Our Journey Begins


Reflections from Resham

When I learned in high school psychology class that smell is the most primitive of our five senses – that the nerves are located in the very back of the brain, far removed from the frontal lobe where all our logical decision making takes place – everything made sense. Since I was a child, I’ve always had strong reactions to smells. They’ve transported me to times or places that I had forgotten, taking me out of my current state and temporarily transforming me to a younger version of myself. Stepping off the plane from Delhi today and inhaling the air – somehow humid and full of the smell of burning trash, even though we were still in the enclosed, modern, sterile airport – was one of those moments. My eyes were bleary from 17 hours of travel, my ears were still ringing with the white noise of the airplane’s engine, my mouth was dry from lack of water, and my body felt cramped from being curled into a hard seat for too long, but my nose told me that everything was right, that I was back home.

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Cell Phones and Chai: A Boon for Business

Philip Lutgendorf

Professor of Hindi at University of Iowa and President of the American Institute of Indian Studies.

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

Downtown Dhaba Chai

As our date of departure nears, we have been dealing with the logistics of picking up and moving halfway across the world for the foreseeable future.

Tata India map

Constantly cleaning the apartment to secure that elusive responsible, clean and sane subletter? Check.

Nonstop studying of YouTube tutorials, DSLRs for Dummies books and dpreview.com comments to learn how to take stunning photographs of the chai wallahs we meet? Check.

Scrambling to stay on top of our website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and WordPress accounts – and accidentally deleting essential HTML code along the way? Check and check.

Amidst the madness, we carved out time to meet some key players in the Indian diaspora – the Chai Wallahs of New York City.

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