Appa, as he is lovingly called, is a middle-aged, coy man with a wistful smile. His day starts with the same routine- making copious amounts of tea for the morning crowd, and then pouring the first cup on the road followed by water. Although a strange ritual, he is quick to explain it to me. “It’s Bhavani”, he says. An offering to mother earth for looking after him and his business.
There’s little I know about his background, but I do know he’s a wise man who has seen enough. A man who owns a relatively small chai tapri, but who arrives in a Honda car; it never fails to surprise me. I have always been curious as to what he sees throughout the day. Sitting in his ominous ‘counter’ chair, he watches over all the proceedings with his hawk eye; not missing a single order or a bill.
Appa says that Punekars, while drinking chaha, are very interesting people. “A person says a lot when he is having his first tea of the day”. Wise words indeed. “A man speaks little until he is done drinking his tea, and then refuses to stop talking for a while. The Chaha Effect, as I like to call it. Punekars love their tea, it runs through their veins. Add to it a hot plate of Pohe and you have the power to make a Punekar’s day”, he says laughing.
“A tapri is a very different place from a café”, he says to my amusement. “People let down their guard, you’ll agree to this. There’s something very intimate about having a cup of tea along with some good conversation. To be honest, that’s what creates the ‘regular’ crowd, as I like to call them. I’ve been running this tapri for the past twenty years and all the people have become my family now. Just like my family members, I like to see them every day; my day doesn’t go well if I don’t see them.
“Punekars will talk about anything and everything as long as there’s spare time and food. From politics to art, I have seen youth have lengthy discussions with the aged and it’s very nice. On weekends, Punekars make their morning memorable by putting aside every single plan; leisure holds importance then. My weekends are so much better because of them. Who needs a newspaper when there is a Punekar to discuss the current events with!”, he says, laughing.
Appa knows very little English, much to his chagrin. However, what he missed with an early break in education, he makes it up with his listening and quick learning skills. He has picked up a few English keywords and uses them quite regularly. “But Punekars don’t want to speak with me in English”, he jokes with me. “No, but Marathi is such a beautiful language, it’s our mother tongue. I see a lot of Punekars who work in big and posh offices but they get really comfortable at our tapri. May it be a cigarette or even a piece of candy, there’s relish in every single action. Fakta Punyat!”, he adds.
When I ask Appa if he plans on quitting the tapri anytime soon, he shakes his head frantically. “How will my day pass so swiftly then?!”, he asks a fair question. “Plus, dhanda is booming. A tapri in Pune won’t ever stop making profit”, he says grinning.
There are several such Appas in Pune. Being the backbone of our morning routines, they are such an important part of our lives. A huge thank you to them for the role they play, and for their wit and insightful conversations, which we’ll always keep having with them!
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