City Hangout – Arpit Kakar’s Staircase Tea, Daryaganj
An extraordinary chai stall.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Arpit Kakar always has trouble getting home. Ever since he set up a tea stall by filling up his staircase with everything from boxes of tea leaves to a hot plate.
“I lost my job so decided to set up my own tea stall back in July,” says Mr Kakar, flashing his dazzling smile laced with too much kindness and hospitality. This unnamed stall here on a central Delhi pavement is just across the road from Daryaganj police station and caters to a good number of surrounding shopkeepers.
The stall is extraordinary to look at—just where else would you come across a chai place rustled out of a flight of steep but narrow staircase? It is so cramped that the tea man can’t even sit down. But, then, customers keep Mr Kakar busy. This evening the nearby watch repair shop needs four cups of his tea right away, please, even as a passerby asks for chai: with Mr Kakar chatting with him in perfect English.
“I was working as a data entry operator in a government hospital but then the contract ended and the (coronavirus-triggered) lockdown started,” explains Mr Kakar, in his 20s. “No way I could find a new job.” He credits the idea of starting the stall to “my loving mom, Anshu Kakar.” His father, who was bedridden for 20 years, died last month.
Every few minutes Mr Kakar needs to tour the lane with his thermos, personally serving piping hot chai in each of the shops he’s made arrangements with. “I’m a one-man army,” he says, laughing. But the true pleasure of his ginger-flavoured tea is secured by drinking it right in front of his stall. Every little inch of the staircase has been converted to cater to stall requirements: this extreme utilisation of all the possible free spots of space is evocative of cramped cities like Mumbai.
Pursuing his grad studies through correspondence, Mr Kakar opens the shop every day around 9:30 am to—“whenever I run out of milk!” He’ll then head up the stairs to the apartment shared with his mother and Madhu bua (aunt), and doggie, Boxer.
Because the staircase is more than just a fire exit