Cultural Imperialism: Chai Chahye?
Byline: Adeeqa Nazir - Karachi
It is known that countries and civilizations strive and thrive on the cultures they have been treasuring and celebrating since the beginning of time. Such is the nature of Pakistan as well, a country whose culture is comprised minuscule and major details it earned during the various conquests and rules of several ancient civilizations. Chai is one of those integral and intricate significances of Pakistan's culture, an important part that was introduced and later left behind by the British.
Since the advent of that time, chai has been used as a symbol of bonding, understanding, celebration, joy and a daily life routine in Pakistan. Chai is not just another of those widely used beverage; it is a source of bridging gaps, forming connections, bringing out creativity and innovation and a gist of reunion. To the utter dismay, this rich significance of our culture is now being replaced by none other than an overseas beverage - Coffee. Coffee is thought to be a beverage originally coming from Ethiopia in 13th century and cultivated by Arabs later in the 14th century. The initial reliable indication of coffee as a drink or the knowledge of the coffee tree appeared in mid fifteenth century basically through the Sufis monasteries in Yemen.
Later during centuries that followed, coffee had reached the Middle East, Turkey, Persia, North Africa and further more spreading to Italy, Balkans, Indonesia, and the remaining Europe to finally reaching the Americas. A generous thanking to the last stop that coffee took the shape of a prominent culture and started to spread around the world in the form of coffee houses, coffee joints and forming another mainstream chain of blooming businesses. Hence, the coffee culture made it to our side of the world, creating a sensation amongst the West-inspired youth and eventually overshadowing the importance of chai. Looking around the cities these days one can easily find youth sharing conversations over expensive cups of coffee, a luxury that is far from the reach of an `Aam Admi'. This however is never the scenario when it comes to the Chai Dhabbas.
These small scale places have always been creativity hubs for poets and writers where they'd sit and discuss ideas while sipping up cups of freshly brewed chai, or for place where political discussions took place and important decisions were made. These things are missing from the coffee shops we see because the prices keep the common man on an arm's length and there is a considered etiquette to behave.
This eliminates the feeling of a classless open space to discuss that used to be in chai shops. Here the question arises of cultural imperialism. Why do we find ourselves in the need to replace a cultural significance rather than modernizing is? Why is it that we tend to Westernize when we need to modernize? The journey of coffee from being a beverage to becoming chain of the most successful businesses was only possible because modernization stepped in. Isn't this what Chai needs too? Why do we need coffee houses and not fancy dhabbas? Or say why we prefer lattes, mochas, cappuccinos?