If anyone knows about the diversity of India’s chai culture it is Vidya Mahadevan. She attended schools across 5 Indian states, has lived in a few more, and picked up 6 languages (excluding English) in the process. She’s currently in Philadelphia getting her MBA from Wharton and MA in International Studies focused on India from Lauder. But while the City of Brotherly Love has plenty of degrees for Vidya, it’s unfortunately lacking in chai wallahs. Here’s an anecdote she submitted, the latest entry in our Chai Diaries notebook:
This was back in 2008. I was working out of Bangalore, India for a large multinational bank based out of the US. As one would have guessed, my job inevitably required me to work until late in the night almost everyday. We, like several other multinational giants, were stationed in ITPL in Whitefield, one of the best and high-end tech-parks of the Bangalore, the Technology Hub of India.
At the back gate of this ITPL’s campus there were several chai walas selling “cutting chai” for Rs 3 to 5 from their small mobile shops which were called “tapri”. They operated until very late in the night and always served hot “elachi chai” and “adarak chai” in small plastic cups. Many who stepped away from their desks for smoke breaks preferred to enrich those breaks with a cup of cutting chai.
One could find several IT and finance professionals, clad in their formal clothes and suits enjoying their small cup of tea over friendly chats and deep and thoughtful conversations. I used to wonder several times- What makes people frequent these tapri ‘s so often? We get the best Café Coffee Day coffee and tea in our offices and that too for free, then why do we still feel the need to grab a small cup of cutting chai every day?
I think I also knew the answers to my questions very well. These chai breaks helped us switch off our professional brains for a while and get out of our highly intense work zones. Personally, these chai breaks also allowed me to be myself for that brief span of time. I enjoyed going on these breaks alone, lost in my own thoughts and with some time in my hand to observe the life around me. Most importantly, owner of one of the chai tapri’s that I frequented very often recognized me very well and always greeted me with a beaming smile and warm words of welcome. Whenever I have had a really long day or was stressed out, she used to figure that out that just by looking at me and ask,”Kaisa chal raha hai sab kuch, Didi, bahut kaam hai kya? Chai doon?”
Those few warm and caring words and hot chai would brighten my day, instantly!
Pictures from Sonu’s chai stand outside a corporate office complex in Gurgaon, Haryana.