A Date with Mujaddid Alf-i Sāni, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi

The first view across the green fields
The complex
The Tomb of Shaikh Ahmad & his sons

I never ever thought of ever having a date with Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi Mujaddid-i Alf-i Sāni, the Redeemer of the second Millennium who lies buried at Sirhind in Punjab. But destiny willed otherwise and the Shaikh beckoned me to his tomb at Sirhind!

Shaikh Ahmad of Sirhind was an uncompromising orthodox with whom I can never see eye to eye. Like Jahangir, I also believe that he had “opened a shop of sedition” and strife between communities.

I had heard of the Shaikh from my childhood when we used to go to Agra to visit the tomb of Qazi Nurullah Shustari who had been allegedly done to death due to Shaikh Ahmad’s insinuations. Again I heard of him when I read one of Professor Khaliq Ahmad Nizami’s piece where he alleged that Nur Jahāñ caused the incarceration of the Shaikh as she was a Shia and held him responsible for the execution of the Shia Qazi!

My real exposure to the Shaikh was however when I was doing my MA in history and Professor M Athar Ali taught us about him and his movement. It was a much more moderate view of Sirhindi which I had heard so far! And then I read Yohanne Friedman’s detailed article on him. And then ultimately I went through the pathbreaking article written by Irfan Habib where he analysed the thought and writings of Shaikh Ahmad threadbare.

Belonging to the Naqshbandi Silsila (Order), Shaikh Ahmad was a disciple of Khwaja Baqi Billah, buried in Delhi. He believed that Islam had been severely contaminated with heterodoxy. Shi’ism and Hindus had both so polluted the true faith, that the true piety had disappeared and that as a new millennium was starting, there was the need of a Redeemer. He believed that he himself was that great Redeemer who was destined to save the religion of Islam: he was the Mujaddid of the Second Millennium.

He wrote letter after letter to various nobles (and interestingly none apparently replied or even acknowledged these letters) that to sit with Shias and Hindus was similar to eating food with dogs!

Sirhindi also wrote a treatise under the title “Radd-e-Rawafiz” to justify the slaughter of shias by Abdullah Khan Uzbek in Mashhad. In this he argues:

“Since the Shia permit cursing Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and one of the chaste wives (of the Prophet), which in itself constitutes infedality, it is incumbent upon the Muslim ruler, nay upon all people, in compliance with the command of the Omniscient King (Allah), to kill them and to oppress them in order to elevate the true religion. It is permissible to destroy their buildings and to seize their property and belongings.”

In one dream included in his Maktūbāt, he narrated how he while being taken to heavens to meet God, passed the stages of the Four Pious Caliphs and with the exception to the Prophet (thankfully) he reached closest to the God!

He wrote that in this dream when an angel led him towards heaven, he reached a stage where there was a beautiful mansion which he was told was of the fourth Caliph, Imām Ali. He proceeded further and reached a second mansion which was that of Uthman. He was urged to go further and thus he reached the mansion of second Caliph. He then went further where he found the mansion of Abu Bakr the first Pious Caliph. However, his journey didn’t end there, as he was beckoned to go beyond these limits and go closer to God than any of them!

Jahangir was left with no option but to throw him in jail in 1610-11 where he remained for around a year. In the Tuzuk Jahangir says that Shaikh Ahmad had opened a dukan of sedition and strife which had to be quelled. Subsequent to his release the nature of his letters changes. The second volume of his Maktubat are now devoid of rabidly communal claims as contained in volume one. All the rhetoric against the Hindus and Shias is now gone! He is ultimately said to have died by 1624. He however remained popular even after his death.

Later day Mujaddidi sources also allege that he played an active role in the execution of the Shia divine, judge and scholar Qazi Nurullah Shushtari. The contemporary sources of the period however are absolutely silent on this issue.

The Mujaddidi sources, especially those like Rūd i Kausar and Āb i Kausar stress his political role. The compilations of his letters in three volumes, Maktūbāt i Imām Rabbāni, have letters which he allegedly wrote to many high nobles of Akbar and Jahangir where he is found critical of Akbar’s and Jahangir’s religious views. He is also found exhorting the nobles to act against such moves. The Mujaddidi sources also claim that it was due to Shaikh Ahmad that Jahangir got the throne: Jahangir’s accession was a triumph of Islam!

Unfortunately these claims are belied by history! No historical source of the period mention him or his alleged role! Even Jahangir on coming to the throne took measures, and openly declared that he was following the footsteps of his father and that his religious views were the same as that of his father! And this finds support from the newly discovered Jahangiri source, the Majālis i Jahangiri compiled by Abdul Sattar Lahori!

Further, Irfan Habib has perceptively pointed out: yes the letters written to various nobles by Shaikh Ahmad are there in his own collection. But did any of the alleged nobles ever reply back to him? We have no evidence that any grand noble was ever in his influence or ever took any notice of him. It was just self claim and posturing!

While on a visit to Patiala for a conference, I had the chance to visit the “shrine” of this orthodox saint at Sirhind, now called Fatehgarh Sahib.

At Fatehgarh Sahib, I skipped the Jahangiri Bāgh and Palace complex, but decided to visit the tomb of the controversial saint. It was as if he was beckoning me! So after visiting a few early Mughal period tombs and the Gurudwara, we headed straight to where the Shaikh lies buried: in fact the only “Muslim” shrine or structure in the whole region which is “living” and “thriving” with visitors and curious travellers like us!

In spite of his own teachings to not revere the dead, a big shrine has been built over his grave, an annual Urs is also held despite his teachings and chadors (grave covering cloth) are offered.

His dargah appears like any other dargah of a Sufi who’s rituals he was critical about: the same type of reverence being showered to the grave, the rituals of chadorposhi and the mujawirs eyeing your pocket for nazrana! However the whole layout of the complex as well as the main shrine, reminds one more of the Gurudwara architecture of the nearby area.

The complex spans over several courtyards, individuals tomb structures as well as simple graves of the devotees of the Shaikh. One of the prominent tomb is that of an Afghan king, Shāh Zaman and his wife.

The portal
The entry gate
The large passage which leads to the shrine
A subsidiary structure in the complex
Grave of Sirhindi
Tomb of Shāh Zaman

I had no wish to meet him at a spiritual level, but as a historian I had a date with him on 19th March 2017: it provided me neither with spiritual solace or satisfaction as a historian: as the place is nothing but a modern structure- a whim of some modern disciple of the Naqshbandi Silsila, the only chain of Sufis who have nothing to do with Imam Ali!

PROFESSOR R.C. GAUR (1929-2001)

Professor R C Gaur

Ram Chandra Gaur, archaeologist and historian, was born on 4 July 1929 at Faizabad, U.P. Losing his father when he was 14 and being the eldest among his brothers, he pursued his higher studies under difficult circumstances. Gold medallist at his B.A. examination, Allahabad University, he passed his M.A. in Ancient Indian History and Greater India, in 1952. He worked as Assistant Archaeologist, and Curator at the State Museum, Lucknow, 1955-58, during which he made a survey of the medieval site of Kara.

He joined the Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, as Lecturer in 1958, and became involved in the archaeological work that Professor S. Nurul Hasan, Head of the Department, wished to develop.

However the excavations which emblazoned Professor Gaur’s name as an archaeologist of international fame was that of the ancient site of Atranjikhera in District Etah, U.P. During these excavations he scrupulously followed all the prescribed canons of excavations. The excavations began in 1962 and Gaur published his monumental report, Excavations at Atranjikhera: Early Civilization of the Upper Ganga Basin , in 1983.

Even before the time the report was published, Professor Gaur’s papers in various journals had already changed the perception of the Painted Grey ware culture from a copper to an iron- age culture. Despite the very important finds that he brought to public notice, he remained very careful always, so that even when the technical report suggested that a piece of glass found in the PGW strata was part of a bottle, he himself refrained from endorsing the claim. This excavation of Atranji Khera helped bring Aligarh on the world map of Indian archaeology.

Professor Gaur directed excavations at another site, Lai Qila (Dist. Bulandshahr), which was subsequently destroyed. He thought the site to be very significant for a possible link between the OCP and PGW phases.
In 1978 Professor Gaur became Director of the Aligarh team engaged in excavations at Fatehpur Sikri, as part of a national project, which was initiated by Professor Nurul Hasan as the Union Education Minister. During the course of various seasons of diggings, he unearthed the presence of a long avenue of shops leading to the palace complex, the Khushbu Khana (royal perfumery), which had temporarily been converted into a Jesuit chapel during the reign of Akbar, the royal stables (cheetah khana, shutar khana and horse stables) as well as a number of nobles’ houses. The site which had been identified as “Ibādatkhana” by Mahrahrawi and S Athar Abbas Rizvi was also cleared.

Many honours came his way. The Aligarh Muslim University appointed him Reader in 1967 and Professor of Archaeology and Ancient Indian History in 1978. When he retired on 31 July 1989, he was the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, and Chairman, Department of History. He was Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Archaeology University of London, 1971-72. While at London he not only had attended a number of International conferences in London and Paris but had also the honour of being made a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1973.

He was also appointed as the General President of Indian Archaeological Society in 1988.

Professor Gaur’s last ten years were quite tragic as a consequence of a cerebral infection which kept him in a coma for a long period of time. Yet his strength of will seemed to triumph over everything. With the full support of his family he went on working to the last. His reports on Lal Qila and Fatehpur Sikri excavations appeared during the years that he was so disabled and could speak and move only with difficulty. And yet he also compiled and published during the same time his catalogue of the major items of statuary and sculpture at the Aligarh University’s Archaeological Museum, which he had so assiduously assembled, and to which he gave the name “Sir Syed Collection” in honour of the AMU’s founder.
To honour his memory and in recognition to his immense contribution to the field of Indian Archaeology, a special gallery at Musa Dakri Museum was dedicated to his name in 2018. The gallery was formally inaugurated by the Dr Tariq Mansoor, the Vice Chancellor, AMU on 27th August 2019. It houses the archaeological material and artefacts from various excavations conducted by him and others at the Department of History, AMU

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Remembering The Independence Day of India

Pandit Nehru with the Tricolour

Today I was invited to virtually join with the students and teachers of the Emjay Vocational Higher Secondary School, Villapalli, Vatakara, Calicut, Kerala and inaugurate their Independence Day function. I must thank the management board of the School and its members, the Principal of the School, Mr Jazeel, and Mr Moideen who called me up to invite me. I was given two options: either record my message in audio or if I could, to make a video. I preferred the later for I know that if send an audio, it would never be listened to by the young children! In a video, there was a remote chance of them listening in to at least some portions of it. Now to record a video and send it also presented a number of issues: when I recorded it on my laptop, it somehow became a little lengthy and I being a technically challenged, was unable to think how to upload it. So I spoke again, this time for 6 minutes and had it recorded on mobile. It was then cut into sections and sent to the person concerned. But then all this meant that I could not discuss all things which I wanted to discuss with the young students! So this post to get the things out of my system!

Delivering my online remarks

Today as we celebrate the 74th Independence Day, we are again in the midst of very critical times. The country is tottering to collapse into anarchy, chaos and Neo-fascism. Lynchings on the pretext of religious differences, muzzling of dissent and minorities, trampling of human and minority rights are the order of the day. Probably such are the conditions which would shame even the dark ages of the past! And on top of that India is in the midst of a raging pandemic which threatens the very existence of the known ways of life and society! The education system is in tatters, the economy is at its worst and blind faith rules the roost! On top of everything else, those at the helm of political affairs are those who were once the most powerful collaborators of our Imperial masters who had enslaved us and turned us into an enslaved Colony and milking away our national wealth and draining out our wealth to their Mother Country!

It was after a very long struggle that we had won our Independence from the Colonial Rule. Since the Battle of Plassey in June 1757 we had slowly and gradually fell victim to the extremely exploitative English Imperialism. Slowly and gradually almost the whole of the Indian Subcontinent was reduced to servitude: first of the English East Company, and then the British Crown!

The first War of Independence and the struggle for freedom was launched by Tipu Sultan during 1790’s when he entered into an alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte and invited him to jointly defeat the English. He and his father Hyder Ali had also aligned themselves with the Americans. We know that Tipu had reportedly ordered a copy of the American Declaration of Independence, in a prelude to his ringing endorsement of the French Revolution! His troops, like the French, were uniformed and even used their military techniques.

Tipu Sultan

And then a second Struggle to gain Independence was the Great Revolt of 1857-58! It was joint revolt of all the Indians irrespective of religion or race! It was started by the Sepoys: you must have heard the name of Mangal Pandey!

Revolt at Meerut

The rebels starting from Meerut Cantonment marched to Delhi to beseech the old Mughal emperor declare Bahadur Shāh Zafar who was ultimately declared as their leader! Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, Tantia Tope of Pune were all Mujahid’s who fought under the banner of a Muslim King! Nahar Khan, Bakht Khan, Kunwar Singh, Rao Tula Rām, Umrao Singh, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Birjis Qadr, Thakur Vishwanath and many others fought together without any division on the basis of religion or caste! That is why 1857 is also known as the First War of Independence!

A scene from the Revolt

After the Revolt Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was in the employment of the English and seen the Mutiny, it’s causes and effects subsequently wrote two important works. His Asbāb i Baghawat i Hind and Tārīkh i Sarkashi i Zila Bijnore were in fact a critique of the British.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Mutiny

Through his writings he tried to show the English where they were at fault and why people had in fact risen in revolt. Ultimately on witnessing that the Muslims were emerging as the worst sufferers due to their boycott of English language he founded the Mahommadan Anglo Oriental College: at Aligarh. It was an institution where modern education coupled with Religious knowledge was to be given. By now the Revolt haf miserably failed and India had passed directly under the rule of the British monarch and the Parliament. There was no option but to train the young members of his community in the new sciences and make them eligible for government service. At Aligarh Sir Syed also established a Scientific Society and a Journal on the same line was also launched.

In the meantime the Indians having lost the war for Independence did not rest. They rose as one once again under the aegis of the Indian National Congress which was a group of the middle classes of Indians founded by an English, AO Hume. Very soon a popular Freedom Movement with mass support was launched after the return of Gandhiji from South Africa. The struggle now started in right earnest. But remember that this movement was not confined only to North India

Gandhiji in Orissa

Kerala too produced many freedom fighters. Accamma Cherian was considered the Rani of Jhansi of Travancore by Gandhiji. Another was Abdur Rahiman who participated in Salt Satyagraha for which he was imprisoned for 9 months. He was was editor and publisher of the Malayalam daily newspaper Al-Ameen in which he tried to nurture nationalism among the Muslim people of Malabar

The Dandi March

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer participated in Salt Satyagraha and was in prison. Even after he was released he didn’t keep quiet, he organized an anti-British movement and took an active part in the freedom movement.

Veliyankode Umar Khasi was a Muslim scholar and freedom fighter who took active participation in the Civil-Disobedience movement and fought against the British opposing to pay taxes. Interestingly at the time of his death, he was waiting for death to arrive by preparing his own grave.

There were thousands of others who’s names we should remember and felicitate!

As also this nationalist fervour was developing another thing happened. In 1920 through an Act of Parliament the Aligarh Muslim University was established. It was the culmination of a dream project of Sir Syed. He had always visualised the MAO College On the lines of Oxford of the East!

Strachey Hall, AMU: the Old Campus of MAO College

It emerged as a modern University where both Science and Quran had its importance. Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, and Engineering was taught along with Unani Tibb. Subjects of Art and Social Sciences along with a separate faculty of Theology was also established: the Science and Quran were literally together! On the other hand admissions and faculty positions were given to people of all religions: Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, Sikhs and Christians were all entertained: Aligarh emerged as a microcosm of India visualised by the Rebels of 1857 and the Indian National Movement. The Aligarh Muslim University Students Union gave member ship to Gandhiji and Jinnah, Patel and Maulana Azad!

But don’t forget the horrors of Partition: The collaborators and the English Colonialists sowed the seeds of communal division! The division of separate electorate and Communal Award accentuated the social fissures. The Hindu Maha Sabha, the RSS, the Muslim League all played their dangerous games. For every Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, there was a Savarkar writing apology letters and working for dividing the people on the basis of Religion and caste.

The Refugees at Purana Qila
The Parition Riots

The end result was that on the eve of our Independence, as India was being into two, and as Pakistan as a separate nation purely on the basis of religion was being created, 2 million innocent Indians, both Hindus and Muslims lost their lives, while at least 14 million were displaced and turned into refugees.

The Partition Migrations

As Pakistan was celebrating it’s birth and Nehruji was delivering his Tryst with Destiny Speech this was the scale of human disaster! Remember Gandhiji was amongst the rioters as others celebrated! He was fasting and grieving! Also remember that a year later, he was shot dead by those who had collaborated with the English. Gandhi ji died with the words “Hey Ram!” on his lips and a wish to go to Pakistan to bring a closure to the killings there!

Gandhiji and his Assassin, Nathuram Godse
Hey Rām!

Remember Our Duties on this 74th Independence Day as our democratic rights are being trampled, people are being killed on the basis of their faith, the Judiciary is silent, the Parliament is a silent spectator and the economy of the country is at its lowest! Only yesterday our Supreme Court held Prashant Bhushan for showing the mirror to the Judges! We need to swear once again by Unity, Integrity, and our Secular ideals! We need to safeguard our Constitution which gave us a unique character of our own. We need to retrieve the ideals of our founding fathers and all those who gave their life for preserving the idea of India which our beloved nation is! Let us endeavour to arrest the process of conversion of our esteemed nation into a mirror image of our neighbour! This is the only way that we can guarantee a continued Independence of our beleaguered nation!

Jai Hind! Long Live a United India! Long Live our Secular Constitution!

Chai: The Story of Tea in India

The Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, Tamil Nadu

Tea plantations were started in India by the British in 1830’s, primarily for export to Britain. Among Indians, tea drinking in the modern sense started only in the early 1900’s, when the British-owned Indian Tea Association began an earnest effort to popularise tea in India. They organised several promotional campaigns – tea stalls were set up in cities and towns, factories were encouraged to give tea breaks to their workers, and even home demonstrations were organised. When the railways arrived, tea stalls were set up at rail stations as well. After a slow and dispiriting start, tea drinking gradually spread in India, gaining momentum after the Second World War. By the end of the 1900’s, Indians were drinking almost 70 percent of a huge crop of 715,000 tons per year.

By 1900, tea was a large part of British household spending, but the market, although the largest, was starting to go flat.

Advertisement for tea from the 1930s
The Indian Tea Association, an industry group made up of British companies, turned to the second largest market, the US – the former colony that 150 years earlier had used the opposition to rising tea taxes as a rallying cry for independence.

When the US economy and London tea prices crashed at the end of the 1920s, the association then looked towards the Indian market.

By then the brew was enjoyed by not just the Singphos and Khamtis, the two Burmese-origin tribes in India’s hilly north-east that had enjoyed tea for centuries.

It had become a drink for the Indian upper and middle classes in Calcutta, the colonial capital that had become the world’s largest tea port.

Cultural historian Gautam Bhadra has gathered a pile of circumstantial evidence on the growing Indian – and indeed Bengali – habit of drinking tea in the 1920s and ’30s.

“We became sure of an Indian tea habit in the 1920s not just from the celebratory poems published in the Sahitya magazine,” he says.

“Amritalal Basu’s 1926 sketch, Pintur Theatre Dekha (Pintu Goes to the Theatre), mentions trouble that erupted when someone tried to hide a shortage of tea by serving boiled neem leaves in earthen pots. It’s the first reference of having tea in earthen pots in India.”

The “Indian antidote” affected the habits of others, too.

In his research paper, “Chai Why? The Triumph of Tea in India as Captured in Advertising Imagery”, University of Iowa Professor Philip Lutgendorf observes that the Zoroastrian families which immigrated to Mumbai in the first decades of the 20th Century were used to drinking tea as a “milkless infusion of black leaves, sucked through a lump of rock-sugar held in the cheek”.

But they changed the way they made “chai” in their cafes to suit British-Indian tastes.

“Irani chai,” writes Lutgendorf, “once dispensed in more than 400 corner eateries that proliferated throughout Mumbai between roughly 1920 and 1960, was typically produced in large samovars in which tea leaves boiled for hours in sweetened water; meanwhile, a huge pot of full-cream milk simmered on an adjacent burner, becoming continually richer and more condensed.”

Samāvar with a soothing aromatic Irani chai in a Yurt setting in Mashhad

But the habit in India was not nearly as pervasive as the tea producers would have liked.

Bishnupriya Gupta, economic historian at the University of Warwick, reckons the Indian market was a mere 8.2 million kg (18 million lbs) in 1910, a year Britain bought 130 million kg. Through the 1920s, Indian demand crept up to about 23 million kg.

One reason for this low demand and slow growth was the vociferous opposition to tea within India – and especially against labour practices at tea plantations – that had been aired by nationalist leaders from as early as 1906.

A reflection of this is found in Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Bengali novella Parineeta, published in 1914.

The main character, Lalita, does not have tea because Shekhar, her love who is influenced by the nationalist movement, does not like women drinking tea.

In late 1870s the drinking of tea was in fashion all over India and commonly a part of everyday informal social meets. [Mandelslo] We can see from contemporary writers that ladies and gentlemen had occasions to socialize themselves many a time a day – at breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, supper, dinner, and after-dinner – and never without cups and shimmering teapots to induce sharing of minds. Calcutta was then a city of ceremonials and carnivals. 

Tea-parties were enlivened with spirit of sociability where anything could be discussed, less the delicate subjects like tea growing and its politics and economics. Tea and the Britain have a shady history. ‘The British brought tea to England by way of monopolistic trade, smuggling, drug dealing, and thievery’ as modern research admits [Petras]. The Colonial India produced highest bid tea in auction markets by employing bonded labourers from Assam and North Bengal. From Calcutta, troops of hair-dressers and shoe-makers of Chinese origin were also called to join on the presumption that every Chinese a good tea-plucker. The plight of these hapless slaves was first known when Ramkumar Vidyaratna and Dwarkanath Ganguly reported in Sanjibani(সঞ্জিবনী) aroud 1886 [Ganguly] long before Mulk Raj Anand portrayed their misery in his famous Two leaves and a bird appeared in 1937. [Anad]

In the early 1920s, Acharya Prafulla Ray, an eminent chemist and a passionate nationalist, published cartoons equating tea with poison.

Later, Mahatma Gandhi wrote a chapter in his book, A Key to Health, explaining why tannin, the compound that gives tea its astringency, was bad for human consumption.

Gandhiji called tea “an intoxicant”, in the same class of avoidable substances as tobacco and cacao. He was strongly opposed to the intake of tea as “tannin when taken internally impairs digestion and causes dyspepsia.” Instead, he suggested that honey, hot water and lemon as nourishing drinks.

Another widely held belief was that tea made the skin darker. Among a people obsessed with fair skin, especially in north India, this amplified the political message as a taboo.

Facing such unprecedented hostility, the tea producers needed as much help as they could muster.

The Tea Cess Committee was morphed in 1933 into the unambiguously named Tea Marketing Expansion Board, a precursor to today’s Tea Board.

It started putting out illustrated advertisements at railway stations with instructions for brewing tea and with the Board’s counter-claims about the drink’s health benefits such as “increased stamina”.

An Advertisement from 1930’s

In the 1930s and ’40s, vehicles decorated with a large kettle travelled through the urban and semi-urban areas of Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra explaining how to brew tea.

Boiling was encouraged as an antidote to the Indian “poison” – and it is still how tea is made across India.

Even private companies undertook their own promotion.

“Before independence, Brooke Bond carts would go around the old city offering to make free tea for anyone who brought milk. They would then boil the whole thing on the cart,” says Sanjay Kapur, chief executive of San-Cha Tea House in old Delhi.

“I suppose that was a very Indian way of getting rid of the supposed bad things in the tea.”

The combined efforts contributed to the doubling of Indian consumption in the 1930s.

Still, the Indian market remained relatively small through the 1940s.

After 1947, tea became even more of a precious foreign exchange earner, rather than something to drink at home.

In 1950, 70% of the 280 million kg (617 million lbs) produced in India was exported.

The biggest turn happened in the 1960s when the working classes took to tea in numbers. Gautam Bhadra ascribes this sudden and substantial spurt in “roadside tea stalls” to the coming of CTC – “crush, tear and curl” – a method of making black tea that produces a cheaper dust, one that lends itself to boiling.

Today, India accounts for a quarter of the world’s production.

“In 2011 India consumed more than 850 million kg out of the 988 million produced, but prices suffered between 1999 and 2007,” says Bidyananda Barkakoty, chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association and one who has lobbied hard for tea to be labelled a national drink.

The designation would help build India’s tea brand overseas, he says.

While Mr Barkakoty trains his eyes abroad, Roshni Sen, deputy chairman of the Tea Board, looks within: “A 2007 study told us that the Indian demand is rising faster than production. That means we may have to import.”

Lipton: One of the largest selling brand

Chai although an English import is now a part & parcel of middle class lives in India. According to a research, tea was introduced as an instrument of hegemonic control of the colonized by the colonisers but now is an essential part of most of the Indian households and we export the tea to our former colonisers!

Brooke Bond Red Label Tea
Black Tea

However today most take take in India which is not the simple aromatic brew elsewhere: its a concoction of boiled leaves mixed with lots of sugar and milk. Masala tea is also an Indian derivative.

Another change which has occurred in the last few decades in the field of Indian tea culture is the disappearance of the traditional cup-and-saucer along with tea pot, tea cosy and milk pot! Now the brewed tea has been generally replaced by a boiled concoction of tea leaves, milk, sugar and masala (adrak during winters) poured directly in mugs!

The old brewed variety is now only reserved for the connoisseurs and tea aficionado!

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi