High on chai and more

In pictures

Darting at the camera, her eyes betray a palpable uneasiness- as if her eyes accidently met the camera or the photographer behind it.

With chairs laid out in the middle of a railway track around an expansive tea-stall, a protagonist stands under the effect of the beaming bulbs, and the setting comes alive, almost dramatically. Uncannily, the expression is replicated by the viewer as he stands gaping in awe at this picture clicked in Kolkata’s Bagbazar. ‘Tea vendors of India’ is a photo exhibition adorning the walls of American Center till March 7. With a stimulating set of photographs, it captures the tea-tales Zach Marks and Resham Gellatly chronicled while travelling around India.

“The railway line is operational but this photo was taken on the final day of Durga Puja, so everything was shut down in Kolkata,” shares the photojournalist, Resham. Sigh! And she added, “This railway line runs along the banks of the Hooghly where thousands of people flocked to immerse idols. Sensing a business opportunity, this woman set up a small stall selling eggs, noodles and chai to people coming to participate in the festivities. We actually didn't get a chance to chat much with this woman - we photographed her and exchanged a quick “kemon acho? bhalo achi” en route to the Hooghly.” A passing encounter fetched such a fascinating picture. If only we could know her story as well!

But there are other pictures in this series that carry interesting text, telling stories that run around the paraphernalia of selling and sipping tea around the country. For instance, a quote reads, “When Neil Armstrong got to the moon, there was already a Malayalee there yelling, Chai, Chai. The photo of Ayyappan tea stall set in Chennai brings to fore a conversation where a customer in Chennai quips that wherever you go in Tamil Nadu, you will find a Malayalee running a tea kaddai. Interesting bit of information, isn’t it?

And then there are pictures that call the tea-sellers, Tea Masters! When enquired, the duo told us that they didn’t coin this term. They reveal, “We love that term as well and had never heard it until we went to south India. There it is a proper term which everyone uses to refer to the person making tea. It might just be an old translated term from a more formal time, but we love the sense of respect and importance it gives – all hail the tea master!”

As Zach and Resham continue their journey, meandering the contours of India, digging for another series of tea tales, they sign off telling us how they like their cuppa. “After so many cups of sweet, rich milky chai, I look forward to a simple cup of black tea,” admits Zach and Resham goes on to say, “I prefer my tea with thick milk and lots of ginger. I've definitely learned to appreciate the quality of different kinds of milk - whether it's packaged or straight from the doodhwallah, whether it is cow or buffalo or camel.”

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