TAMIL NADU

No tea breaks in this village

Parvathi Menon

HARLAPUR

For the legion of journalists, in determined pursuit after candidates in the scorching heat of this election season, the mandatory first stop in any village is the tea shop. Here, in the convivial company of the tea shop owner and sundry other regulars and bystanders, information and gossip is traded over a glass of sweet and energy-giving chai.

But step into Harlapur village in the Mundargi assembly constituency in Gadag district in Karnataka, and your search for the friendly tea shop will be in vain. According to a group of Harlapur residents, their village has not had a tea shop for the last century and, as traditions die hard, is unlikely to have one in the foreseeable future.

"It's a good thing," says grey-bearded Mahbub Sahib, an agricultural worker. "People like me whose daily wage is twenty rupees would end up spending five to six rupees every day on tea. After all, you also have to stand your friends when you buy yourself a glass. And then you hang around and talk and don't go to work."

A village that collectively decided to kick a bad habit a century ago? The mystery of the missing tea-shop remains unanswered until Shaukat Ali, another resident, unravels the story, one that is embedded deeply in the history of class relations and patronage in the village. "Around a hundred years ago there was a rich landlord in the village. His farm servant ran up a big bill in the village tea shop. Despairing of ever getting his money, one day the exasperated tea stall owner beat the servant in full view of the village. The landlord took a dim view of the episode — after all, the abuse of his servant was a slur on him. He cleared the tea bill, but from that day banned tea shops in the village."

Tea-stalls are forbidden, but evidently not liquor shops. "Oh, that is quite different. No one dawdles in a liquor shop. You come at night, drink and go straight home. And you can't afford to treat your friends!" says a resident, who of course did not want to be quoted.

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