City Hangout – Salim Tea House, Matia Mahal Bazaar
The pleasures of a hyperlocal lounge.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Students of human behavior could do worse than turning up at the Salim Tea House where all manner of men can be scrutinized. This morning two gentlemen sitting beside The Delhi Walla are loudly squabbling about money (of all things) and yet share biscuits from the same platter. While near the wall an itinerant merchant resembling Ali Baba is dipping buttered toast into his soft drink. Um, yes.
I’m myself hunched over a newspaper while contemplating another customer shouting in Kashmiri. He has brought his own roti with him for breakfast, since Salim Tea House, here in the Walled City’s Matia Mahal Bazaar, doesn’t object to “outside eatables”.
Overall there’s this sense of camaraderie. Perfectly acceptable to share a table with an utter stranger without privacy infringements. Once I hang around here an entire day without being forced into small talk.
The tea house, or the more colloquial chaikhana in the local parlance, has the atmosphere of a long-route train coach. If you sit here rooted to one table for a few hours, you end up feeling as if you have travelled through a facinating journey encountering a great many people talk about the various (and sometimes weird) concerns affecting their daily life.
At 12 rupees, the tea is so-so. Best remedy is to simply tell the waiter you want a strong chai instead of the default version which is also too milky for our taste.
And, I suggest saying hello to the gentleman preparing the tea— the quiet Muhammed Alam is always dressed in a black apron suggesting an old-fashioned formality you’d find in those laid-back Henry James novels.
The signboard at the counter is also something to savour: The sort of cool kitschy stuff that contemporary Indian artists are peddling these days at international biennales.
The world of a chaikhana