The Architecture of Chai

Jim Manjooran

Jim Manjooran runs an architecture practice based in his home state of Goa, where he strives to incorporate regional and local characteristics into modern designs. He is a 1994 graduate of the School of Architecture at the Arvindbhai Patel Institute of Environmental Design in Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat.

The chai Jim Manjooran drank at architecture school more than 20 years ago provided lasting memories and the blueprint for a successful career. In this Chai Diaries entry, he recounts some of those memories:

My “tryst” with chai was realized 25 years ago during my architecture school days in Vallabh Vidyanagar, a campus town in Gujarat.

Jim and his classmates juggle cups of chai and blueprints.

Jim and his classmates juggle cups of chai and blueprints.


The study course of architecture is one of the most trying professional studies, next only to medicine, with incessant all-nighters, hunched over drawing boards, buried deep into tracing papers, surrounded by lead pencils, inking pens, scales and the like, for each and every of the five years that the course required – a pressure cooker situation that could only be alleviated by a very short list of methods perfected by those who had already gone through the rigor of architecture school. A break for a cup or two of chai, freshly brewed by the overfriendly neighborhood chai wallah in company of good friends, in the outdoors, was right on top of this precious list.

A favorite outdoor spot to sip cups of chai.


“Chai ho jai!” was the most welcoming of shout-outs to everyone to gather for a round of tea. Those words were magical, breathing life into tired bodies and minds – and suddenly life was beautiful!

Its literal translation has a God-like connotation and it goes “Let there be tea!” There are many who will even swear that this phrase is equal to, if not more effective than, that other set of famous words: “Let there be life!”

These chai breaks of our growing up time in architecture school fostered a unity akin to a kind of chai brotherhood, cutting across different cultures, uniting North Indians with South Indians, breaking down barriers between seniors and juniors, even between professors and students, between the chai wallah and the chai pine wallah (chai drinker), uniting everyone in their shared enthusiasm, pursuit and enjoyment of this good brew.

One of the gang's favorite chai shops.

One of the gang’s favorite chai shops.


During those strenuous times in the school of architecture, chai sipping was the one of the better habits that we cultivated among scores of others about which the less said, the better!

It’s now been 25 years since those glory days, and circumstances have changed, but this desirable chai fixation continues to flourish. The pressures of architecture school are now replaced by the pulls and pushes of a busy private architectural practice, but the essence of a round of chai remains the same: a lifter of moods and the ultimate unifier.

Jim and a friend take a chai break during one of their many all-nighters.