City Hangout – Sharma Tea Stall, Satyam Plaza, Gurgaon
The perfect ‘café’.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You’ll be surprised to know that many people prefer coffee shops with noisy customers and deafening music so that they don’t have to be obliged into holding a demanding conversation with friends.
Our city is full of such cafés.
Then there are some people who are always trying to find places where one can enjoy a sustained tête-à-tête with a friend, or even with one’s own self. Our city, alas, is woefully short of such cafés.
But there’s a café with a quiet ambiance that is also heartwarmingly modest. It isn’t even strictly a café for it serves no coffee.
But Sharma Tea Stall offers a kind of reflective space that links it to those legendary cafés where profound intellectual ideas germinated out of great friendships, such as Paris’s Les Deux Magots, famous for being the rendezvous point of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir. To be sure, Sharma’s Tea Stall is light years away from the world of Parisian cafés.
It is a barely-furnished room in Satyam Plaza, a ramshackle market building in Gurgaon’s Civil Lines. There’s not even a table, and the single bench has been rustled out of wooden crates. The counter has biscuit jars, a small mortar pestle to crush ginger and cardamom, and a chipped kettle. The shelf is empty save for a few packets of chips and namkeen. The blue paint is peeling off the walls.
And yet there’s something grand about Sharma’s. Perhaps it is its utter quietness. Your stressed nerves calm down the moment you step into its musty interiors.
The place feels disconnected from the world in a most pleasant way. If, say, you happen to be dwelling on your own life, it feels like somebody else’s life—inside the tea shop at least. This serenity could not be just because Sharma’s is tucked in a quiet corner of the building. Surely Mr Sharma (full name: Ravi Kumar Sharma) too has a part in it.
Unfailingly courteous, he seems to be one of those amiable souls you sometimes come across in genteel resort towns situated far from the rudeness of big cities. “Oh, this is nothing but just a tea stall,” he says, blushing, his black-rimmed glasses perched under his large forehead.
Mr Sharma runs the 18-year-old establishment alone, himself delivering the chai in the shops spread across the market complex. Now you spot him in this corridor, now in that gallery, now he is back in the shop, making yet another round of chai.
This afternoon, some of the shop’s regulars are passionately discussing the approaching winter. One guy is talking of the building’s cleaning woman whose mother passed away yesterday.
Mr Sharma is responding to each customer, giving nice, non-committal answers, making sure no one feels ignored. He serves chai in paper glass but produces ceramic cups on request.
Next time at Sharma’s