Divided by religion and regions and united by ‘chai-pani’- this should be the new slogan for the country that has been broken into fragments over the past few centuries. No matter to which part of the country one belongs, we are very much possessive about our ‘cup of tea’ and there can be no substitute, whatsoever, to it!
‘Chai-pani’, which is roughly translated to English as ‘tea & water’, is a non-separable part of an Indian’s life. It is more than just being a mere drink. It is but a tradition, a culture, source to establish an empire and above all it is wholesome entertainment.
Imagine a situation when you have nothing worthy to do and you hit the streets, wandering aimlessly and suddenly you bump into an old friend. What is the first thing you would say after sharing all the pleasantries- ‘Come, let us have a cup of tea. The stall out there makes real tasty tea.’
‘Real tasty tea’ is just an exaggeration, which we often tend to add- simply to put more emphasis on our desire to have that cup of tea. Cricket teams are coached; processes to curb corruption are formulated and a lot of things are discussed and discussed during these numerous ‘chai-pani’ moments.
Here I would like to narrate a story of my friend Utpal Barman. Utpal, during the degree days, was one hell of a hard working guy. He used to come out of the house at six in the morning and after delivering cosmetic goods at various shops, he reached college only to attend the last half of the first lecture. Warnings from the professors went in vain as the part time job of a sell’s-boy earned him his fees for the college.
“Partha, wait and watch! One day I will be the zonal manager, sales, of some company. I want to earn money, a lot of it,” he said in one of our regular tea addas in one of the most popular tea stalls of Tezpur town.
Claims like these are quite common and we all make one or the other at some point of time. But when I met him in 2013 after a gap of four years, I was speechless. He was indeed the assistant zonal manager, sales, in one of the most reputed medical companies of the country. Later he said that tea for him is real stress-buster and morale booster and he draws in a lot of positive energy with every sip of tea that he drinks.
“Having tea at several addas has always been beneficial for me as I have drawn inspiration every time. The ‘chai-pani’ moments for me are special,” he said that day while finishing off his last peg of whisky.
On the far side, there exists another class of people who have all the time in the world and the only thing they are good at is to sit near a tea stall, sip in cups and cups of tea and make all the right and wrong predictions about the world. They even make policies, frame laws, direct movies, rectify the culture and…..the list is endless!
The drink, which the British felt was actually a refreshing interval, had turned into something cult in India.
‘Chai-pani’ has even found a new meaning, and presently the second meaning is more popular than its actual one. Today, it means bribe – especially the petty ones paid to government officials to get things done.
We hear about it, we speak about it, we read about it and it has become a part of our system and ironically enough we have even accepted it as ‘the standard’ operating procedure. Yet being in a situation where you experience a ‘chai-pani’ moment firsthand is a feeling quite queer in itself- definitely not a comfortable one for the first timer.
If you think that offering ‘chai-pani’ is as simple as its name, then you are grossly mistaken. You simply cannot offer the ‘chai-pani’ to the officer concerned just like that for your things to get done. There is a ‘procedure’ you see and if you don’t follow the ‘procedure’, then you are up for some serious trouble!
“When I went for my learner’s license, the officer on duty said that I should give him something for ‘chai-pani’. To this I said that no issues as there are number of tea stalls outside the DTO and he can drink as much he wants. After this he stared me for a while, shook his head and went away. Well that day I understood properly what this ‘chai-pani expense’ actually means,” said Pinku, a 19-year old student while narrating his ‘chai-pani’ moment while he went to the District Transport Office (DTO) to issue his license.
“Chai-pani’ expenses in the offices have become a must as there are number of babus and badebabus who will never work until and unless they are given something to meet their ‘chai-pani’,” says Dr S Dutta, who too has experienced such a moment.
Sad but true ‘chai-pani’ today is more of a curse word and has been loaded with immense negativity. The beauty and simplicity of the tea and the teatime gossips of yesteryears have been completely replaced and the sanity of ‘chai-pani’ is lost. In other words, ‘chai-pani’ is long dead and what we have today is a revised and zombie version and this is deadly and un-refreshing which in complete contrast to the original.
RIP beloved ‘chai-pani’, I miss you and I am sure there are many like me among those who are reading this last sentence!