Shyamli Singbal is an artist based in Goa, India. We are thrilled to have her design a colourful tote bag for us, the art on which has a very special place in her memories. She spoke to us about the inspiration behind her artwork and her experiences with chai.
Despite not being a regular chai or coffee drinker, Shyamli says that chai has played a big role in her life and that it has been omnipresent since her childhood. The inspiration behind the art on the tote bag comes from the memory of Salim and Imtiaz bhai, the chaiwalas at the chai tapri (roadside tea shack) outside her college in Vadodara (Gujarat, India). Everyday from around 6 am to almost 10 pm, they set up shop on the sidewalk and folks from college, young and old, thronged the place to get a sip of the delicious cuppa at any time of the day. For Shyamli, the fondest memories of chai have been with a bunch of her classmates enjoying cups of chai over conversations!
When hot chai is poured into clay or glass cups, a metal holder is used by chaiwalas to carry a number of them. It is this act of lifting cups from the chai holder and collectively drinking them that has been a source of lasting memories for Shyamli. Although she was not a heavy tea drinker even during her college days, finding herself outside at the tapri during breaks and with some insistence from her peers, she didn’t mind indulging in a cup or two. At times she did not have chai, she did not feel left out. Conversations and congregations that were made possible by the drink are precious to her. Warm memories of chai are also rooted in her childhood. Chai and its spices are only slowly introduced to young taste buds and Shyamli remembers snuggling up with the drink during the times she was down with cold.
Shyamli’s art beautifully captures all her memories and is an ode to the drink integral to the rhythm of life in India where partaking it is not only a simple ritual but also an important source of livelihood. Caffeinating the population, through small cups, the story of chai is best heard from the humble chaiwalas and we are grateful to Shyamli for bringing one such story to us through her art.
Pictured: Salim and Imtiaz bhai's chai stall & Artist Shyamli Singbal