City Food – Tea Places, Gurugram
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A longtime chai place in Gurugram has been lying shut for 20 days. Showing his carefully preserved original copy of the municipal corporation’s “Certificate of Vending,” the stall owner attributes the reason to ongoing repair work in the area. “What if I’m not allowed to re-open after it is over… such things happen to small saaf-suthra businesses like mine,” he says in an anxious tone.
May the stall live long. Its chai is invigorating, and over the years, has created a rich ecosystem of hyperlocalism. Here are four tea destinations in the Millennium City. One of these is the one men- tioned above.
The chai is delicious, refreshing and infused with the unlikely aroma of masala noodles (also served). Mama Tea Stall in Sector 14 teems with the office crowd. The owner has a big heart—during the lockdowns, he fed the area’s street dogs. At his busy workstation, the man calmly deals with the hurry-hurry customers, simultaneously brewing-boiling chai, cooking two-minute noodles, chopping green chilies (for noodles), and grinding ginger (for tea). It all started with Bihar’s Devender Yadav opening the stall in 2007. His sister’s son, Raju, who operated another stall nearby, would address his uncle as mama, and as his new chai stall became popular, Devender became popular as mama.
This chai stall in Roshanpura is special for its account book. Jaiveer Singh’s bahikhata contains the spirit of his open-air establishment. The book lies next to the little okhal-musal (mortal-and-pestle) used to crush ginger. The pages are sewed along the spine, the way Emily Dickinson would stitch her poems into booklets. Scrawled in blue ink, the bahikhata is filled with the names of daily customers—they are shopkeepers, labourers, rickshaw pullers, vegetable sellers and courier delivery men. It is virtually a bazar directory.
A migrant from Gorakhpur, Shesh Nath started his relationship with the Millennium City by launching his chai “khoka” a decade ago on New Railway Road. The most picturesque thing is the stall’s cheeka, the wiry metallic stand for chai cups—it looks like a doodle. The customers sit on a long bench, quietly looking at the pedestrians on the roadside and the speeding cars on the road.
This decade-old tea stall in Sector 12 is distinguished for its friendly administrators—Arjun Gupta and wife, Poonam. The middle-aged couple refer to each other as “tumhare uncle” and “tumhari aunty.” Both humour their patrons with timepass gupshup. She says, “Sometimes we fight and then we stop speaking to each other.” He says, “These fights last for a short time and we again become dost.”