City Hangout – Ram Vilas’s Chai Shop, Civil Lines, Gurgaon
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some creatures survive a season’s extremity by escaping its soul-sucking fangs. Like the opportunistic Siberian cranes who dump their icy winter-time Siberia for the sunnier climes of our India.
And you can flee the city’s blistering summer by fleeing into Ram Vilas’s chai shack. This little refuge is nestled in a corner of Gurgaon’s Civil Lines in the National Capital Region. Attached to the garden fence of Hotel DDR Residency, the establishment is rustled out of a covered cart and a small wooden “okha.” A wooden slab plied upon a crude stack of bare bricks is placed precariously between these two contraptions. And it is by sitting upon this makeshift bench that you find respite from the merciless May and June heat.
This bleak afternoon a warm breeze is lightly blowing by the tea shop. The stall’s entire ambiance is steeped in a comforting darkness, which feels more precious as you watch the day’s white heat ominously lurking outside the stall. The sunlight, in fact, is so unforgiving bright that it hurts the eyes. Mr Vilas founded the stall two years back. “I was a daily-wage labourer… it was so much hard work and I was getting older.”
He is 58.
Soon a construction labourer arrives and pleads for a cup of chai on “udhaari” (credit). Apparently he already owes a great deal to the shop owner. A friendly tussle follows after which the man goes away happily with a glass of tea and a biscuit.
The stall, however, is more than the sum of its delicious tea and its sheltering shade. It contains the subdued rhythms of a world permeated with the essence of the lives of heat-stricken labourers; these regular customers casually interact with each other by the stall, discussing life and work, pleasures and hardships.
There is no beating around the bush though; Mr Vilas’s establishment has such a ramshackle character that the city perhaps won’t miss its absence if it were to disappear tomorrow. But this utmost fragility adds to its poignant beauty. Indeed, it is destinations like this chai shop that give our hard-edged cities their soft consoling spots. The stall opens 8am to 5pm daily.
A small tea shop as an escape from the season’s cruel heat