Delhiwale: Dreams of a tea stall lady

At 55, Parvati’s life is as hectic as it was 16 years ago, when she and her husband set up her tea stall, here by the roadside in Gurugram’s Civil Lines.

“I have always been busy,” she says over a cup of chai, during a lull in the afternoon. Parvati is in her stall, beside the counter, her husband is sitting on a bench. The stall is protected from the sun by an awning of canvas, the surface of which is speckled with shadows of tree leaves. Parvati shows the sight through the phone screen that connects her to this reporter via WhatsApp video.

Everyday Parvati gets up at 5am. “So does my husband,” she notes. They live nearby, in what she calls a jhuggi. “We built it together… it has a roof of cement and walls of brick.” It is a single room dwelling. “We have a TV, a cooler, but we don’t have a bed… we spend money wisely.” At night the couple sleeps on a dhurrie they spread out on the floor. “Sometimes, during the rains, snakes enter.”

Parvati is not scared of them; her village in West Bengal’s Murshidabad is thickly green and snakes are common there. Her husband grew up in the same village “and I remember we used to play together as children… but our marriage was arranged by our parents.”

The couple raised their four daughters in Gurugram. Since the time the last of them left the nest, Parvati does all the cooking by herself. “While I prepare lunch in the morning, my husband goes out to get chai and fen from a stall… That’s our breakfast.”

They open their stall at 8am. Parvati sits by the counter, often listening to songs on the radio, “or I think of my daughters… they all are married and live with their families in Bengal.”

Parvati and her husband set aside ₹40,000 for visiting their daughters last April. “We hadn’t met the girls for more than a year… but coronavirus arrived, trains stopped running and we finished half of that amount during the lockdown, while out of business.” The other crisis that followed was the loss of the mobile phone “without which it was impossible to talk to children.” They had to spend another ₹5,000 on getting a new phone.

The tea stall reopened after the lockdown and “we manage to save about ₹300 everyday.”

They shut down the stall by 5pm. At home, while her husband watches serials on TV, Parvati cooks dinner. “We are Bengalis, we daily eat fish and rice (she laughs), except for Tuesday when we have only (vegetarian) subzi.”

Lights are switched off by 10pm. “I’ve grown old, but I continue to have dreams,” confesses Parvati. “I want my husband to remain healthy and I want to visit our daughters as soon as coronavirus gets over and all trains start to run.”

She now poses for a portrait, with her husband holding the mobile.

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