An Ahmedabad restaurant serves tea and bun among graves.
Fancy a steaming cup of tea sitting around graves,some 25 of them,while soaking in the sounds of old Ahmedabad? If you think the idea is too bizarre to be realised,head to New Luckys Tea Stall,located opposite the luminous Sidi Saiyed mosque in the congested Lal Darwaza area. At the restaurant,people have been savouring chai in the company of graves for well over 60 years.
When Gujarat was still a part of the erstwhile state of Bombay,an enterprising Malayali,KH Mohammed,started his tea shop next to a Muslim cemetery in 1952. Finding an able partner in Mehndi Hasan,who now resides in Mumbai and visits every month,the shop flourished as did trade in a city anointed as Manchester of the East.
Mohammed has long passed away,and Hasan now runs the shop with Krishnan Kutty Nair also a Malayali but the business continues to be robust,even undergoing renovation in 1992. The stall currently runs two units one for their famous chai and bun maska,and the other selling both south and north Indian dishes like idlis and dosas,and an array of sandwiches,pulaos and paranthas.
Another constant has remained with Lucky the graves. We still revere the graves and put flowers around them in respect of the dead. The graves are believed to be of the immediate family members of Pir Saiyyed Sultan Kabiruddin Sahib,a Sufi saint whose small shrine is right next to the shop, says Kutty. The graves are well-maintained; covered with shiny shawls (chadar),they are enclosed in steel cases,to protect them from the many customers who flock to the restaurant.
Mohammed is no longer alive to explain his choice of the restaurants bewildering location. The 61-year-old restaurant manager,Siddique Ansari,who started as a tea boy in 1960 when he migrated from UP,says there was no particular reason for Mohammed to set up shop around the graves.
As if to make up for its location,which could have spooked many a visitor,New Luckys food and beverages are a big draw,with 65 waiters offering easy-on-pocket dishes at a brisk pace. The restaurants most famous customer was late artist MF Husain,who also gifted a painting to Mohammed. The 3×3 feet Husain frame of a scene akin to Arabian Nights adorns a wall of the restaurant,even though customers dont seem to notice it as they sip their chai and bite into bun maska (served with butter and neonic yellow pineapple jam).
The mystery of Luckys potent tea leaves and kitli stumps Ansari. We had to send a thermos of chai to Dubai to satisfy late Husains India cravings after he was exiled. Husain was a dear friend of the owner and would always stop by for chai and bun maska whenever he was in town, he says.
With a BJP office located behind it,the shop was also a meeting place during the 1974 Navnirman movement where Gujarats political stalwarts first tested their mettle over steaming cuppas. While the owners are not planning to establish branches to replicate Luckys lucky innings,the iconic tea shop has become a humble citadel linking Ahmedabads past and future.