Not all chai stories have a happy ending. Like many street vendors in India, chai wallahs often lead a precarious existence. Their stands can be shut down by police or the local mafia demanding a bribe, or by the government when it needs to clear space for development.
Ana Stern lived in Pune for nearly three years and became close to her favorite chai wallah, who faced eviction and an uncertain future:
Unfortunately my favorite chaiwala disappeared when the government decided to clean up the streets. One day they just started knocking down roadside stalls. I wanted to cry. My chaiwala’s partner was walking away with a slab of sheet metal, said that was all that was left, and bye. Later in June I ran into my chaiwala trying to find employment at a mall. It was heartbreaking to listen to his story. He really did have the best chai ever.
Ana also shared a more uplifting story about Yatin, her friend and chai guru.
On a happier chai note, my friend used to come to my house and teach me how to make chai properly. I would lay out all of the ingredients when he said he was close by and then get called a good student. For fun we would namaste and bow when he walked in and I would greet him with a, “hello chaiguru!” We would then proceed to the kitchen where he would call me a great student for laying out the ingredients. It was always amazing. Occasionally I would make the chai before he came over and it was never quite as good. Just once I got a “bahut acha” from him and it made my day (that and the great chai). When one of my best girlfriends came over she would tell me that the way I made it is all wrong. Although I listened to her for all other cooking advice, I will only follow my chaiguru, Yatin, for chai.