At the World University Services Health Centre in Delhi's north campus, the rain-filled prelude has begun the evening on a pleasant note (though a runny nose makes me feel otherwise). Mishra tea-stall, which stands on the right of a garden as you enter, starts looking busy — it’s nearing 5.30. Towards the left, in a shed, a bench and an iron charpoy lie in wait beneath a noisy fan. As it nears the designated time, briefcase toting men of all ages start to fill up this cosy space.
This ‘tribe’ is a bunch of Delhi University (DU) employees who’ve been meeting since the last six years. The aim, they say, is to unwind after a day’s work — over cups of Mishraji’s chai and conversations that range from hot debates on current affairs to quiet reflections of their own lives.
The bunch includes Rajesh Mehta, 35, an RTI blogger and the group’s coordinator; SK Sharma, 60, a pathology technician due to retire soon; Liyakat Ali, 58, a gardener who’s won many a DU flower show. The youngest is 25-year-old Anand who works as a sweeper and is affectionately referred by everyone as the ‘joker’. The group calls itself FOSLA (Frustrated One-Sided Lovers Association)—an acronym that Mehta carried from his Calcutta University days but the frustration, he explains, is not related to love. “Guys who didn’t have girlfriends during college and came together to share stories called themselves FOSLA. But we are all frustrated with aspects of today’s daily living.” Fifty-nine-year-old Mishraji acts as the referee when things get ‘heated’. “How long have you been working here,” I enquire of him. “Nearly 30 years,” he says. Your name? “Brahmadev. But you can put me down as BD.”
I ask him what changes he has observed in his DU tenure. “Earlier I sold tea for 25 paise, today it’s four rupees. Things have really changed… And this [he waves his cellphone] has really taken over our lives today.”
Just then piping hot tea arrives, and in unison, the past and present are slurped up in one milky sip. Like Mumbai's ‘cutting chai’, the FOSLAs call theirs the ek bata teen chai.
So what’s the topic of discussion today? “Sach ka saamna?” suggests one member. “Today for money, people are talking against their own family members,” starts one. “That truth machine is like an ECG or what? Logon ke basse hue ghar ujjad jayenge…” adds another, while another explains how families in the US have broken following scandalous revelations. The discussion ebbs and flows, till the focus shifts to Radheyshyam, a rickshaw puller who works part-time at the tea-stall. He’s been fighting a case against an officer who tried to rape his wife. “We try help each other in whatever way we can,” says Mehta turning to Radheyshyam, who turns away to hide his sudden tears.
“Here’s something to stop your sneezing,” says Sharma to me. “I've trained in acupressure,” he explains as he presses a point on my hand. “I stopped taking medicines for my nerves ever since I joined this group. We laugh, discuss issues and go back, feeling lighter.” The rest nod in unison.
Soon it’ll be time to head home to families.
I get up to leave. My sneezing has stopped.