Those unacquainted with this city’s ethos may find the typical Hyderabadi obsession with Irani Chai (tea) amusing. Some may even accuse them of being chai-addicts, which (justifiably, I may add) is met by strong denial, nay defensive, “Others may as well be called air-addicts or water-addicts then.”
For the younger generation the ideal venue of a get-together begins with Cafe Coffee Day / McDonalds (when hard-pressed on cash!) and might extend to any upper limit when feasible. But before affluenza took over the Y2K generation, Irani Cafes were the most popular meeting venue for the cash-strapped teens. In a bid to appear more Western than the West we have sadly abandoned efforts to modernize our traditional outlets and instead sought to westernize them.
The joyous conversations and noisy ambiance has since been replaced with uneasy silence punctuated with tight-lipped formal conversations. But to my mind nothing beats the cluttered, crowded Irani Cafes that always are vibrant, soulful and overflowing with humanity (that they suit my humble budget is purely incidental! J ) It is a pity that the mushrooming food franchises have rapidly replaced the better among the cafes, and many that remain operational today are poorly maintained. Although many appear to be doing roaring business the uncomfortably untidy atmosphere has been responsible for its customer-base sliding from the middle-class to the lower segment.
And yet, these Hyderabadi cafes come with the complete package: Osmania biscuits (a unique city-variety made exclusively to be munched with tea), bada samosa, chota samosa and a plethora of other bakery items including dil-pasand, dilkush among many others etc.
And Irani Chai is no ordinary tea, as its lovers would philosophise ala cinematic style; it is the culmination of many, many failed attempts for perfection and quintessence of man‟s victory over fatigue and frustration. The Hyderabadi Hindi (Deccani dialect), far receding from the metro heartland into Old City, is still found alive and bustling in these remnants of the bygone era. Indeed, these places are a welcome change from the stiff upper-lipped formality or nocturnal indulgences; they bring us closer to joyous spirit of the unwashed masses.
Meditate on the chaos, coincidences and chasms of human life over a cup of Irani Chai. It is one of the simpler pleasures of life where you feel one with the sea of humanity.