At 90, Narayanan Nair still mixes tea with same verve as in 1947

Narayanan Nair mixing tea at his traditional tea shop at Painkulam.

Narayanan Nair mixing tea at his traditional tea shop at Painkulam. | Photo Credit: PRASAD K. SHORANUR

At 90, Madathil Veettil Narayanan Nair still mixes tea with the same verve and finesse as he had as a young lad when India achieved Independence in 1947. He has been running a traditional tea shop for the past 75 years on the banks of the Bharathapuzha at Painkulam, near Shoranur.

Mr. Nair says he forgot to marry because of his passion for mixing tea. He drinks about two dozen half cups of tea every day. Even at 90, he runs the shop mainly for him to drink tea. “I serve tea and snacks to whoever comes to my shop. Even if none comes, I will run it because I want to drink tea,” said Mr. Nair with a chuckle.

A lot of local people in and around Painkulam are addicted to Mr. Nair’s tea. He wakes up at 4 a.m., opens the soot-smeared shop before sunrise, and offers hot, zesty tea made of his own cow’s milk.

No fixed cost

Living with his sister Madhavikutty, Mr. Nair gets the help of her children in making eatables like idli, dosa, puttu and pakoda. Although a tea costs ₹10 at most places in Kerala, Mr. Nair does not impose any fixed charge. “I accept whatever people give. It can be anything between ₹5 and ₹10,” he said.

Started as an aide at his uncle Achuthan Nair’s tea shop when he was a little boy, Mr. Nair ran his own shop at neighbouring places like Thozhupadam and Vazhalikkavu before settling with the current shop next to his house on the Canal Road in 1995. “I had brisk business when I ran the shop at Vazhalikkavu for about 25 years. But I had to close it when I was broke,” he laughed.

Sipping a tea with gusto, and holding a digital camera in one hand pointed to him, photojournalist Prasad K. Shoranur wondered at the immaculate discipline of Mr. Nair. “He is amazingly punctual at 90. We need to show more empathy to such people. A nonagenarian bachelor who is still active deserves not just a pat, but more care as well,” said Mr. Prasad.

He mixes tea in the traditional way and serves in the traditional eight ounce glass tumbler. He still uses firewood, which he says would give the classy taste of tea. “I cannot live without drinking tea. And I want to run this shop until I die,” he said. There was a rare glow of determination in his eyes.


Mr. Nair remembers selling tea and snacks for half an anna (equivalent to three paise). Currency and its value have changed over the decades, but not the quality of the tea that Mr. Nair mixes. “My tea has not changed at all. It is still strong and earthy,” he chuckled.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2022 7:36:50 pm |