By Nivedita Singh:
“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy tea
and that’s kind of the same thing”
A line best suited for Lucknowites. The city’s love for tea is one of a kind. Some prefer a solo cup while others like the steaming drink with samosas, bun-makkhan or bread pakoda. You can easily find a variety of delicacies to accompany your cup of tea.
Being an intellectually and politically active city, Lucknow makes much of discussions and one can almost always find tea stalls overflowing with people hunched up with tiny tumblers of this thick, hot and slightly over-sweetened concoction across the city. All you have to do is look. There’s something on offer for everyone – be it the chai ka thela to normal chai ki dukan to its posh and slightly elite counterpart, tea bars, and cafés.
Shivam Joshi, a tea shop worker of Lucknow University’s LUMBA canteen said “there is no estimate of how many cups of tea we might be making in a day. Every morning we bring 60 liters of milk but it lasts for a couple hours only. Then we have to order more depending on the requirement. Students come here, sit and talk for hours drinking chai pe chai (tea after tea). A majority of the students prefer samosas for snacks. In fact, I myself drink 10-15 cups of tea every day.”
Ajay Singh, a university student, adds matter-of-factly, “We usually have small breaks between classes and for that tea is the best companion. It’s economical as well and we don’t feel hungry after drinking tea.”
Jagjeet Singh Arora is a chai thela owner near Mayo Medical Centre behind Kendriya Vidyalaya in Gomti Nagar. He has been doing business in the area for the past 13 years supplying the magic drink to the hospital, reviving patients with much love. Hanging around his stall for some time introduces a unique rhythm to one’s day. Besides the constant supply being sent to the hospital, this tea stall has quite a few regulars. Of them Puneet Rawat, a middle-aged man, who dutifully makes his way to Aroraji’s stall after a morning walk with his friends, says, “it gives a refreshing start to my day. The quality of talks improves with tea, and this is the best place to spend hours with those who like to chat away.”
Tea in Lucknow is not just a beverage one consumes in a rush before they make way to attend more pressing agendas during the day. Tea, here, is the agenda. Plans, ambitions, dreams all come together in a whirlwind at the mere mention of this creamy liquid. No one knows this better than Govind, Gopal and Madhav, the three jobless brothers who set up the now famous Graduate Chaiwala thela, outside Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. When they could not get a decent job to run their house despite holding degrees, they came up with this small business plan that fit in perfectly with their budget.
Of course, for a city that spends so much time musing, sipping, contradicting and sharing, art and culture can’t stay much far behind. The Sharma Tea Stall is a ‘world famous’ tea shop of Lucknow. It was started by the late Om Prakesh Sharma and is now run by his sons, Deepak, and Gopal. The shop has developed into one of Lucknow’s heritage arcs. The shop organizes various social events and get-togethers. Jashn-e-itwar is one such meet where the alumni of St. Francis School meet up. It’s a favorite destination for celebrities as well. Himanshu Sharma, script writer of Tanu Weds Manu, its sequel, and Ranjhanaa, is a regular customer of the shop and can be seen sipping tea at the venue every time he is in town.
The tea lovers of Lucknow are of all age groups. College-going youngsters, middle-aged bhaiyyas and old uncles. It’s one of the few cities where youngsters even go for tea dates. So if you are planning to visit Lucknow, make sure tea is your central agenda. For the city is incomplete without this beloved beverage.