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Out of the Out-of-Office

Delhi: chai house rules

We’ve set up a mobile office here in Delhi, but this afternoon’s office is, well, out of the out-of-office. I’m perched on the edge of a street stall in South Delhi sipping hot sweet chai. A black and white TV is balanced on a high shelf and is blaring out a Harry Potter movie in Hindi. On my left the owner takes a pot of the boil and pours chai into 6 glasses – one of which ends up in my hands. Two rows of customers, mostly children, line the walls and most are intently watching the movies. They don’t appear to be drinking anything.

The chai is pleasant enough, but if I’m honest I don’t actually want or need it. The same can be said of a number of purchases today – the chai before this and the chai before that. I also didn’t need the haircut, the shave, the picture frames, stickers, manuals, pens and a multitude of other things that were bought at various stalls in this neighbourhood market. But what all these things have in common is that they enable me to slow down social interactions to the point where an ad-hoc interview can take place.