City Food – The Super-Romantic Tea Kettle, Om Shanti Chai Stall, Gurgaon
A chai monument.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Tea kettles are objects of beauty, especially when they become chipped and worn-out after years of daily use. Then they look as romantic as the tattered copy of a much-annotated poetry anthology passed down the generations like a family heirloom.
One of the most beautiful of such kettles belongs to tea stall owner Om Prakash. “It’s 30 years old,” says the soft spoken man who is a decade older than his kettle. Mr Prakash has a charming temperament and has a tendency to talk in English to his regular customers even if they might not understand the language, such as construction labourer Anand who has just stepped inside Om Shanti tea stall here in Gurgaon’s Old DLF Colony for a kulhar of tea.
The unusually large aluminum kettle isn’t only beautiful for its sooty black weather-beaten state but also because of the sentiments attached to it. “Each time I look at the ketli, I forget that papa is no longer alive… as if he is around somewhere.”
Mr Prakash’s father, Moolchand, who founded the stall 40 years ago, had bought the kettle from Sadar Bazar. “When I think of my boyhood, all I see is papa and his kettle …. papa is gone but his kettle remains.”
The kettle, however, has never been used to directly make tea. “Papa always boiled the water in it and used that water for the chai …. I do the same thing.”
Now a customer walks in. Turning towards the kettle, he mutters to his friend, “My mood cheers up on seeing this kaali-kaali (black) ketli.”
Mr Prakash says he would never throw away the kettle even if it shatters into pieces. “It contains papa’s memories.”
The tea man opens his stall everyday at 5 am. He offers the day’s first cup of chai symbolically to the kettle and the bhatti (earthen stove) on which it has aged all these years. The chai is invigorating with something of the essence of the smoky kettle in its flavour.
The kettle as his father’s memory
This is a marvellous story. It is all India rolled up into a tiny tea kettle. Sheer poetry.
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