A Cup of Tea and Nizamuddin

dinesh wagle sipping tea
I am seen sipping tea in this photo taken in April 2005 in the tea shop near Kantipur office in Tinkune, Kathmandu.

06/06: A version of this entry is published in today’s TKP. Here is the PDF version.

Nostalgia: One of the many things that I miss about my Kathmandu life in Delhi is the tea-shop environment. Having cups of tea and talking whole lot of things in between them was part of the life there, particularly during office hours which sometime would go up to 11 pm from say 10 am. The tea sessions were not pre-planned but spontaneous. ‘Chai wai?’ one of us (either Deepak Adhikari, a journalist with Kantipur, or me) would ask over the IM and then in about 5 minutes we were down on the street, at the back of the office in Tinkune, ordering tea at the chiya pasal. By the time chiya came, we were already engaged in some topics that ranged from, but definitely not limited to, the American politics to Pulitzers to creative writings to some obscure columns in some obscure foreign publications. During the lengthy American election process we named our tea-sessions the Caucuses.


deepak adhikari sipping tea
Deepak Adhikari, with three cups of tea, in the photo taken same day

I consider myself a great tea-drinker. At one sitting which might last up to half an hour I could go for as many as three cups of tea. As the guff (a Nepali word for chitchat) started getting more intense with some heated and interesting arguments, another round of tea would be ordered almost automatically, most of the time as a passing thought, without even giving much thought to the tea. As if tea was only a bahana for our talks that were fruitful from various perspectives. Tea would work as a supporting ingredient in our guff.

ujjwal acharya with puff
And the third cup is for Ujjwal Acharya.

It seemed as if the professional life was impossible to live without at least a few cups of tea a day in the teashop just outside the office. Such was the importance of tea in our daily life that once Deepak wrote a full blog entry about the tea and the boy who used to serve us the tea in that particular chiya pasal. That was in late 2005. Countless cups of tea were consumed as we held countless sessions of guffs in the chiya pasals around our office since then. But the desire to drink tea and be engaged in guff is not satisfied yet. [Here is the post that Deepak wrote: Our Cups of Tea. Today, after almost four years, when I read that entry with a grin, I felt like it was written yesterday.]

We needed no more than two stools to seat and, if available, a third one to put our cups was always welcome.

A roadside tea-stall near Nizamuddin Dargah

Reality: Here I am in New Delhi’s Jangpura Extension, where I work and live on the third-floor apartment of House No. B19. There are no tea-shops like those in Tinkune here. One dhaba at the right corner of the block makes MoMo and little bit of tea but there’s no “environment”. No place to seat, no stools. More importantly, there is no tea-partner. A cup of tea without some guff (chitchat) is never enjoyed.

So one day I asked Satish Bhaiya, 56-year-old son of my landlord Uncle Mehra, about the tea-shop atmosphere similar to that available in Tinkune.

I know about the magical tea that they serve in a busy chiya pasal in front of Jama Mosque in Old Delhi. But that’s too far to go in the evenings. [A separate entry will be posted on that chai (Hindi for tea)]

As we were roaming around Nizamuddin Dargah one evening, I kind of found the chiya-pasal I was looking for. On the side of a busy street leading to the dargah (mausoleum) stands a makeshift tea-stall that serves packet-tea and milk in paper cups. We ‘discovered’ that after having a terribly bad malai-chai in a nearby hotel. The best thing about this tea-stall is that it serves good tea and provides a bench to seat so that I can watch the moving crowd of Muslim devotees, cycle-rickshaw wallahs, fruit juice vendors, beggars and other curious passersby while sipping tea. There is some atmosphere. On the opposite side of the tea-stall, I can see, some busy cooks roasting mutton and chicken. A fan that is moving inside a hotel room in which, Satish and I guess, pilgrims from Africa are residing. Apart from occasional gora faces of curious western tourists, the area is filled with African and Arab Muslims who come to see the dargah of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. The market is lively, busy and it’s quite a task to get unnoticed by the beggars. They start following you until you give either of the two things: a good scold or money. As I am strictly against giving money to beggars and don’t feel scolding is a good way of scaring them, I mostly try to ignore then and, if they continue running after me, give an irritating look. I find it strange that no beggar comes closer to Satish. Perhaps I should change my dress. The place is good for Muslim food. I often buy biryani here. A famous restaurant Karim’s is nearby.

dinesh wagle in nizamuddin
Closeup: in front of a tea stall in Nizamuddin

The neighborhood is distinctly different from other near-by residential areas. As opposed to wide roads and planned settlements like Nizamuddin East or Jangpura Extension, this area, particularly the one surrounding the dargah, has dark, narrow allies and the houses that remind me of Kathmandu’s Ason or Banaras. I have walked inside the neighborhood couple of times and what is seen is completely a different world that what is visible in other parts of Delhi. This part is just like Old Delhi.

dinesh wagle with a cuppa in nizamuddin

Once I went to see the dargah and found that males from all religions are allowed inside but Muslim women are barred from entering.

That is not of my concern. Mine is limited to the tea. That is why I have been frequenting to the place almost every evening in the past several days for a cup (or sometime two) of chiya.