How do you like your tea?

Last year when I got to know that India has won against Pakistan in the World Cup my cousin and I exchanged a series of messages on what our Buroda must have done. Buroda is the guardian angel of our area. Unlike our TV channels which has designated slots for news and debate shows; Buroda in his tea shop has a series of debates ranging from politics, sports and of course the Para-gossip (para is the Bengali word for neighbourhood). He is a storehouse of information. Buroda is all of 50 years old and my father called him Buro, my uncles buroda (da is the word for elder brother) and my cousins and yours truly call him Buroda.

The universal Buroda is known for his butterly toast and milky tea.  Buroda is a diehard fan of Argentina. He will take the pain to organise and hoist Argentina flags and make sure if a local club has displayed Brazil’s flag; he will spend that extra cash from his profits to buy a bigger Argentina flag. Buroda is a football fanatic, and he sells Tea. His speciality like any other tea shop in Kolkata is Crisp Butter Toast with dozens of sugar. In Bengali bread loaves are known as Paunroti ( at some point there was a believe that people used their legs to knead flour; hence paunroti). There are various shops lined in college street that sells crisp butter toast and tea on marble table tops. Apparently these shops used to be frequented by politico-ideologues of 70’s and 80’s . Coming to Buroda he also sells Ghugni, one of the most favourite snack and breakfast item for hundreds of migrant workers who work in the tanneries, and other industrial units in this industrial part of Kolkata.

Like all industrial corners even Kolkata’s industrial sweatshops are falling prey to real estate developers and I was woken to a heated debate on how Buroda has also been victim of real estate players. Initially Buroda’s shop was housed under a thatched roof and a cemented slab which functioned as table and chair simultaneously. Buroda takes extreme care that his “female” customers like us does not have to enter his shop. He will insist getting our orders home delivered. Everyday Buroda looks at the highrise that stands tall and wonders at the by-gone era of 80s when his shop was thriving on the migrant Bihari workers and other workers who worked in the textile mills. He says those were the days. He never could make enough tea and there was never enough space. When somebody asks Buroda what led to his misfortune. He keeps silent. While I miss sneaking away to Buroda’s shop for my ghugni and paunroti for my breakfast I wonder who will be Buroda’s customers. Buroda himself laments that his customer profile has changed. Initially he was forced to keep Anandabazaar and Bartaman ( two leading Bengali Newspaper daily) now he could do with borrowing one. The customer profile of shops owned by Buroda’s across the city of Kolkata is mixed. People across classes and masses over the crisp toast and tea will lament on the souring inflation, debate on the political crisis that rocks the country. While shops like Buroda’s symbolise the pulse of the city of Kolkata; with the emergence of landscaped neighbourhoods it is a matter of time when Burodas will become a matter of memory.

The only surviving grace is that Burodas never grow old in college canteens. One of the legendary college canteen in Kolkata is owned by Pramod da. Pramod da is equivalent to Baba Loknath to most of the Presidency students. Last time when I visited the college with a friend of mine, a former student of Presidency he treated us to his chowmein and tea. This special treat was in honour of a friend who had secured admission for her Ph.D abroad.

Similarly even after years of staying away from Delhi School of  Economics , whenever one visited the campus  Dipu from J.P. Tea stall greets every alumni with a smile and prepares Tea with fondness. The sense of ownership and the relationship that consumers have with petty producers has been documented in various social science texts.  There is an innumerable peripheral workforce in the food industry that serves us and cares for us despite our age and class. Each college or university has their own  Pramod da s, Milonda s , J.P s and Buroda s and it is time we ponder for a while when they ask us “How do you like your tea?”

© itiriti

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