City Hangout – Mayawati’s Tea Stall, Pamposh Enclave
Landmarks in corona.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s a sweltering afternoon. The public life here in south Delhi’s Pamposh Enclave is a tad less dead than it has been over the previous month. More cars and bikes, and even pull carts, are plying on the road. There is a clear sense of the easing of the prolonged lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Even the pavement is waking up, like an Arctic animal from its winter hibernation.
The footpath tea stall that was reduced to a pile of dismantled objects wrapped up in tarpaulin during these long weeks of lockdown is suddenly seeming partly alive. Indeed, the masked woman in salwar kurta sitting on a wooden chowki beside the pile—where the stall used to be—is Mayawati herself, the gentle-mannered friendly woman who has been running the chai shop for 20 years.
“I was coming here every other day for a short while even during the lockdown,” says the lady. Not to secretly run her chai shop—no! But to check after Sheru, the black-and-white stay dog who lives on this stretch of pavement, and has been her friend for long. “I would make sure that he was fine… and I would give him rotis and milk.”
A number of people in the vicinity look after the dog, the lady confirms. It is however still extraordinary that just for Sheru’s sake, Mayawati would walk all the way from home in Dakshinpuri—since the public transport had shut down for the time. She would cover the distance in two hours.
Earlier, back in the time when there was no pandemic and the tea stall was running smoothly, Mayawati would commute daily from home to the stall in bus no. 427.
“Shera is a very seedha saadha bachha (well-behaved child); he doesn’t bark, doesn’t bite.”
Seemingly indifferent to his praise, the dog is sitting silently on the the edge of the road, his head plopped down on the cooling mud.
Mayawati admits she is eagerly looking forward to reopen her chai stall “as soon as other stalls nearby too open up… let’s wait and see.”
The stall supports her family of four children—her husband died some years ago.
“My eldest just gave her 12th board exams,” she says. Following a long pause, she expresses her hope that “all my children will have a good life, but that is a matter of fate.”
Soon afterwards, Sheru climbs on the pavement and walks towards Mayawati. She quietly caresses his head. The dog looks happy, as if reassuring his friend that it would all turn out OK, it has to.