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A chaiwala prepares masala chai on a coal fire in a street of Kolkata.
A chaiwala in Varanasi pouring a cup of chai.

A chaiwala (Hindi: चायवाला, IAST: cāyavālā) is a person who prepares, sells or serves tea on streets or small roadside shops in the Indian subcontinent.[1] They are an integral part of Indian tea culture. Chai is the Hindustani word for "tea", as in masala chai, and wallah indicates the person performing the task, so chaiwalla is a street seller of tea.

Chaiwalas, as an entrepreneurial group, tend to move from different regions of India to run their small business in major cities. They boil a mixture of water and milk, add tea leaves and then strain the tea into containers or a tea kettle. They usually serve tea in a small glasses or unglazed clay teacups (kulhar) but, in the modern era, they have started to serve tea in plastic cups. Traditionally, tea was made in brass vessels. The hygienic safety of tea prepared in this manner is disputed.[2]

Chaiwala in popular culture[edit]

In the 1955 classic film Shri 420, the hero (Raj Kapoor) brings the heroine (Nargis) to a road-side tea stall. The chaiwala insists on receiving a payment of two annas (anna is 1/16th of a rupee) for the two cups.[3] The scene serves as a prelude for the famous song "Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua", during which the chaiwala is shown sipping the tea from a saucer (which was common among the unsophisticated people). In the 2009 drama Slumdog Millionaire, the lead character, Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel), is a chaiwala in an Indian call center.[4]

Notable Chaiwalas[edit]


Advertisement for a Chai pe Charcha, 2014.

As well as Sagar Desai, the Westbourne batsman and Club Chaiwalla, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his youth, worked as a chaiwala for his father.[5][6][7] He occasionally used to serve tea to the customers of his father's tea-stall outside the Vadnagar railway station. During the 2014 Indian general election, Modi hosted a series of "chai pe charcha" ("discussion over tea") events at tea stalls across India, highlighting his humble background in stark contrast to the dynastic politics of the opposition.[8][9]

Modi's chaiwala background was mocked by Mani Shankar Aiyar, a senior leader of the then ruling Congress Party.[10] BJP successfully turned the barb into a great opportunity to emphasise his humble beginnings.[11] The former tea stall near Vadnagar railway station in Gujarat has become a tourist spot.[12]

Following Modi's success in identifying his humble chaiwala background, former Chief Minister of Bihar and RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav also claimed to be a former chaiwala.[13]

After Modi's success, the press noted several successful chaiwalas as examples of humble people who are capable of rising. They include:

  • Laxman Rao of Delhi, author of 24 books[14]
  • Arshad Khan of Islamabad, became a model and singer[15]. He was later revealed to be an Afghan from Kandahar, living illegally in Pakistan.[16] His performance as a singer and as an actor has been underwhelming.[17]
  • Navnath Yewle of Pune, who makes a living running a tea house.[18]

There was an obscure Parsi author during 1920s Phirozeshah Jamsetjee Chaiwala "Chevalier" whose manuscript The Tower of Silence was discovered by historian Gyan Prakash in the British Library, in 2013, and published by Harper Collins.[relevant? ][19]

Several publications have since reported stories on chaiwallas.[20][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is a chai wallah?". Chai Wallahs of India. 2013-04-20. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  2. ^ Tripadvisor Delhi Is it safe to drink coffee or tea?
  3. ^ Raj Kapoor Proposes To Nargis On Street - Shree 420 Most Viewed Scenes, Shemaroo, Published on Feb 2, 2012
  4. ^ IMDb Slumdog Millionaire Quotes
  5. ^ From ‘chaiwala’ to PM covet: A sneak peek into Modi's industrious life
  6. ^ Narendra Modi: from tea vendor to PM nominee Archived 15 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Zach Marks (2013-10-28). "Narendra Modi and the Calculus of Tea". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  8. ^ BJP opens NaMo Tea Stall, conduct 'Bhoomi Puja' before rally, 4 February 2014
  9. ^ The minds behind Modi's 'achhe din' and 'Chai pe Charcha' campaign, Darshan Desai, Mail Today, Ahmedabad, May 21, 2014
  10. ^ Rahul disapproves of Aiyar's 'chaiwala' jibe at Modi, TNN, Feb 7, 2014
  11. ^ BJP turns Cong's chaiwalla barb to Modi’s advantage, Hindustant times, Feb 15, 2014
  12. ^ Stall Where PM Once Sold Tea May Become Tourist Spot, Says Minister, Press Trust of India,July 04, 2017
  13. ^ "Lalu Yadav claims that he is real Chaiwala". IANS. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  14. ^ New Delhi's most famous tea seller: Meet Laxman Rao, chaiwallah by day, author by night, Aug 04, 2015
  15. ^ London calling: The rise and rise of 'chaiwala' Arshad Khan, Rida Lodhi, Express Tribune
  16. ^ Pakistan’s blue-eyed chaiwalla model belongs to Afghanistan, say authorities, Hindustan Times, Jul 11, 2017
  17. ^ Chaiwala's new song is out and it is not quite what we expected, Express Tribune, January 2, 2017
  18. ^ This Pune chaiwala makes Rs 12 lakh a month. Yes., India Today, March 4, 2018
  19. ^ The Tower of Silence, a Zoroastrian detective story, British Library, 12 DECEMBER 2013
  20. ^ Tea Tuesday: Meet The Chai Wallahs Of India, NPR June 14, 2016
  21. ^ The chai walas of India, Showkat Shafi, AlJazeera, Oct 2016