City Hangout – Blue Chai, Kale Tea Stall
The street of the tailor’s needle.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Winter in, blue out. Neela aasman kho gaya—the blue sky is lost. Soon the air above Delhi will be all grey, dusty, smoggy, cold. Indeed, in our polluted city, every bit of blue colour can be experienced as a testament to what we do not have most of the year. Searching for distinguished shades of blue then becomes a homage to our expired blue sky.
The color certainly isn’t elusive; the capital’s road signs share a dark blue background. But it is harder to find places where the blue gets to be the dominant character. No, it cannot be Humayun Tomb’s gracious Neela Gumbad monument, its neela is too pale. Yes, a blue wall in Gurugram’s Roshanpura is also pale but its paleness has a magical fragility. One fears it couldn’t possibly survive another heat wave or monsoon, and yet this delicate blue has been here for years, marinating with the elements in this same degree of fragility.
In Old Delhi, at the sufi shrine of Sheikh Kalimullah, across the road from Red Fort, a courtyard wall depicts a most exquisite blue, rendered in multifarious gradations of decreasing luminosity—you have to personally see it to believe in its beauty. A short walk away, at Salman Chicken Point in Matia Mahal, the lower half of the eatery’s walls also have a notable blue.
The most striking blue used to be at the unassuming Alam Tea Stall in the Walled City’s Kucha Chalan. The paint had peeled off the walls here and there, revealing a green coating of yesteryears, which made the flaking blue look even more intense. The place shut down some years back.
But citizens, fret not. That striking blue hath risen again. Two weeks ago, the shade that existed at Alam suddenly surfaced in another chai destination in the Walled City. Kaley Tea Stall in Turkman Gate used to have walls of indecipherable color—was it pink or grey or yellow or rusty red? Whatever, the old colour had faded so unimaginatively that it had ended up as anonymous as a nearby grave. But now Kaley’s walls have been transformed into a deep tone of blue. The backrest of chaikhana’s benches were already of that colour. “Our owner decided to have this neela,” says attendant Ghulam Rasool, buttering the buns at the counter.
Kaley looks small and unremarkable from the street; it is actually a playful jumble of three chambers. This afternoon the place is packed, obliging a customer to finish off his bread-omelette while standing by the counter. Within minutes, one of the chambers gets emptied. The blue there is now commanding the whole place to itself. The brown chai looks off-colour. See photo.