Many of you may be fond of it, and many of you maybe not, but let’s face it, chai is a brilliant conversation starter. It also typifies the true essence of India. And you will find chaiwallahs brewing tea anywhere in India: whether it is in thatched huts, in tiny aluminum coops or random make-shift joints shops set up in the corner of a street, chai is one drink that is accessible anytime, anywhere.
And this is precisely what Zach and Resham observed when they travelled to India for their respective Fulbright-Nehru fellowships.
After returning to US and spending a few years in their respective jobs, they decided to revisit India to document the chai culture. ‘Chaiwallahs are essential characters in Indian life, and they provide a lens through which one can explore the society. We wanted to capture their stories, especially since India is developing so rapidly,’ says the duo. So they started Chaiwallahs of India, a beautiful online platform that visually records the tea-makers and their idiosyncratic shops across the country.
After backpacking to the remotest areas of India, including the hills of the Southwestern Odisha, Zach and Resham realized that they had sipped chai at about 600 distinct chai thelas. ‘Chaiwallahs provide a space for people from all walks of life to come together. In a society that can otherwise be very stratified, chaiwallahs bring people together.’
In addition to blogging about some of the chaiwallahs, their website is an amalgamation of other features as well, which represents India’s diversity and shows how chai transcends differences. One is Chai Diaries, where they feature personal chai stories written by people. The other is Ek Shabd, which is a photo essay of varied people holding a whiteboard displaying the one word that pops up when they hear, ‘Chai’!
Text Hansika Lohani
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