Over the last few months, you may have noticed a sudden mushrooming of tea stalls, particularly in the Defence Housing Authority. Though these establishments are usually illegal, it is the kind of clientele they attract that is most intriguing. The Express Tribune decided to take a look.
The poondi gang
Perhaps the scariest group off all – a nightmare for the manager of the establishment, who probably prays for deliverance from this menace before the start of business each day. The waiters prefer to steer away from this table, largely ignoring them even when summoned in the hope that another waiter becomes the sacrificial lamb. This group perches itself in the middle of the seating area, with a 360-degree view of the establishment. Once the victim of the staring contest is identified, each of the predators launches into scan mode, examining the object of interest from head to toe until the latter finally gives up and leaves. The common features of all the specimen in this group are tight pants, tighter shirts of various bright colours, oily hair if long, gelled if short and more accessories than a fashion model would care for.
Overheard: “Bhai ko check kar rahi hai. Chor de, bhabi hai teri”
Genuine tea lovers
The most valued clientele of the chai dhaba. You can recognise this group by their dealings with the waiters. The latter openly smile while engaging with them, always sharing a joke and making sure they are satisfied with the product. It is this group that sets the value of the dhaba and increases its reputation among other clientele. Their suggestions don’t go amiss on the kitchen staff and the owner too grants them special privileges such as waivers off the bill or free snacks.
Overheard: “Kal chai pheeki thi”
One big happy family
This is a new variety seen at the trendier establishments, especially in the Defence Housing Authority. The women sit along one side of the table, speaking in hushed tones, which only rise occasionally to snap at the children who are running around the chairs. The men take on a more sombre posture, engrossed in conversation as varied as religion, philosophy, science or the cooking skills of their wives. Sometimes though, it is the women who take the lead role at these tables, driving the conversations while the men nod their heads in silent agreement, apparently too scared to voice their opinions for fear of not being allowed at the dhaba again.
Overheard: “Beta if you don’t sit down, we will go home”
This bunch of serious-looking, muscle-flexing, brand-conscious males comes in a flock and prefers to sit for hours at the chai dhaba. There is minimal conversation at this table, save for the shouts for chai every hour, at which the waiter comes running. The rest of the time, each person has a cell phone to play with. Lost in their five-inch screens, these macho-types are quite content to block out their surroundings and sit for hours without doing much.
Overheard: “Bhai ka muscle check kar”
The lip-gloss gang
This all-girls’ group is the centre of attraction at the dhaba. Just like the chai lovers set the bar for quality standards, this group is an advertisement for its service. The poondi gang loves this table, preferring to wait for up to half an hour to be seated next to it. These ladies pretend to ward off such advances with the casual flick of the hair or narrowing their eyes menacingly, resulting in a collective round of jeers from the poondi table. The best part for them is that one would hardly recongnise them under normal circumstances for they are usually hidden beneath a veil of white powder, foundation and what-not. More often than not, this group is of no monetary value to the establishment, occupying the table for hours without ordering anything lest their diet is affected. They are off course, invaluable aesthetically. The only items you will find on the table are fake Gucci handbags and the odd pack of cigarettes.
Overheard: “Taar raha hai kambakht”
This is the most peaceful-looking group of the lot. The group largely comprises bald heads, white haired puffs and wrinkled faces. What is common here is the smiles – the permanently plastered ones that come with having lived a good life and enjoying the benefits of retirement. The general conversation on this tables drives around the ‘Good Old Days’, when Karachi was still the city of lights and they could go to bars instead of chai dhabas.
Overheard: “Humaray zamanay mein coffee bhi Irish hoti thi”
The college friends
A relatively new commodity in the dhaba business. It usually comprises a group of fresh-graduates or college students, of both genders, sitting together for a cup of tea. Conversation is usually quite light and interesting at this table, ranging from Ayyan Ali’s latest scandal to the upcoming quiz in economics class. They have a comfortable presence at the dhaba, usually know one or two of the waiters who they have acquainted with and are generally liked by the staff.
Overheard: “I wish we were still in college”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2015.