x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Desi Girl: A cup of chai is all it takes to bring people together

Milky, sweet and piping hot, chai is a simple beverage that brings desis together.

If there’s one thing that no full-blooded desi can resist, it’s chai. There’s something about this simple beverage that brings our people together. Milky, sweet and piping hot, it’s comfort in a cup. Last weekend brought a sweet reminder of its magical powers.

I was at the Dubai World Trade Centre on Friday night with my dad, watching Sukhwinder Singh and Alka Yagnik perform at the Taal concert, both of us lamenting over the death of the melodious, romantic Bollywood song as Alka strung together some pearls from the 1990s. Where we once had Banho Ke Darmiyan, we now have Babli Badmaash. I was on the brink of dejection when my phone beeped and an SMS pulled me out of the dreaded doldrums. It was an invitation to join the birthday celebrations of Deepti, the head of programming at Radio Mirchi, a lovely girl I had met a couple of times.

The SMS came from one of the RJs at Radio Mirchi. Funny story how we met: I had been at the World Trade Centre since the morning, having spent the day making over the catwalk models for Fashion ME – a fashion and lifestyle event – as part of the make-up sponsor Kryolan’s team. Model after model got in and out of my make-up chair and I was almost at the end of my shift, when a husky voice behind me asked if I could do them next.

That’s one manly sounding model, I thought to myself as I turned around, expecting to find a vocally challenged leggy blonde. Instead, I found the cherubic face (and well-groomed beard) of the Radio Mirchi RJ Mohit. It was his first time walking the ramp and he was a little nervous, which was endearing to observe in someone who can talk to anyone about anything at any length – live on air.

One thing led to another and I ended up with the Radio Mirchi crew at Filli Café in Mankhool at 3am on Saturday morning. With our fingers wrapped around steaming cups of zaafrani chai (saffron tea), we wished Deepti a happy 20-something birthday as she basked in the undivided attention that birthdays bring.

To be honest, I had been quite relieved when the birthday plans rapidly devolved in party quotient from clubbing plans at Trilogy (Madinat Jumeirah) to those at Pulse (Mövenpick Hotel), before finally turning to chai at Filli Café (04 358 1353). I was in no mood for slurriness or wobbliness that day, but I was also apprehensive: who has chai in Dubai at 3am?

Lots of people, apparently.

Filli was packed. Not just the inside, but also all the tables outside, too. People were sitting on makeshift seats and even on the steps and pavement.

It had been years since I had a late-night chai session with such a big group. The last time was way back when I was 20 and studying at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi. We would often spend our nights in college when submission deadlines drew to a close. A short drive away was Cafe Clifton, where we would sit huddled, six or eight to a car, and down cup after cup, procrastinating.

I found the same camaraderie at Filli’s that night. I may have left my 20s and Karachi far behind, but it’s comforting to know that some things remain unchanged regardless of time or place – things such as the role a cup of chai can play in bringing people together.

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai

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