City Food – Jaiveer Singh’s Tea and Bahikhata, Jacobpura
The world of a chai place.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
That book is back.
One of the most noteworthy chai stalls in the entire Delhi region is in Gurgaon. Not because of its super-cool chai. Plenty of addas to get that. This one is special for its bhaikata, or account book. The object’s physical appearance alone is intensely evocative of a writer’s journal (think Virginia Woolf’s diary).
Jaiveer Singh’s bahikhata contains the spirit of his open-air establishment. Tucked by the glass walls of a Roshanpura showroom, this is where traders gossip about the dhanda. Here, long simmering pangas between folks are allowed to blow off steam, amiably. And all this while, Jaiveer Singh conducts his day-long orchestra with pots, pans, chai patti and adrak. Plus, he unfailingly jots down credits on his bahikhata each time he completes an order for his regulars.
The bewitching book lies next to the little okhal-musal (mortal-and-pestle) used for crushing adrak. The pages are sewed along the spine, the way Emily Dickinson would stitch her handwritten poems into booklets. Scrawled in blue ink, the bahikhata is filled with the names of stall’s customers—Deepak, Vivek, Nishant, Om Vachan, Suresh, Akash, Ravi, Gaurav. Pavan, Shani, and so many others. They are shopkeepers, labourers, rickshaw pullers, vegetable sellers and courier delivery men. (The account book must also include apple seller Kamlesh, stationed nearby, who is currently having Jaiveer Singh’s chai.)
During the pandemic-triggered lockdowns, the stall remained shut. As it reopened with the rest of the world, the business refused to pick up. A year ago, the stall was (barely) functioning with no sign of the bahikhata. “Because hardly anyone was coming to my stall.” Gradually, the market regained its bustle. The bahikhata came back a few months back. This afternoon, Jaiveer Singh just returned after delivering many glasses of chai to surrounding shops. Two regulars—safai karamchari Ms Lakshmi and Ms Mukesh—are having a chai break on the stall’s bench.
Now the chai man grants permission to flip through his diary. The opening page shows portraits of Lakshmi, Ganesh and Saraswati. The next page invokes the names of gods and goddesses. The page afterwards is listed with essential mobile phone numbers—of the gas walla, the chai patti supplier, the mathri walla, and of “ghar.”
The stall opens daily from 8am to 6pm, Sunday is closed.