New Delhi: As citizens of the capital and all over north India shiver in the near-freezing weather, there is one person on the road who people look out for and who makes hay — not in the proverbial sun, but in the cold.
These are the chaiwallahs, the ubiquitous band of small entrepreneurs who dot every market and every prominent street junction as people flock to them for the cuppa that cheers and warms.
“Winter is the best time for us to earn money. Though my work almost triples during this time, it makes us happy,” Ram Deen, a young man who has been selling tea along with his father since he can remember, said.
Ram Deen and his father take their tea cart to different areas of Paharganj in central Delhi — a favourite with backpackers and budget tourists - and serve hot cups of tea to the people.
For Suresh Kumar too, who owns a small shop near the Moolchand Metro station in south Delhi, tea-making is a profitable business during winter as he also offers light snacks.
“I start selling tea from early morning. On an average I make Rs300 to Rs400 a day, but since last week I have been earning almost Rs700 a day because it has become cold,” 32-year-old Kumar said, citing figures that many of his ilk echoed.
“I also sell biscuits, namkeen, maggi and bread omelette. People consume these things more during winter and hence I make good money by serving them along with the tea,” he added.
The capital and its suburbs shivered through its coldest day on Monday, with the mercury dipping to a bone-chilling 2.4 degrees Celsius. With the demand for tea increasing, many vendors in the city also hike their prices.
A regular cup that is usually sold for Rs5 is now selling for Rs8. “In winter, everybody wants adrak (ginger) and elaichi (cardamom) chai... so the cost goes up,” said Prem Saran.
Saran, a 45-year-old, who has come from Mewat district in Haryana, moved to Noida five years ago to sell tea. He sells 300 cups of tea in a day. The increased prices don’t deter consumers.
“It’s the perfect way to start the day,” said Kanhaiya, who works as a sweeper at a gated neighbourhood in south Delhi. “I have to report to work at 6:30 in the morning but before that, I warm myself at Raju’s tea stall just outside the gate and also munch some biscuits.”
The tea vendors, in fact, are great levellers. You’ll generally find an eclectic bunch of people at any given vend — this is one of the few places where social distinctions vanish because, after all, who doesn’t want a steaming cup of tea on a cold day?
“We hardly get any break during the day and what better way to spend this standing in the sun, sipping hot tea, smoking a cigarette and chatting with friends,” said a middle-level executive at a tea stall outside a swanky office building in Noida.
Asked how it felt to know that BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi sold tea in his initial days, most vendors said they were unaware of this. “I did not know that Modi too was a tea vendor. It’s good that once a tea seller is the PM candidate but how does that affect us,” Ram Deen wondered.
“It isn’t that the police have stopped bothering us or society’s attitude has changed towards us just because Modi was a tea seller,” Saran said.