Radio City Chai: On Air in Hindi

“Chai! Chai! Chai! Chai! Aap aksar sunti ho gayi local train mein ya apni gali zaroor agar koi bechta hoga. Toh lekin Radio City 91.1 par aaj do khaas mehman hamare saath…”

(Chai! Chai! Chai! Chai! You’ll often hear this from someone on the local train or on your street. But today on Radio City 91.1. we have two special guests…)

So began our Hindi radio debut on one of Mumbai’s highest rated morning talk shows, Kasa Kai Mumbai on Radio City 91.1 FM. Just as millions in the Maximum City were drinking their first cup of the day or sitting stuck in rush hour traffic, we chatted with hosts and Salil Acharya and Archana Pania about Bollywood and where to get the best cup of chai in Mumbai.

Listen to the full interview here:


The spicy masala chai served in the Radio City studio was just what we needed to get our brains into Hindi mode. (The hosts had warned us their audience gets turned off by even a few words in English and the studio’s walls are plastered with papers reminding radio jockeys: “WATCH LANGUAGE. HINDI.”)

After commenting on our favorite film of the season, Ram-Leela, we gave a shout out to two of our favorite Mumbai chai wallahs: Santosh and Rajendra.

Santosh, Pandurang Budhkar Marg outside Kamala Mills back entrance, Lower Parel

Santosh now runs Janta Seva Hindu Hotel, the tea stall where he has been working for the past 15 years since he was a boy. We were tipped off to Santosh by Joanna Lobo, a reporter at the newspaper Daily News & Analysis, or DNA, when she was writing a piece on our chai project.


“Most of the DNA staff would go to his stall every day,” she said, recalling how she and her colleagues would gossip about office politics over cups of Santosh’s gingery chai. DNA has since moved to a new office complex about twenty minutes away, which has imposed a change in caffeine consumption patterns – there is a Starbucks in the lobby and chai wallahs are prohibited from entering the complex. This has caused a crisis among the DNA staff.

“The whole profession of journalism revolves around people drinking chai and having smokes,” Joanna said. “[Santosh’s] chai is worth the walk, but we just don’t have time.”

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Clowning Around in Mumbai

For our ongoing Ek Shabd photo series, we have been asking people around India what one word comes to their mind when they hear the word chai. But one word is not enough to tell the stories behind these individuals. This post, about a clown in Mumbai, begins a series of profiles describing the people whose pictures are included in the Ek Shabd gallery.

Foolingyou, a clown based in Mumbai, poses for our Ek Shabd photo series.

Foolingyou, a clown based in Mumbai, poses for our Ek Shabd photo series.

MUMBAI – ”I’m Happy,” the man with a big red nose introduces himself. “Happy Foolingyou.”

Mr. Foolingyou, whose website claims he is “The first ‘INDIAN’ clown,” has been clowning around professionally in Mumbai for 15 years. “Before that I was in the Navy. There were a lot of clowns there too,” he jokes.

Just as the chai wallah is an essential figure in modern India, “the maskara or vidushak has played a key role throughout Indian history,” Mr. Foolingyou explains, using the Hindi words for clown. “He was the jester who would make the king laugh. The one guy who could tell jokes and not get slaughtered. He was the village buffoon and would serve as the king’s spy since he could get people to talk and no one would take him seriously.”

Mr. Foolingyou sprinkles his acts with a little social activism. One of his characters is named Chukka Chuk, which he says means “squeaky clean.” He goes to low-income communities and teaches students about proper hygiene and sanitation practices. “Being a clown is not just shaking my butt. It is teaching kids and families while bringing joy into their lives.”

Among his incarnations are Happy TOYBANKER, who brings donated toys to poor neighborhoods, Dr. Laff A Lot, who visits sick children in hospitals, and Indian Maharaja, the self-proclaimed “KING of magic.”

We asked Mr. Foolingyou what the first word he thinks of when he hears the word “chai.” Ever the joker with a social message to share, Mr. Foolingyou responded, “Pani!” 

“Chai-pani” literally means “tea-water” in Hindi, but it is widely used as a phrase for a bribe, representative of the petty corruption that is rampant in India. If you want to avoid a ticket after being stopped by a cop or want to get your file to the top at a bureaucratic office building, you might be asked to give a little “chai-pani,” just enough to buy a round of tea or two.

For more stories of what chai means to people from various walks of life in India, visit our Ek Shabd gallery.

Bollywood Chai: Behind the Scenes with a Legend

As we entered the gates of Mumbai’s massive Film City, security guards descended upon us demanding to know what business we had there. Just a few yards in front of us was Kareena Kapoor Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest names, makeup artists fussing over her face. But we weren’t there to see Kareena. We had come to meet another legend of India’s booming entertainment industry – Balwan Singh Negi, who has worked as a spot boy for the past 40 years, serving chai on the sets of upwards of 200 films.

Balwan Singh Negi, who goes by the name Bahadur, has been serving chai on Bollywood sets for the past 40 years.

From behind the scenes, Bollywood’s spot boys keep the industry going. They move equipment on set, keep gawking crowds out of shots, perform odd jobs as needed, and of course, make and serve the chai that gives actors the boost they need to film the same scenes over and over.

When we told security we had come to see Mr. Negi, known affectionately as Bahadur, a guard replied, “Oh, that is a very senior man you have come to see!” We were whisked past Kareena’s entourage and beyond a table with a thermos labeled “VIP Tea,” to the side of a film prop warehouse where Bahadur was stirring a pot of boiling milk.

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