When Baldev Singh, a former soldier in the British Indian Army, set up his tea shop in Varanasi, little did he know that it would become a major political centre of the temple city and play a key role in not just the state but also national politics.
His grandsons, who currently run the ‘Pappu Ki Adi’, proudly state that the family has served tea to at least two prime ministers of India besides several famous leaders and artists.
But idioms like ‘tempest in a teapot’ and ‘storm in the teacup’ gained a different connotation after Narendra Modi decided to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi and held a ‘Chai Pe Charcha’ at the tea corner near Assi Ghat.
Modi's decision could be traced back to comments of Opposition leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar who had said that a suitable place would be identified for the then Gujarat chief minister to sell tea.
Since then, the tea shop has become a famous selfie point in the city. During the final phase of Uttar Pradesh elections this year, the shop again gained attention when PM Modi spent over 40 minutes here on March 5 evening.
The shop is named after Baldev’s son Vishwanath Singh (78) alias Pappu. It is now being run by his grandsons Manoj, Maneesh and Satish. The trio continues to make ‘filter-tea’ on a coal-run furnace.
“We have maintained the quality of our tea over the decades. The method is different from other tea vendors. Normally, the dried tea leaves are boiled in a pot along with other ingredients,” Manoj told Outlook, a day after Modi’s visit. But at their shop, he said, boiling water is filtered through dried tea leaves in a sieve and then mixed with dense milk and sugar in the glasses.
He said, “My grandfather learnt the art of making tea while serving in the Army.”
According to Ashok Singh, the eldest grandson of Baldev Singh, several political stalwarts such as Jammu and Kashmir's Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra have been regular visitors at his shop. George Fernandes, he said, held press conferences at his shop.
“When Indira Gandhi visited the Sankat Mochan temple, my grandfather also went there to serve her tea. During their campaign trials, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal also came to our shop,” said Ashok, adding that Union Minister Anurag Thakur, film lyricist Sameer and actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Saurabh Shukla have also visited the shop.
The memory that he perhaps cherishes most is of PM Modi who handed over an envelope to Vishwanath Singh before leaving the shop on March 5 evening.
Ashok said, “We haven’t opened the envelope yet.”