Roadside Tea–Chaiwalas


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

17 Mar 2020 – Tea is a cheap drink that most Indians relish at home and in restaurants.  The word comes from the Chinese term cha from where it is presumed the tea leaves spread to different parts of the world.

Apart from expensive restaurants, there are many small eateries on the road side that sell tea, snacks biscuits and mathis a home baked salty biscuit. These roadside chaiwalas (tea shops) not only offer these items for eating and drinking, they also offer opportunities for gossip and sharing each others’ problems.

Chaiwala literally means the man who sells tea on the road. But there are some intrepid, brave women who have taken on the responsibility of offering not only tea and snacks to people but who take care of their children at home or those who are going to school.

In my neighbourhood there is a tea and mathi shop which is run by a brave woman. Her husband the original chaiwala died a few years back. How to take care of the family was uppermost in the mind of his widow. She decided to run the shop; how well she succeeded is visible to anyone passing by. There are always people waiting for their tea, biscuits and other snacks which are moderately priced and delicious to eat.

One can write about other roadside tea vendors that make news for one reason or another. One chaiwala is well known for his political interests. He has many interesting stories to relate about different politicians. He gossips about them as if he knew them personally.

However, one famous chaiwala in India is the Prime Minister of India Mr Narendra Modi. He was indeed making and selling tea as a young man. His success from that humble position to his present status is admirable and an inspiration for many young people.

I want to add one more true account of another woman who also sells tea and biscuits in my neighbourhood. Her story is similar to the woman whose account I have related above except that her shop is not so visibly placed and consequently there are fewer customers going to her shop.

I was passing by her shop a few days back when she smiled and beckoned me. I know her for many years and treat her like my friend though she is a simple chaiwala. Her story is similar to the earlier one.

Her husband died several years back leaving her the almost impossible duty of looking after her children and aged parents of her deceased husband. But she converted the impossible into possible by her hard work and pleasant nature.

I was not keen to have tea on that day when she beckoned me. But her words and demeanour were so inviting that I sat down and drank half a cup of tea. After drinking, I paid her the usual amount of ten rupees. She just would not accept the money. “You are my friend and I invited you” she said sincerely. With genuine feelings she reluctantly accepted the petty amount.

While leaving her roadside tea shop, I could not help admiring her sincerity, her friendship and simplicity. I had enjoyed her company and partaken for a few moments of her goodwill and kindness.

I wish there were more people like her and the world would be a place of peace, joy and harmony.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Mar 2020.

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