The MetroPlus Team remembers chai wallahs who have brightened their lives

High on tea!

Darbuk (Fourteen thousand feet) We are on our way to Pengong Tso and we are spending the night in a small cabin en route. It is still day break and we decide to go for a walk. From a small stone house set amidst a field of peas, a man emerges. Juley! We greet each other and he invites us home. Gratefully, we get out of the cold and into the warmth, and there with rows of shiny vessels on a shelf behind her, his wife sits brewing gurgur tea (named so, because of the sound of churning tea, butter and salt to make the drink).

Khardung La (Eighteen thousand feet) I am breathless and my head aches. In front of me is a small shrine filled with pictures of various gods. My prayers are answered! A soldier thrusts a glass of hot, sweet tea into my frozen hands. I drink it and immediately feel better. I ask for seconds and I get it. Lifesaver.

Kotagiri A shack looms out of a thick fog that has enveloped the Nilgiris. We stop and drink countless cups of tea as we wait for the visibility to improve. The experience is enhanced with hot samosas, ladled out of a big black kadai. Adengappa has come to the rescue of cold, miserable travellers time and again.

Tea on Cherry Road - Salem On a cold night, rubbing our hands for warmth, we head to the chai wallah near Ambedkar Statue on Cherry Road. He’s attached to a snack stall; there’s a steady supply of fried snacks that you can wash down with tea the smiling Bhaiyaa hands out.

He sits on a platform in front of a vessel of bubbling milk, a mound of washed ginger and elaichi. He smashes the ginger with a stone and pounds the elaichi. Both go into a small saucepan into which he adds some water, milk and tea.

Two minutes later, you have your steaming milky tea redolent of spices.

Tea at Palakkad Palakkad-Coimbatore Road

We halt at a nondescript tea shop at the Palakkad junction. We now believe it has the best chai ever. Settling down on the rickety wooden bench, we reach out for tall glass tumblers filled with frothy and piping hot chaaya. The crowning glory is the melt-in-the mouth hot pazhamporis. We always drive off from here refreshed and happy.

Philosophy and tea - Hyderabad

During winters, the hot tea and spicy bread omelette was our only salvation. The bread-omelette anna was a godsend to the students of English and Foreign Languages University. We stayed awake just to savour the hot cuppa. Braving the chilly nights, we walked to the tea point near the campus entrance and plonked down on cold chairs. Sleepy Ph.D scholars trooped in by midnight from the library with fat books. The campus leaders would stride in, debating political strategies. Derrida, Foucault, Chiranjeevi, evil wardens and campus dogs… conversations that added the masala to our chai meet. Even now, I can remember the whiff of tea leaves and cinnamon.

Pazhampori and pulling tea - Variety Hall Road

First, the pazhampori that makes your knees go weak, and then the tea at the corner tea shop off the bustling road. The bajji is crunchy and there’s nothing to beat the joy of your teeth encountering the squishy, sweet fruit inside. Eat some spicy mixture to clean your palate, and then, call for tea. An expert ‘pulls tea’ for you. It is light on milk, heavy on flavour and comes topped with golden froth. No one can stop at just one.

A trek and some tea - Chinnar Checkpost

After an exhausting trek to the Thoovanam waterfall, we collapse on the inviting benches at a mobile tea stall run by a friendly Mylaathaal paati. A tangy lemon tea with lots of sugar appears out of nowhere. The treat does not end there. She asks us to wait for 10 minutes, and soon we find ourselves feasting on just-boiled maravallikizhangu seasoned with mustard, small onion, grated coconut and love. Then comes even more smoky tea. Memories of the tea and the trek linger on.

Mood enchancers - Nehru Stadium

Lemon tea. In thick, transparent glasses. The colour is a beautiful burgundy and the fresh lemon squeezed into it along with generous helpings of sugar, makes us shut our eyes and go ohhhhh…! We gift ourselves with this tea when the work gets too much and we think we earned a break. We have marched back from Aroma Bakery with shoulders thrown back and ready for battle.

Post-Pandian

Despite a sleek machine that dispenses unlimited coffee and tea, we miss Pandian. Journalists in this office have rushed back from assignments to make it in time for the smiling chai wallah who came on a moped. He knew each one’s taste and would dash up and down the stairs carrying tea with sugar, without sugar, less sugar…

Listless writers woke up and keyboards clattered out stories after his tea.