The bijou shops and tea stalls that reflect the ethos of an older generation are standing the test of time even when expansive shopping malls and fancy cafes are sprouting in every market place. The mini shops sell everything from traditional sweets, lime juice, the combo of betel leaves, arecanut and slaked lime; bananas, tea, snacks, buttermilk and soda to groceries that a household needs. People going for work used to visit these tiny outlets for a cup of tea and to chew betel leaves with arecanut and slaked lime and also to take a portion of the ‘combo paan’ to the workplace. While returning from work too they used to drop by at these shops to buy essentials and for a round of gossip. Pathanamthitta is a district in Kerala that has a rich history of cute little shops and let’s take a peek into some of these outlets.
Sugathan’s tea stall
Sugathan’s tea shop is a typical outlet that would take you to the days of yore. The sight of water and milk boiling in a firewood store, a small glass almirah stuffed with delicacies such as ‘pazhampori’ (banana fritters), ‘parippuvada’ (lentil fritters), ‘bonda’ (deep-fried snack made mainly of flour and plantains) and ‘boli’ (sweet flatbread); and bunches of ripe bananas hanging from the tiled roof of the shop is bound to evoke nostalgia. It is quite difficult for one to miss this tea stall at Kavanaal Junction in Parakode.
Sugathan took over the shop only 11 years ago. Though the outlet had changed hands several times before that, the taste of tea and eatables is same. Sugathan’s wife Saraswathi, his son Abhilash and daughter-in-law Sini help him in maintaining the taste and quality of food dished out from the stall. The shop will open at 6am sharp and ‘dosa’, chutney, ‘sambar’, ‘kadala’ curry, parotta and egg curry are served for breakfast. One could get a piping hot cup of tea from the shop till it closes at 7.30pm.
Shibu continues 70-year legacy
The humble ‘murukan kada’ (a small shop selling traditional paan and other items) at Vridavanam Junction in Kottanad is more than 70 years old. K N Shibu is the shop owner and he took over the outlet from his father Nanu in 2005. He started running the shop after an accident while cleaning a well debilitated him. Shibu’s family consisting of his mother, wife and two children is surviving with the income from this ‘murukan kada’. Shibu says that people from surrounding regions come to his shop to buy fresh local ‘thulasi’ betel leaves. He also sells tapioca and dried fish.
Golden jubilee glow for Gopi’s shop
The tea stall of Gopi at Vanchipadi in Thannothodu has the glow of turning 50. Gopinathan Nair, 76, is making tea for the past five decades with the help of his wife Rajamma. The outlet obviously has limited facilities such as wooden benches, desk and almirah. It has not been a while since the thatched roof has been changed to asbestos sheets. The shop is very airy as narrow wooden sheets are fixed on half walls. As in the olden days, elderly people come to the tea stall in the morning and evening to listen to songs and news from the radio and have a hot cup of frothy tea.
Two paisa for tea and three for dosa!
A 52-year-old coffee shop stands tall without losing its sheen on the Thumbaman-Kozhenchery route. This one-room shop with a shack, which doubles up as a kitchen, is owned by N R Vasu. Though the shop was closed down during the COVID-19-induced lockdown, Vasu’s son Anil Kumar and daughter-in-law Sreelatha later opened the outlet with great enthusiasm. Though 92-year-old Vasu is taking rest at his home, his memories of building the shop from scratch are quite vivid. The floor was laid by mixing mud with water and wall was built using mud bricks. The roof of the shop was changed to metal sheets 10 years ago as it was difficult to get weaved coconut leaves.
Initially, the price of tea, coffee and snack was two paisa and ‘dosa’, ‘idli’ and ‘puttu’ were sold at three paisa, and farmers and labourers used to visit Vasu’s nondescript outlet very frequently. Vasu remembers people coming for the weekly Elavumthitta market and the cattle market, which would be in operation twice a month, congregating at his coffee shop for a cup of black coffee.
Sunny’s soda maker
The ‘vattu soda’ (carbonated drink filled in Codd-neck bottle with a marble at the top) evokes a plethora of memories among the older generation and curiosity among the new generation. Earlier, it was common to see bottles of ‘vattu soda’ neatly stacked in racks in small shops with bright yellow lemons on top of the bottles. The bottle will open with a fizz when the marble is pushed down and one could quench the thirst with the refreshing drink. Initially, the German soda bottles with the fizzy drink were sold by carrying them on bicycles. The sound of marbles clinking on empty bottles was an indispensable rhythm of life for people belonging to older generations. But now, ‘vattu soda’ has faded into oblivion with changing times and people who were involved in the manufacture and sale of this traditional fizz drink were forced to choose other means of living.
It could be said that the golden era of the ‘vattu soda’ ended by 1990s. But brothers Sunny and Babu of Kochukaleekal near Adoor were manufacturing and selling this soda till five years ago. Their father Isaac got into soda making after sourcing the manufacturing equipment from Kollam following his retirement from Army. Isaac started selling ‘vattu soda’ at six paisa per bottle and had to pass the baton to the next generation when the price became Rs 5.
The family pursued this profession with elan for close to eight decades. In the initial days, nearly 1,000 bottles were sold by transporting them to far-off places on cycles. Sunny’s commitment towards work has earned him the sobriquet ‘Soda Sunny’ which he cherishes a lot. Sunny has preserved the small soda making unit and the German soda bottle as an ode to the glory days gone by.