The city’s real estate prices mean that tea hotels spill out on to the streets where it’s much more pleasant. This culture comes at a price, however, with tea hotels shelling out roughly Rs10,000 a month to keep the cops and city government staff off their backs.
They pay for informal permission to place chairs and tables on the road in front of the hotels. “When we don’t give them the money, they take the chairs from inside the hotel,” says Ramzan Kakar, who heads the union. “This daily humiliation…the public is sitting there, watching. The KMC wallahs come and shoo us away.”Ramzan Kakar is the president of the Anjuman Tajiran and Hotel Association which has 30,000 registered members, but estimates are that Karachi has 200,000 tea hotels. They have good cause to band together as a spell of violence in 2016 targeted tea hotels. It wasn’t just an ethnic beef, in many cases political party workers drinking tea outside would find themselves on the wrong end of the barrel of another political party worker’s TT pistol. The tea hotels paid the price for the shootings.The Quetta tea hotels, as they call themselves, got together then and formed a 75-member council that elects a president every year. This year they chose Ramzan Kakar, who hails from Pishin but has been living in Karachi for 30 years. The president can be removed any time. So the pressure is on for Kakar to deliver.Much is at stake. “We told Khurram Sher Zaman [of the PTI] many times about the problem,” Kakar says. The association is happy to pay money in some form of a license or tax to the government, but it wants the permission for outdoor seating. Kakar says there should be a token or receipt system. That would still be cheaper than the high levels of bribery and extortion they have to pay.The authorities are understandably reluctant to legalise or formalize any relation with the tea hotels. “District Central has the most number of tea hotels,” Kakar says. Even if you go by the registered tea hotels, (30,000) that comes to Rs300 million a month in bribery/extortion.The police are not the only ones in on the take. “You don’t get something if you aren’t willing to give something,” said Karachi mayor Waseem Akhtar. “When they all are in on it then bad things happen.” He said that if he found KMC staff involved, he would do something about it.Each Quetta tea hotel makes about 400 cups of tea a day, which means that the registered members are serving Karachi 12 million cups a day. That is Rs36 million in earnings a daily. The business provides jobs to roughly 250,000 men, so many livelihoods are at stake.Kakar might be able to fight this fight. He is someone to watch. Last month he joined the Pakistan People’s Party. In fact, his brother Ali Kakar got more votes in a union council election than MPAs in the same area. The PPP would be smart to woo Kakar in a city where the ANP vote has been decimated and there is a gigantic Pashtun vote bank. Kakar has already demonstrated leadership skills and he has deep pockets, which is not a bad combination if you want a Pashto-speaking MPA.As this story aired on SAMAA TV news filtered in that the Sindh government had noted the bribery-extortion news. If Kakar gets what he wants, it would have been a good political strategy. The recipe for tea is, however, much simpler. He says they get milk from Bhens Colony and loose leaf tea from Lea Market. Oh, and that technique in which the man ladles the milky brew up high as it cooks, that’s just for the flavour. You can follow him @Yasirsilat. Cameraman: Qasim Rais