Chai stories project main aim is to provide a space to build public space and community. And also, to investigate the meaning of social engagement, community, and outside life in the context of other cultures. Chai stories project is a place where people come together and create dialogue while having Vegan Chai.
Chai Stories in Madison, USA
I moved to the USA middle of the pandemic for my graduate studies in MFA-4D at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Every culture has its way of social interactions, outside life, and community. And my transition into a new culture made me consciously think about social engagement, community, and outside life. Therefore, Chai stories project investigates redefining public space, building community, and creates a conversation between people.
Chai is very special to me. I have so many stories in India at Chai places. In India, chai place becomes a social area where people gather and talk about their life, struggles, social issues, and politics. Naturally, Chai place became a unique space for socialization, and outside life. Traditionally Chai has ingredients like milk, sugar, water, and tea powder. For me, Chai means social engagement, outside life, and minus loneliness (Chai= Social engagement + Outside Life -Loneliness.) Chai is the place where I meet new people. Sometimes I meet random people at Chai place that converts into friendship further. It is a unique thing that chai place offers unexpected relations with people and community. As part of my performance of chai Stories, to share my experiences with Chai in India with a new community. This performance offers social interaction and outside life that we lost since the pandemic hits the world. So, the Chai stories performance is collecting people to create a dialogue to feel the community. Vegan chai (Oat Milk, Organic Spices, and Sugar) will offer to participants during the conversation. Therefore, Chai stories’ performance investigates socialization, outside life, in the context of other cultures. And this project also creates public space, outside life, and building community.
Chai Stories in Vadodara, India
After two years of staying in the USA, I visited India for my summer break in 2022. I wanted to experiment with Chai Stories in existing settings of chai places in Vadodara. I chose the chai place where I used to sit and have chai for a decade. I found my social relations and new friends in that place. I rented the chai place for two hours from Kaka (we used to call him “kaka” it means uncle). On 27th July 2022 I invited the Vadodara community to have chai with me and join in conversation. I received an overwhelming response for Chai Stories in Vadodara. More than 60 people participated. Chai brought my connections back with the local community that I had been away from for two years. This Chai Stories experiment enabled successfully my past social relations and added new people to that community.
After the successful Chai Stories at Kaka’s (Uncle) chai place, I received an invitation to organize Chai Stories at Rubaroo Cultural Hub in Vadodara for the evening of the same. This cultural center sponsored Chai Stories and arranged all required setups, such as a 4-wheel chai vehicle, stove, milk, paper cups, and other materials. More than 70 people, most of them girls and women took part. They were schoolteachers, parents, and students. We had a question-and-answer session for an hour. Most of them were curious to know why I am doing Chai Stories. It was great social interaction and led to new relations. One girl’s life transformed during the Chai Stories. She was sharing her journey and connection to chai places. The school principal, who was part of the chai stories, inspired by her story then offered her a job in the school as a dancer. This was unique that Chai Stories transformed somebody’s life by sharing her story with others.
Chai Stories with Farmers, Vellulla, Telangana, India.
I invited Velllulla village farmers for a dialogue about their farming methods and the life of a farmer. I brought chai and paper cups with sketch pens for drawing on the cups. We began the conversation by asking simple questions; what are the present and past farming methods? How about the life of a farmer in the past and present? Human labor in present farming? For part of the questions, farmers engaged deeply in a conversation. Modern farming methods prevented farmers’ suicide cases. And modern farming helped to produce more crops than traditional farming methods. It might be one of the reasons for the prevention of farmer suicide. Soil is losing its qualities crops due to chemical farming. One of the farmers said it is impossible to reverse to make soil again a quality that can produce a quality crop. We were engaged a lot in mitigating human labor-caused physical health issues. Modern farming is one way that is quick, saves time, and mitigates human labor. As a result, physical and mental health issues arise. This conversation contemplated me to think about a communal gym based on farmers’ objects in farmer fields so they can engage in physical exercises. Chai Stories with farmers was very thought-provoking about modern farming pros and cons, the life of farmers, and the mitigation of human labor and its issues.
Chai Stories (Urban Version) in Rural Setting-Sevasi, Vadodara (27 Nov 2022)
This Chai story was a unique experience because participants were from urban and conducted in a village called Sevasi, Vadodara city, India. We sat under a banyan tree. Chai is prepared from milk, ginger, and tea powder. One of the participants shared her cycle journey (awareness about down syndrome patients) in south Gujarat, India. She and one down syndrome child’s mother joined to create awareness about this disease. Cycling by women is not usual in Indian villages. One woman asked them, how did your husband let you cycle? Another story shared by participants about the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships. She mentioned that Chai was the medium that brought a close relationship between us. This social performance brought many stories while having Chai. Participants drew and wrote something on teacups with marker pens.