When you step into Lucky Tea Stall in the old part of the city in Ahmedabad, you may be startled to discover that you are seated next to what looks disconcertingly like a grave. Once you determine that it is indeed a grave, you look around to see that there are plenty more in the tea stall, shrouded in green clothes.
You look around to see if anyone else is as startled as you are but the multitudes of guests that Lucky Tea Stall serves are sitting around quite comfortably and naturally, having their chai accompanied by the famous maska (butter) bun jam. You seek to be informed about the secret of the graves.
“There are 26 graves here,” says a waiter. These must be at least 400-500 years old!” he supplies helpfully and then he whisks off to get us our masala tea, which is typically served in a tiny cup and saucer. The tea is spilling over the side, which is the way all kitlees (tea shops) in ‘Amdavad’ serve it. Ideally, you are supposed to pour the tea into the saucer and drink from the saucer.
The 62-year-old tea stall originally started as a handcart under a neem tree next to a graveyard. Business grew, and so did the shop that started developing around the graves and the tree. Even today, the graves are well looked after by the owners and staff. “We light fresh incense every day, decorate the graves with flowers and keep these clean and fresh” says Nair. The graves bring us good luck (Perhaps, thence the name?)
You negotiate the graves and the guests to look for the painting that hangs in one of the two rooms of the kitlee. It’s the famous MF Husain painting depicting two camels and a castle-like construction in the foreground, and a desert in the backdrop. It is said it is the picture of an oasis in the Arabian Nights. Akalma is written on the painting that says: “There is only one God and he is Allah, and Mohammad is his prophet.”
Lucky is the only tea shop in the world that has an original Husain hanging over the tea drinkers. It was gifted by Husain to the original owner, K.H. Mohammadbhai in 1994. Mohammadbhai passed away a few years ago but his partners promised never to sell it.
You speak to Rajiv Nair, one of the owners of Lucky Tea Stall, and he tells you how much Husain loved the chai from Lucky. “Every time Husain sahib would visit the city, he would definitely come to have chai at our tea shop…. Once we even sent chai to London in a thermos flask for him. His friend, a businessman, was visiting India asked Husain Sahib what he could bring for him from India and he replied “Chai from Lucky Tea Stall!”
While that may be true, what is unarguable is the price of the 3x3 ft painting. Had it been sold in the year it was created (1994), the painting would have fetched between Rs 20 lakh and 25 lakh in 1994. Now that the artist is no more, it would be worth much more.
The painting hangs for all to enjoy but the security doesn’t seem too tight. While in the daytime, the painting hangs in the seating area for all to see, at night, it is the responsibility of the waiters who sleep there to take care of it. “It’s insured!” says Nair, “And the kabrein (graves) protect us!”
If that’s not faith, what is?
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