A wayside teashop in the capital city is run by workers for workers

Tea still costs Rs.5 at this wayside teashop near the District Court in Vanchiyoor despite the soaring prices of cooking gas, milk, and sugar. There is a reason; the owners, a team of four head load workers of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), know a “labourer’s struggle to cull out Rs.5 from his meagre income for that one cup of tea.”

Clad in the trade union’s trademark blue shirt, Surendran and his three friends take turns to manage the shop when they are not working as labourers.

Wait for work

“There was a time when all we did was to wait for work or sleep. We did not get any work and our families were struggling. But, we did not want to take ‘nokkukooli’,” said Surendran. They decided on self-employment. The makeshift shop was set up with a meagre amount collected from friends and family.


A year-and-a-half later, Surendran has become an ‘expert,’ pouring tea from a glass held high above his head to another glass held way below, with a splosh, and without spilling a drop.

Babu, a co-owner, specialises in fried delicacies, a skill he learned during his stint with a catering service.

The do-gooders are feeling the pinch, though. “If prices continue to go up, we do not know how long we can be in the business without increasing the rates,” says Babu.

The group, however, prefers “serving a cup of tea and being paid for it than following unethical labour practices and demanding money.”