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An India without Chai

Can you imagine an India without chai? I can't. But that was the reality not too long ago.

At the beginning of the 20th century, in fact, the VAST majority of Indians were not tea drinkers. They regarded tea as simply an herbal remedy or medicine. How did the Tea Association change India's drinking habits so overwhelmingly? I just finished reading Lizzie Collingham's Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, which spells out their tactics in her chapter on chai.

It took a vigorous campaign from 1901 - 1919 to convince India of her need for chai. Tea stalls were set up at coal mines, factories, and cotton mills to persuade a captive audience. The Tea Association employed "smart European travelers", who would traverse India selling cheap packets of Lipton tea, cajoling grocers to stock tea, and arranging tea delivery to offices around the country. The Tea Association provided kettles, cups, and tea to small contractors to set up at railway stations, selling "Garam, garam chai!". Train travelers eventually warmed up to the idea of chai. Because of religious sensitivities, tea stalls had to be divided into Hindu and Muslim sections.

Having conquered the workplace and railway stations, how did the Tea Association get into Indian homes? An army of tea demonstrators were sent to large cities and towns. For four months they visited each house in a specific area of town. They visited the same homes every day at the same time, except on Sundays. They demonstrated how to brew tea to women and staff in their homes. In extremely orthodox towns where women were kept separate from men, female tea demonstrators showed the women how to properly brew tea.

India was changed forever.

What did it take to change the drinking habits of a nation? At least 18 years of vigorous, intentional work. Unrelenting.

This speaks to my situation beyond the cup of chai that's presently in my hand :)

The Tea Association had a crystal clear goal - conquer the Indian market. They employed multiple tactics and persevered for at least 18 years, in spite of minuscule initial results. They didn't throw in the towel after the first year of no results. They didn't give up after the fifth year of nothing. They kept on. Unrelenting.

Dekko Trading has a crystal clear goal - empower artisans to create the life they want to live. We give ladies income-earning opportunities in a male-dominated society. We work with ladies who are uneducated, many of whom believe they have little or no worth as compared to men. Many ladies are unable to make a decision for themselves. Afraid to dream or even hope for a better life.

Our message to these ladies is simple - You have value. You have worth.

The Tea Association reminds me to be Unrelenting and Vigorous with our message. Utilize multiple tactics through skills training, job creation, healthcare awareness and student sponsorship program. Don't give in to the "microwave" cultural attitude of wanting instant results. Keep on with this message of empowerment and community transformation.

Keep on keeping on.

(And keep the chai coming!) 

Photo credit: Brady Black


  • Dekko Trading

    We certainly have much to gain from reading history, eh? You, Justin, know that well! alicia

  • Justin

    I love seeing the Goodreads carryover =)

    What a great analogy for your work also!

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