What Is Chai Wallah?

Chai wallahs are everywhere in India.  Everywhere.  From busy urban street corners to hidden alleyways, at bus depots and railway platforms and walking through the train cars, along riversides and on footpaths that lead to religious pilgrimage sites in the middle of nowhere – when you need a fresh cup of tea, the chai wallah is always near.

When pulling into a train station in India, the first sound you hear is the ensemble of chai wallahs singing their sales pitch. Breaking chai into two syllables and accentuating the second, “chai-eee, chai-eee,” the chai wallahs make them- selves known to the passengers. You can hang out the window and get a chai to go, or wait for them to come to your seat.

Chai wallahs’ small stands are like the hub of a wheel whose spokes are people from every walk of life. At one chai stand, you might find a rickshaw puller next to a businessman next to a college girl, all drinking the same brew from the same cups. In a country as stratified as India, where caste, socioeconomic status and religion can be incredibly divisive, it’s amazing to see barriers melt away over a cup of chai.

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