In a post-Covid world, even the paltry is precious from isolation and loneliness.
“Previously, I couldn’t think of entering a class without my usual cigarette and tea,” says Professor Arun Chatterjee who teaches English at Calcutta University.
Chatterjee reminisces about pre-Covid days and the conversations and arguments with his students. “The pandemic has added a new lease of life to the everyday act of tea-drinking,” he says. People from all walks of life brush shoulders at street-side tea stalls. But in an age of social distancing, a one arm’s distance has inhabited the already limited space of tea shacks.
Since all kinds of people flock the stalls, most have opposing political affiliations whereas some belong to backgrounds that are veritable opposites of one another. As a result, the space of the tea stall makes for democratic and egalitarian pockets that allow one to differ, debate and engage in free discourse.
Calcutta’s uninviting, ramshackle and unassuming tea stalls don’t just serve tea, they also serve equal proportions of nostalgia, necessary stimulation, and kindness. Over the years, the frail earthen cups have held within them, a revolutionary beverage that has broken through class and caste hierarchies. Ranging from Calcutta’s share markets, college campuses, office areas or even five-star enterprises, this beverage has reigned.
Dipanwita Chakaborty, a student of film studies at Jadavpur University, says that the Lakes make for her favourite tea haunt. The reason being the inimitable taste of lemon tea that has given flavour to endless evenings at
“Before Covid-19, on several occasions, our Professor would take an off the cuff class near the lakes. Most of us love the green silence and the sublime taste of lebu cha. We used to attend class with a cup of tea and a few biscuits in hand, which made it seem like a theatre of sorts, in the lap of nature,”
“Online classes are not the same. This is the longest I have been apart from my favourite cup of tea”, she added.
Streets, lanes and by-lanes of Calcutta are peppered with tea stalls. Some of these stalls have even lived through Calcutta in the 60s. Pramatha, a household cook, has been serving a family at Dover Lane for more than sixty years. He says that he visits the nearby tea stall to make a weekly call to his wife, Kanchan, who lives in Bankura. He sips on his tea while speaks to her in Bankura dialect.
In an age of smartphones, a conversation with someone at home over a cup of tea, still manages to make time stand still for Pramatha. When it comes to disposing of the earthen cups, some tea drinkers like to toss it into an already overflowing dustbin.
For most, however, it is more enthralling to shatter the cup on the sidelines of the pavement- a ritual that has lived through the years like an appropriate punctuation at the end of a moving refrain.