Midterm exams are beginning in colleges across the globe. ‘Tis the season for students to pull all nighters and to procrastinate. What better way to procrastinate than with a philosophical debate over a cup of chai?
Raman Sharma, a graduate of the prestigious and hypercompetitive Indian Institute of Technology, knows this as well as any. Currently a consultant at McKinsey & Company, he took a break from advising clients to share this memory of his favorite campus chai wallah.
Wanted to share a very special chai place which will always be memorable for me and a lot of other people from my campus. I did my undergrad from IIT Kanpur, where there is this small marketplace called ‘MT’ which has a couple of chai shops along with 2-3 paan and cigarette shops, a bike repair shop and a general store. In the middle of the compound is a small temple beside which there is a bit of an open area and a raised platform. The place has been a hub for morning tea and breakfast, cigarette supplies and evening snacks for ages. It’s the first eating place that opens in the morning on the campus and is often the final destination of a long all nighter for all students. At the same time, you’d find a groups of professors enjoying their morning tea after the morning walk.
The place had such a charm that people even had loyalties to their particular chai shop based on the type of chai they liked. People would come in groups but would get chai from their preferred chai shop. Like a typical chai shop in Uttar Pradesh, the shops also had jalebi with curd, pakodas and namkeen to enjoy with chai. Not to mention the shops entertained credits, which would be cleared once or twice a semester. One would often spend hours debating various topics ranging from curriculum, grades, professors, research topics, hypothetical extreme ideas to politics, elections, music and even some campus gossip over several cups of chai and devotional songs playing in the background. It’s a one of a kind social hub.
Recent scenes from Delhi University, where famous chai wallahs are a gathering space for students. The campus plays host to many sorts of wallahs, from bike rickshaw wallahs shuttling students to scale wallahs who weigh them.