The Pettah railway station in Thiruvananthapuram hasn't changed much in the last 50 years. The faded building and the long platform still looks the same as in the olden times. The same could be said about the refreshing taste of tea sold at Maniyan's tea stall in front of the railway station.
Chennilodu Kavuvila Maniyan, fondly called as Maniyanannan, by the people of Pettah, has been selling tea at the railway station for the last 50 years. Political stalwarts like E K Nayanar, K Pankajakshan, Vakkom, and K Balakrishnan have tasted his tea and certified it the best. Maniyan would take a good look at the person who orders the tea before making it. If the person looks tired after a long journey, then he would serve them a glass of refreshing tea which is strong and a bit sweet. Besides, tea is served to them quite quickly. If they look relaxed and not in a hurry, Maniyan would serve them delicious tea made with generous amount of milk.
Politicians usually prefer strong tea. One of the most amazing qualities of Maniyanannan's tea is that it doesn't turn cold soon. The hot tea can be sipped slowly enjoying the refreshing taste. There are stories of people travelling to Thampanoor getting down at the Pettah station just to have Maniyannan's tea. Even during the rush hours, he does not prepare tea in bulk. Tea is made separately for each one of the customers. An old samovar could be seen at the shop which has 'aged' gracefully. Maniyan sees it as a symbol of good fortune and makes it a point to keep it clean and shiny always.
Earlier he used to remember the time schedule of the trains running through the station. It was the shuttle services which mostly stopped at Pettah. Maniyan says that though all the trains look the same, each one has a distinct sound. Maniyan, 74, is helped at the tea shop by his wife Sathyabama who is 69 years old.
Maniyan recalls that he began to sell tea in front of the railway station, 50 years ago, on the next day of his wedding. In the beginning, tea was sold for just 10 paise. Sathyabama retired as a cook at the Ayurveda college and now joins her husband at the tea stall. The couple heads to the tea stall early in the morning and shares a lunch parcel at noon. They are still pained by the memories of their daughter Bindu, who died when she was studying in class six. Their son Suresh is an autorickshaw driver. "Our grandchild is studying engineering. It is this small tea stall which supports our family. My only prayer and wish is to be able to listen to the sounds of the trains until my last moment," Maniyan signs off.
Maniyan's incredible memories of the Pettah railway station will soon be turned into an amazing book. A few youngsters who were floored by the genuine taste of Maniyanannan's tea are all set to come up with a book which narrates the life of Maniyan and also the snippets of his memories about the place.