It’s more than drinking tea

“Tod diya ray.” You may surely be used to this line if you have attended or visited Aligarh Muslim University. Every hour, at least one glass is shattered at some dhaba located somewhere in the vicinity of AMU and dhabawallahs keep on repeating the same line.

Some years ago, Naseerudin Shah - an alumnus of AMU – said while sharing his experience of Aligarh days, “Aligarh kay bachchon ki raghon ma khoon nahi chai dodti hai (Not blood but tea circulates in the veins of AMU students).” This statement gives some idea of the amount of chai sipped in AMU at a particular time.

Students in groups gather at their favourite tea stalls and keep on sipping their tea at a leisurely pace. It is always accompanied by long discussions on “Muslim issues”. The tea and gossip never seem to end.

Purani Changi, a few hundred metres from Mualna Azad Library, is known for its “special” tea. A first-time visitor would find this place squalid and disorganised. Cycles, scooters and rickshaws ply on the road almost round the clock. A major part of the area rests under the shade of banyan trees. The place seems sluggish compared to the modern streets of Delhi, a couple of hours train ride from here. There are other places where nice tea is served. Changi offers tea of different types and quality to suit different pockets. Throngs of students can be seen having tea even in scorching heat. Some are not averse to spending a quarter of their day at these joints.

The university gate divides the market into two parts. As you drive towards Jamalpur, a few metres away, near Gulmarg Hotel, a chaiwallah, sells some 400 cups of tea from 6 Pm to 10 pm. The name of Gulmarg conjures up the cool climes of Kashmir amid the relentless heat of UP plains.

This chaiwallah is a socialist of sorts, whose motto seems to be: “chai is chai and people are people. There is no difference anywhere and no need for different prices”. He does not differentiate between people on the basis of their age, degree, economic condition and station in life. He calls everybody “Dr Sahib”, no matter if that doctor is yet to clear his SSC exams.

On the left side of the gate, on the same road, as one drives towards Shamshad Market, one finds a few more chaiwallahs busy preparing and selling the brew. Hussain Tea Stall is the largest supplier of the ubiquitous hot drink to the area. There is an ice making plant next to his shop. Stray, cool droplets from the plant often come flying and land on faces and clothes of people sitting here, giving a welcome relief from the heat. It reminds one of the beauty of spring of Kashmir in the middle of Aligarh summer.

Other university canteens also remain packed with students for most parts of the day. Tea is the preferred beverage here. Caffeine being a stimulant, it keeps students alert. Strangely, it also calms some of the agitated young minds. As argument clashes with argument on the Indian Muslim situation, the empty cups are cleared unobtrusively by waiters and more tea brought in on a tray.

In India, chai is not an ordinary drink. It has made careers of many. Chai politics played an important role during 2014 Lok Sabha elections. BJP opened tea stalls to hard sell Narendra Modi’s image of a leader rising from a humble background. They devised a highly hyped programme called “Chai pay Charcha” to push their political perspective. Soon the “chaiwallah’s son” became the Prime Minister of India. The AMU version of chai pay charcha is less goal-oriented. Yet it helps and enriches in other ways. After all, Maulana Azad’s keenness of mind did have a relationship with his love for fine tea.

Nayeem Showkat Khan

Department of Mass Communication,

Aligarh Muslim University