That “White Cup” of Tea | M. F. Janawari

I heard a friend recalling a professor, “if veins of students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) are cut, it will let tea gush out instead of blood”. This speaks about the fondness of AMU students for tea and quantity of tea that students have in a day. No doubt in whole of India a cup of tea makes your moment. But Aligarh has the honour of having tea as a ‘tradition’ and let you know the tea served here is unique in quality and it cannot be found anywhere else in India, for sure.

“Aligarh city is known for many things like those of pad-locks, barbecues and tea. Above all, it is the abode of knowledge and wisdom holding in its lap the world renowned Aligarh Muslim University. Since, the university has a very large sprawling residential campus with more than seventy hostels where canteens serving tea as a prime menu item are busy all the time. Besides, almost every department has its own canteen to serve the tea. It is not all, on every road you are welcomed by small canteens for the purpose. Oh yes, when in AMU campus, don’t miss the Central Library canteen (Maulana Azad Library Canteen). Just for a cup of tea, a cup of traditional love indeed”—this is what was narrated to me by a good friend some three years ago when I was admitted to the esteemed AMU. He was ideally cent percent correct; no doubt.

Three years passed by sipping at from the small oval white cups at these canteens. All the time it were just Rs. 5 for a cup of tea. But in our AMU, there is a meek sense of seniority that tags juniority in an unknowing wink to calculate the number of years of being an Alig (Aligarian), perhaps even if not on rolls for that matter. This period of being Alig is what is called “Standing”. Thus, more this standing, more is the seniority. It may be amazing to some but it had a great reason behind. Seniority in terms of standing was for the propagation of a unique AMU tradition envisioned by its revered founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. In a single line, it can be understood as the old residents know better the place than who entered later.

With the due course of time this seniority happened to get stained by some hegemonic cult which rendered this varsity a place where tea is served in different qualities. The qualities—just two—seniors’ tea and the tea. This nomenclature is also seen as so called special-tea; I mean ‘Senior’s tea’. Now the vendors at the canteens recognize the faces to whom special tea is to be given. As one from the general students or junior category of its sort one cannot even dream of a good cup of tea even for the money paid. The tea which is specially served at these canteens is what is in actual the tea Aligarh is famous for. This may mean new comers to encounter a different vision for tea and thus the already foisted idea about Aligarh traditional tea is rendered false.

It is not the climax. Yes, view it at a right projection. That is when a tea differentiates you from the rest, you have landed in a hegemonic atmosphere where even if you pay you can’t relish the special tea unless you turn a senior and then if you even don’t pay you can order hundreds of cups in a single word. These canteens, not only show the hegemony in rule but also provide the so termed juniors with an elitist insult. The elitism in this patch of tradition is seen in dining halls (i.e. hostel mess) also where ‘older’ students are treated far well than the ‘newer’. The elitism in terms of hegemonic seniority of the present AMU is seen in every corner of otherwise peaceful AMU life. But it is sustaining as a sore that may engulf the intellectual airs of this varsity in near future and thus the vision of Aligarh Muslim University envisioned by his greatness, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

Let’s have that white cup of tea—a cup of tea or a cup of elitist insult !


M. F. Janawari

M. F. Janawari

M. F. Jawari is Doctoral Fellow at Department of Linguistics, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh

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