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regular-article-logo Sunday, 16 June 2024

Cha Cha Chatter

There is something about tea that loosens lips in these parts and brings out the political analyst in all. This election season, here’s what the author picked up as he sampled variations of the brew across Calcutta’s stalls

Prasun Chaudhuri Calcutta Published 26.05.24, 07:13 AM
Adda at a roadside tea stall in Calcutta.

Adda at a roadside tea stall in Calcutta. Photo by Subhendu Chaki

#PopulistSchemes

Location: Tea shop beside Ariadaha Ferry Ghat

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Time: 7.30am

Participants: The ferry connects Ariadaha with Uttarpara in Hooghly. Apart from passengers, there are nine senior citizens, morning walkers, tea shop regulars, all retired

“For poor women, Rs 1,000 per month is a lot of money. They are not bothered about Sandeshkhali,” one of the elders is saying. The conversation is about schemes for women from economically weaker sections. His narrative is cut short by a lanky man everyone refers to as Dutta. He says, “I hate this freebie culture. This is the worst kind of populism. It bleeds the state exchequer and makes people lazy.” One Chatterjeeda interjects, “The PM calls it revdi, but they have so many central schemes. In Madhya Pradesh, Ladli Behna (Yojana) helped them win…” A passenger interrupts: “Government should never shell out doles. Can’t they help people earn a livelihood? You can’t misuse the taxpayer’s money to buy votes.” Another senior jumps in, “The state’s responsibility is to pay for healthcare and education, not give doles.” The middle-aged woman who runs the shop is silent all this while. When I get up to pay for my tea, she is muttering, “Might be a waste of money, but for me it’s (she names a government scheme) very useful. I buy medicines for my ailing mother with the money.”

#JaaliVote

Location: Tea shop next to Jagat Mukherjee Park in Kumartuli area
Time: 8pm
Participants: Majority is senior citizens but there are a couple of middle-aged men and two women in this adda. The shop, run by one “Kakima”, serves laal cha, and the tipple is not the only thing that is red

Adda at a roadside tea stall in Calcutta.

Adda at a roadside tea stall in Calcutta. Photo by Subhendu Chaki

A tall man called Laabu is looking up something on his smartphone. He tells his two friends, “See, he doesn’t care about the heat... walks with comrades with red flags in the middle of noon... he goes door-to-door in Jadavpur, meets people.” A woman in her 50s interjects. She says, “Laabuda, I saw your party’s candidate in Jadavpur the other day…” Laabu looks happy, he shares more details about the young Turk. From a distance, a lean man with grey hair quips, “So your party has young candidates, but will young voters get out to vote in this heat?” The second of the two women now says out loud, “Hardly 40-50 per cent of people get out to vote in peak summer months. Any figure above this reflects foul play.” The mention of foul play irritates a stout gentleman who has been sitting quietly so far. He erupts, “Now tell me, Laabu, how did your party manage to draw over 80 per cent of voters during their heyday? By her logic, 30 per cent of these were jaali votes.”

#KiBolisJoga

Location: Tea stall opposite Deshbandhu Park on Raja Dinendra Street near Shyambazar’s five-point crossing
Time: 7.30pm
Participants: Scattered huddles everywhere, mostly mixed groups

A middle-aged man in a yellow T-shirt is talking to a visibly annoyed elder. The former is saying with relish, “Kaka, your party’s manifesto is supplying a lot of ammo to the PM...” The elder erupts. “@X#&$%, do you have the patience to read between the lines of our manifesto? The people who made it are all real scholars and not school dropouts like your leader.” A man dressed in a grey tracksuit interjects, “Isn’t the document too lofty? Looks like it’s copied from a socialist manual. Ki bolis, Joga?” The elder hurls more expletives, “Since when have social benefits become lofty stuff? The man in the yellow T-shirt quips, “What about inheritance tax? Did you tell your son that after you kick the bucket, he’ll have to shell out 25 per cent to the government as inheritance tax?” Elder, “Show me the section on inheritance tax in the manifesto. And show me where mangalsutra is mentioned...” Breaking his silence, Joga says, “You must look at the manifesto now that they are your national alliance partner.” Grey track pants responds, “Are you referring to their dream of abolishing nuclear arms? Just think about it, when two of your neighbouring countries are armed with nukes, you think of doing away with the arsenal.”

Adda at a roadside tea stall in Calcutta.

Adda at a roadside tea stall in Calcutta. Photo by Subhendu Chaki

#AllisRotten

Location: A narrow lane in Lake Market area. A legacy tea shop that sells toast, omelette, fries, cutlets, and yes, hundreds of cups of tea
Time: 7pm
Participants: Several huddles around the tea shop and the largest congregation is across the street. Majority of the participants are middle-aged or senior

A man in a blue shirt sits in the middle of one huddle surrounded by six people. He says in a scratchy voice, “Tora jai bolis, I don’t have an iota of sympathy for those 5,000 who bought their jobs but why should the others bear the brunt of it? This is not a fair judgment.” They are talking about the high court verdict on the 25,000 teaching jobs. The man next to him agrees, volubly. Another man with a salt-pepper beard joins in, “Some of the candidates indeed are highly qualified. I read about this girl who completed her PhD in chemistry before taking up the post. What will she do now?” Others start to share anecdotes of brilliant candidates. Salt-pepper beard adds, “Now that so many teachers are going to be sacked, what will happen to the schools? Some schools are already short-staffed.” A man in a red kurta appears and pronounces, “These practices are the legacy of the previous regime.” Quips salt-pepper beard, “I doubt jobs were sold during their time. But recruitment of party cadres or relatives and friends of political leaders happened long before that.” While all this talk is happening, vegetable chops and a fresh round of tea have been delivered. Ponchu bites into a fritter and says, “These days, most recruitment exams are fixed. For that matter, medical and engineering entrance tests are also not free from scams... Everything’s rotten.”

#ThreeNilAndCounting

Location: Near Southern Avenue and S.P. Mukherjee Road crossing
Time: 8pm
Participants: Most of them are professionals. Many of them arrived in cars or motorbikes and were dressed in office wear. Almost all of them are smokers.

A: One more down... already three-nil for the BJP.
B: What happened?
A: After Surat it happened in Indore, and now Khajuraho. It’s an empty field for the BJP.
C: They’ve turned the Lok Sabha elections into panchayat polls, the kind you see in this state. Remember the time when here too more than a third of the candidates wouldn’t file their nominations and the lal party scored goals in an empty ground?
A: Daal mein kuchch kaala hai. That’s why they are on an overdrive...
B: You mean they may lose the seat to...
C: Not so simple. They are scared of their own people. Factional wars. Some factions are feeling left out. Remember how Vajpayee and company got defeated when they believed it was a done deal?
A: Hmm. But in the worst-case scenario, they’ll only lose a brute majority.

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