I live in Boulder too, and no, cafés aren’t going to sell very good chai. You know who might? A Desi friend, if she had one.By Nami Thompson On Bollywood sets, by train and bus stations, and beside nearly every masjid and temple in India, a chai-wallah, or chai-walli if they’re female-identifying, has a cart that goes unnoticed until needed. They sell cups of hot chai for 5-10 INR, or less than $0.15 When I read about Brook Eddy, described in a recent recent interview with Inc as, “America's own 21st-century master chai-wallah,” I wondered what century she thinks all the Indian chai-walleh live in. I’m American, I’m Desi, and I make chai (which means tea, so y’all don’t have to say chai tea) as did my American citizen mom and grandmother, long before Eddy stepped foot in India, but we and our countless cups made for friends aren’t noteworthy. It’s because this brand and interview are a celebration of successful modern colonization. Eddy’s company, Bhakti Chai, was founded after she listened to an NPR story on Swadhyay and moved to India. “Swadhyay seemed like this really cool movement that 20 million people were practicing but no one had heard of." As a no one whose humanity is obliterated by the above comment, I’d like to share a bit about Swadhyay, which is a Hindu socio-political movement founded by Pandurang Shastri Athavale at around the time of Independence. He was anti-Brahmin, pro-Dalit, and disagreed publicly with Gandhi. He was also pro-Hinduttva and anti-RSS, thus making him one of the most complex political figures in our recent history. What Brook Eddy heard on NPR as “a really cool movement,” is painful for Desis to articulate, and she likely heard of it as they reported Athavale’s death. It’s possible to learn about and listen to Desi scholars while they’re alive. White westerners approached Athavale in his time and asked him to bring his social models to the US. He always declined. Whatever Desis make of his political beliefs, Swadhyay is not for sale in the US. The Inc article goes on, “Back home in Boulder, Colorado, [Eddy] formulated an original chai brew when she was unable to find an authentic version at her local cafés. In 2007, she began selling mason jars of her one-of-a-kind infusion out of the back of her car and soon gained a following.” I live in Boulder too, and no, cafés aren’t going to sell very good chai. You know who might? A Desi friend, if she had one. Let’s get real about privilege. If Mr. Khanna the chai-wallah walked up to a white lady in Boulder and said “I have a speciality drink from India in this jar. Only $10,” he would be ticketed and in handcuffs. Food trucks only became legal here in 2011, but unlicensed tea in a jar just isn’t and never will be.
Let’s go through a list ten of the most widely appropriated South Asian accessories, and what they really mean. Countries across Asia and beyond are mired in a history of oppression. For many of us, the oppression is far from over,