‘Dil Khush Chai’ (Tea to appease your mood) reads the last line of the menu card of Sai Sagar tea stall, located on the western side of platform number 2 at Mulund station.
With a handful of employees serving tea to commuters and regulars, it does not initially appear to be any different from thousands of tea stalls dotting Mumbai railway stations.
However, for some motormen of suburban trains on the Central Railway, having tea from Sai Sagar stall in the early morning is a tradition. By taking clues from motormen who whistle, blow the train’s horn or gesticulate to indicate the count of tea glasses, Sai Sagar tea stall has been serving them for years.
Workers at the stall, who begin operations by 4 am every day, claim their tea is a boost for early risers. For them, serving a cup of ‘cutting chai’ to the motormen is a routine.
“I always get tea from Sai Sagar tea stall around 5 am if I have been assigned the morning duty between CST and Karjat. As we need to leave early, we get no time to have tea at our house and order from the stall during our halt at Mulund station,” said Rakesh Powar, a motorman with CR.
On why their tea stall was so popular, Bhagwan Mane, one of the workers at Sai Sagar tea stall, said, “Our stall is located right at the entry or exit of Mulund station (West). Also, we are very close to where the motorman’s cabin is when the train halts.”
The shop serves tea and coffee. Another worker at the stall said, “Sometimes, the motormen call us before the train halts at Mulund. Some times, we understand through their signs what they wish to be served. In case of some regulars, we just know what they want.”
Reading newspapers standing by the stall or observing the running trains sum up what the customers visiting the stall do. But not M H Sohoni, who prays before the photo of Sai Baba at the stall for blessings before finalising any important deal.
“Though I do not drink tea from here on a regular basis, I make sure to pray before Sai Baba’s photo at the stall and drink a cup of cutting tea before I leave for any important work,” Sohoni said.
Earning a meagre Rs 6,000 per month, a worker of Sai Sagar tea stall said, “We are working to earn our daily bread. Sometimes, people complain that there is too much or too less sugar and we try to correct our mistakes the next time we serve.”
Waking up early is the difficult part of the job. “Kabhi Kabhi late ho jata hai uthane ko, fir bura lagata hai ki dhanda kam ho gaya (Sometimes, I get up late and then feel bad for missing out on earning a few bucks more),” said a worker.