Remains of a derelict mansion with a beautiful door overlook a lively crowd of locals—who are chattering, cursing and laughing with each other.
Remains of a derelict mansion with a beautiful door overlook a lively crowd of locals—who are chattering, cursing and laughing with each other.

Delhiwale: Razia Sultan’s local chai stall

  • A pavement establishment rich in character.
By Mayank Austen Soofi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 06:08 AM IST

A rickey table. A rickety bench. A kettle and a boiling pan. Rusks and biscuits stacked up in a small room behind.

An old doorway across the lane. A historic tomb just around the turning.

And tea trays, or chhikas, hanging on the wall—looking a bit like 3-D hashtags.

This is Old Delhi’s most atmospheric chai stall, one wants to declare, though that would be unfair to other equally lovely chai shacks, not just in the historic Walled City but across the National Capital Region.

And yet, it can safely be said that you ought to drop by this chai establishment. Even though it seems very improvised, as if it had been rustled out hurriedly just this morning, which actually isn’t far off the mark. In a part of the city where everything seems aged, it is just two years old. “Earlier my stall was in a different place,” says owner Abdul Majid, his face dappled with tranquillity. This morning it’s uncomfortably warm and the friendly man is cooking up another round of his chai, with a few customers sitting about him—one is perched on a scooter, some are staring meditatively towards the chipped kettle, and others are distracted by their mobile phones.

What they all ought to do, really, is just look about themselves, and inhale the place’s intensely beautiful ambiance. Remains of a derelict mansion with a beautiful door overlook a lively crowd of locals—who are chattering, cursing and laughing with each other. A multitude of cats appear at regular intervals, almost instantly disappearing into the alley’s hidden corners and holes. Now a row of labourers go past the chai shop, carrying huge sacks of cement on their back.

The stall is tucked atop the hill of Bulbuli Khana neighbourhood and in fact, a few steps ahead, the alley ends into the grave of Razia Sultan, the only woman ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. The shop’s most beautiful aspect is undoubtedly the blue colour of the wall, on which the aforementioned chhikas are hung. It’s a shade so ethereal, so fragile that you fear a man’s raised voice or too bright a daylight might erase it forever. A green tarpaulin hangs over the stall for shade. The establishment stands right under an old building, which, a passerby says, is about 200 years old.

Despite its makeshift character and its young age, the tea stall appears to have taken roots firmly into the rhythms of this neighbourhood. One would imagine that chai has always been on the boil on this spot. But at night, not long after 9, the stall closes. All you then see is the bare table, with the street corner looking like as if Abdul Majid’s chai stall never existed.

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