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The curious case of a chai stall built on a graveyard

Lucky tea stall in Ahmedabad is built on a Muslim graveyard, is run by a Muslim and serves pure vegetarian food

People eat at a vegetarian restaurant Lucky Tea Stall built on a graveyard, in Ahmedabad. (PTI Photo)
People eat at a vegetarian restaurant Lucky Tea Stall built on a graveyard, in Ahmedabad. (PTI Photo)

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With tables set around a gnarled tree trunk and on either side of graves cutting through the room, the all vegetarian Lucky tea stall is a local talisman of sorts, the place where communal divides blur into camaraderie and comfort.

To the outsider, the idea of an eatery built in a Muslim graveyard, run by a Muslim, serving pure vegetarian food and frequented by all communities seems an anomaly. Not so for its customers though, many who believe that Lucky is actually lucky for them.

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Like Sagar Bhatt, a devout Hindu and a resident of Dariapur, who makes it a point to stop by for a cuppa every morning after visiting the temple.

"It feels auspicious to have tea at this place. There is something special about this place," Bhatt, sporting a red ‘tilak’ on his forehead, told PTI while pointing to a grave.

On one wall is a painting by M F Husain, showing an oasis, camels and a ‘kalma’ - “La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasul Allah (“There is only one God and he is Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet).”

It is the only tea shop boasting a Husain painting, said a proud Abdul Rajak Mansury, who operates the tea stall. Every night, the painting by one of India’s most valued artists is taken off the wall and kept away safely. The six-decade shop in what is essentially a Muslim dominated area is a common person’s eating joint, he said.

As the campaign hots up, the tea stall in Old Ahmedabad’s Jamalpur-Khadia is also an oasis of calm, far removed from the din and aggression of the Gujarat assembly election being held in two phases on December 1 and 5. While the Congress has fielded Imran Khedawala, its sitting MLA, the Aam Aadmi Party has given a ticket to Haroon Bhai Nagori and the BJP is fielding a Hindu candidate, Bhushan Bhatt. The AIMIM is also contesting the seat with Sabir Kabliwala in the fray.

Talk of “dhandha” (business) supersedes “dharam” (religion) at Lucky - so popular that the traffic light point is also called Lucky Chowk. It is at the centre of several colleges and offices, and big hit with students and office-goers.

According to Bhatt, a small time construction contractor, economic issues and issues impacting his business matter more than religious sentiments.

"Sir, I am following my religion but from government I expect to further improve economy so that my business flourish. For us Gujaratis Dhandha sab se pehle (business comes first)," he said.

On the menu is the perennial favourite ’bun maska’ and a range of Chinese and Indian dishes. No eggs are used.

College students Ritu and Tanya said the place is cool.

"People feel it is lucky to have tea here. There is something charming, something random about this place which makes it cool," said Ritu, a third year commerce student.

The first time voter said better jobs and better business environment are bigger issues for her as a student and daughter of a businessman.

Tanya, studying chartered accountancy, agreed.

“The business environment in maru Gujarat (my Gujarat) is its USP, it should not be get disturbed at any cost."

Lucky started on a handcart under a neem tree, and expanded and developed around the graveyard as business grew, said Mansury.

The 26 graves have grills around it. The staff clean them everyday and place fresh flowers on them. Some people put chadars on the graves seeking fulfilment of their wishes.

Representing the best of a syncretic India, may many more Luckys flourish and thrive, hope its customers. 

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