The rise and fall of a beloved chai­wala

Mail Today - - NEWS - By Jay­deep Saha in New Delhi

HE rose from rags when his shop was re­named ‘The Singing Tree’. Sell­ing tea be­came a se­condary af­fair for 56-year-old Raju Saha. Set­ting up stalls at lead­ing places like lit­er­ary events, pop­u­lar malls and food fests had be­come a reg­u­lar thing.

Shoot­ing for a doc­u­men­tary to short films, to lead­ing news­pa­pers com­ing al­most ev­ery fort­night, he could be seen only in front of the cam­era.

And while all this was on, his shop was left care­lessly — the way it should have been ide­ally — and man­aged by some work­ers. Raju da made tea only when a cam­er­ap­er­son was in front of him, shoot­ing. He of­ten said, “Aaj toh `8,000 ka chai becha, aaj toh `10,000 ka­maya (To­day, I made busi­ness of `8,000; to­day, I sold tea of `10,000)”.

En­e­mies grew in dis­guise, he says, and cam­ou­flaged them­selves as friends in the crowd which was man­aged by his wife and his elder daugh­ter.

The place had be­come a hub of singers and weed smok­ers and Raju Da, as he is pop­u­larly known, just en­ter­tained them. Com­plaints of­ten poured from neigh­bours but he didn’t pay a heed, he says.

Mu­nic­i­pal and po­lice raids due to en­croach­ment — as the shop grad­u­ally spread its wings for over 20 me­tres from a per­mis­si­ble limit — were com­mon to Raju da which he used to han­dle once or twice a month quite ca­su­ally.

Jour­nal­ist Amit Gan­guly re­called, “I miss be­ing to TST. Af­ter sweat­ing it out for hours on the cricket ground, it was al­ways fun to sit there and chat with friends for hours over a cup of lemon tea, which I liked the most. There’s an emo­tional con­nec­tion that’s al­ways go­ing to stay in my mind.”

De­struc­tion this time — on Jan­u­ary 10 — wasn’t like pre­vi­ous in­stances. Raju cried, telling us that per­haps this time he would not be able to rise again.

In the glory days the snap of di­rec­tor Im­tiaz Ali used to be a topic of mur­mur among his cus­tomers, au­to­graphed menu of lyri­cist Javed Akhtar was also among the cutouts that glo­ri­fied the wall among other ar­ti­cles.

“I used to bring all my guests from abroad to this hap­pen­ing tea stall. But days have changed and to­day they don't get the chance to taste Raju da’s beau­ti­ful prepa­ra­tions,” said Egle Jan­ule­vi­ciute Raie Day, owner of an in­ter­na­tional travel agency.

To­day, no one talks about him af­ter his fall but tea lovers from across Delhi NCR trav­elled over 40 km to come to CR Park Mar­ket 1 just to en­joy a cup of “mo­hab­bat”.

“Main chaaye nahi bechta, mo­hab­bat bechta hu (I don’t sell tea, I sell love),” he of­ten said.


Raju Saha be­came a fa­mous chai­wala at Chit­taran­jan Park that many tea lovers in Delhi-NCR raved about.

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