is a lady, and Sheru.” Vasudev looks after their well-being. “Each day I buy one litre of milk, four packets of bread and a few packets of ‘biskuts’ for them,” he says in a flat tone, implying that these expenses are facts of life and thus non-negotiable.
A long-time resident of Hauz Khas village, Vasudev, 62 and a native of Madhubani in Bihar, founded his stall 35 years ago. This is like a fraction of a second compared to the centuries-old monuments scattered across this area. But compared to the highly unstable nightlife scene of the village, Vasudev’s stall is an ancestor to most of cafes and restaurants.
He lives with his two sons, whom he raised as a single parent. “My wife, Seema Devi, died of a heart attack 25 years ago,” he says, drinking down the last dregs of chai from his glass.
Now Vasudev gets up, quietly fills up a large bowl with milk and bread, and walks towards one of the dogs sitting under a tree. “It’s his dinner time.” After serving the other strays their dinner, Vasudev will close the stall and walk home. His sons, back from work, will be waiting for him with freshly cooked dal chawal. His stall is open daily from 6am to 10pm.