Breaking Stereotypes Over Chai: Meet Priyank Patel of Nukkad, The Teafe
The specially-abled and the members of the Transgender community are as much an integral part of the society as anyone else. Raipur’s “Nukkad, The Teafe” is making sure the society understands this and paves way for inclusion. Started by Priyank Patel, this cafe hires only specially-abled and transgender community staff members for serving and managerial roles. Presently, there are three transgender employees and ten specially-abled people. Besides serving tea, food and fulfilling conversations, the cafe has become an example of social acceptance in the city.
SheThePeople.TV spoke with Priyank about his journey, his inspirations and the factors that keep him going. Excerpts from the interview:
How did you come to open “Nukkad, The Teafe” ?
In 2013, after my stint with IT and Social sector, I felt there was a need for a bridging platform between marginalised communities and our mainstream society. Nukkad was proposed as an idea of an informal, laid back and cosy cafe, offering non-discriminatory opportunities and creating a space for conversations. We started with hearing-impaired members, having them at the forefront where they could interact and engage. After working confidently with them for three years, we expanded our vision and included Transgender community members as well.
Where does the name come from?
Nukkad, in Hindi, means a corner of the street where people come, sit and share a cup of chai. Teafe is a portmanteau for Tea cafe. We wanted Nukkad to be one such place where people can come, relax, share a chai and simply feel good.
Tell us about your background. How has it shaped your mindset and thought process?
I am an electronics engineer. In 2011, I quit my job and joined the young India fellowship. While working with communities in the villages of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha, I realised the need of for informed choices and was upset with the disparity in social segments. Post fellowship, I worked on many ideas one of which was creating a volunteering firm named “Jazbaa The passion within”, which was formed to promote the gratefulness among youth for the Indian armed forces and at the same time looking after the families of the martyrs. We were working on it but had no funds, or expertise. The results were slow, so, we decided to make it more engaging and thought of opening up a ‘Chai Cafe’ that works as a bridge between communities. We worked on the idea for six months and in June 2013, came up with Nukkad.
We don’t claim to work for marginalized communities employment, rather we work on engagement and empowerment.
Your cafe is known to only recruit staff members, who are specially-abled or members of the transgender community. What inspired you to implement such a thoughtful and humane idea?
While working on the idea, I heard about “The Miracle Couriers” from Mumbai, which is a logistics company that employs all hearing-impaired staff, I implied that why can’t we create a space for a community interaction. We don’t claim to work for marginalized communities employment, rather we work on engagement and empowerment. As the society started expecting more from our concept, we involved transgender members. In our upcoming ventures, we plan to work with people with Down syndrome, autism and HIV positive.
How has the response to the hiring process been?
As I was new to Raipur, I had to look for the organisations working with the hearing impaired. Once I connected, I then needed to train the staff as it was their first experience. Things were hard when it came to recruiting members of the transgender community as employees. The society has some rigid preconceived notions and we needed to smash the stigma. The community was reluctant in the beginning of being part of such a social experiment but eventually two proud members Naaz and Chand joined us and they became everyone’s source of inspiration.
The cafe is an example of social acceptance. How do you feel when you realise that you’re creating an inspiring story with every recruitment?
It is definitely a very satisfying experience. When visitors talk about the positive vibes the place offers, or even seeing the transformation among the employees is an enriching experience. Earlier the family members of the employees considered them non-productive, and now they make their folks proud.
What kind of policy changes do you think we need to help integrate the specially-abled in the mainstream?
Social inclusion is a challenging yet much-needed concept. We need to understand that every individual should be given fair chances to prove their worth. As a society, we must be more compassionate and generous.
Offering them reservation or giving them a job where no one else understands them won’t solve the purpose, we must create an inclusive workspace where they are understood, accepted and appreciated.
Given that cafe’s popularity, it’s obvious that the customer reactions are heart-warming. What keeps your customers intact and committed?
It’s the personal engagement and innovation. Especially due to our innovative initiatives like open mic platform their writings or interact with socially influential personalities.
We have a Digital detox initiative whereby submitting your cell phones while chilling at Nukkad you can avail a discount. Gyaan Daan – Book exchange initiative, Bol do is an anti-depression movement offering peer support. We also engage in sessions about social taboos and discussions.
Where does your love for tea come from?
I still remember the aroma of freshly made Chai that my mom used to make in the morning. It is a ritual. We are a regular indian family that loves its Chai for every occasion.
I realised Chai is a real conversation starter, so Nukkad was built on the idea of a Chai serving place that offers social inclusion.
The ambience and interior are undoubtedly one-of-a-kind. What got you to create a certain atmosphere?
We were certain of creating an atmosphere that connects with everyone.We always wanted to give Nukkad a warm and homely feel.
What would you want to tell the people in their twenties when it comes to finding their own story and passion?
A. Find your talent and use it for good.
B. Don’t ignore your social responsibility. Ask yourself, what did you contribute to make this world a happy place.
C. Travel, be compassionate, meet and interact with new people and decide your own course of journey.
What inspires you to keep going?
I am passionate and engaged in developing a socially inclusive ecosystem. The vision we carry, is to create a harmonious society where everyone is equal and their rights are supported. It’s a long journey and we have just begun.
Bhawana is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv