Philip Lutgendorf might know more than anyone about the history of chai in India. Professor of Hindi at University of Iowa and President of the American Institute of Indian Studies, Lutgendorf spent a year in India researching chai on a Fulbright-Hays faculty research award. He submitted this anecdote of a chai wallah he met about ten years ago in Delhi whose business was revolutionized by cell phones:
I went to Old Delhi to buy some Hindi books at Star Publications on Ansari Road. Outside, on the arcaded pavement, a chai wallah had set up his stand. Nothing unusual about that, but the man was. He was smartly dressed, with a sport jacket, loafers, sunglasses tucked into the opening of his shirt. He could have been a moonlighting university professor! And he had a mobile phone (not so common in those days) hanging on a cord around his neck. While he was making chai for me (excellent chai, made to my request, with fresh ginger) his phone rang and I realized he was taking an order from a nearby office. Soon a little boy was running off with the usual wire basket full of brimful glasses. He remarked to me on what a boon the phone was for his business. This vignette, at that time, seemed to epitomize to me the changes wrought by the coming of cell phones and the emergence of a new middle class, even among very small entrepreneurs like this man.
- Philip Lutgendorf, Professor of Hindi, University of Iowa