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.
Colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw material, and governmental structures.
My turn to state an equation: colonization = “thing-ification.” - Aimé CésaireThe use of social media as a powerful tool for free education on various topics continually rises, with definitions, experiential narratives, and resources being shared through Twitter threads, short videos, Facebook statuses, and even memes. And while this is a mostly positive phenomena, there seems to be a trend of words, and thus words’ associated theories, being used misguidedly. Often, this is a simple case of fighting character limits and the loss of nuance that occurs through online mediums, and other times it seems a phenomena of genuine miseducation and confusion. Words like intersectionality, decolonize, imperialism, socialism, and other loaded terms that come with decades of jargon are at times applied to everything, and their actual meaning is lost. Observing this pattern is what lead me to the idea of an article series titled “Words Mean Things,” wherein each month I choose a different word and discuss the theories, uses, theorists, examples, applications, and praxis surrounding it. The goal is to do this as concisely as possible and, understanding these will never be wholly conclusive of all definitions, applications, and examples of certain words, to deliver small primers that exist as resources to lead readers to study deeper. I often say that words mean everything, and then anything, just before meaning nothing.