‘Tapri’ Tales: Conversations over Cutting Chai

Tapri can be identified as a humble rambled neighborhood corner tea stall which sells you a smoke, biscuits and snacks. Its significance as a locus of community engagement goes beyond the unimpressive physical confines which it depicts.  This urban street corner joint is a great social leveler in which the office boy interacts with the MD as both share a crackle over a smoke, whether it is a chota gold flake or Rothmans (brands are insignificant as it is the nicotine kick that counts, right?). In aping the west, the Glitzy office blocks are non smoking zones, and even the overseas educated snobs are compelled to share the space with mundane workforce cousins of the office complex.  I do not have a negative bias against smoking as I understand that it is a lifestyle choice as much as a drink at a pub on a Saturday evening.

 Office Gossips and petty plans are concocted over a cutting chai in the five minute post lunch walkabout downstairs.  A node of interactions with peers beyond your office floor; a quick eye to eye  glance with the latest eye candy in the block, adds those microseconds of joy to ones dreaded cubicle slavery.

I do not smoke but I have been a passive smoker over the last few years of my life due to my friends who enjoy a drag. I can sense the kick which esteemed bosses have when they substitute their Cappuccino at Costa for a 6 rupees wala cutting chai. 8% of the cost, 8 times more kick with a chota gold flake.  Tapri as they call the significant social institution in Mumbai sells you poha or samosa for breakfast or a quick bite in 15-20 rupees where a normal meal at a registered eatery will set you back by at least 50-70 bucks (kindly excuse the hygiene levels please). For the invisible urban underbelly that keeps our homes, offices and communities functioning at equilibrium- the tapris are a lifeline in these times of inflation and economic uncertainty.

In Delhi and in general the NCR, Tapris offer a lot more on the plate (pun intended) in terms of the fare they serve. It is cold currently in the height of the winter in Delhi, it serves one eggs, maggi and sometimes steamed chicken dumplings (momos) that makes one warm.  It is a mini eatery on wheels in a way.  The tapri owner is a walking talking yellow pages of the services available in the area. Well, sometimes all kinds of services, which a decent boy next door really does not need to know off.

The pulse of a community can be gauged from frequenting the tapri, whether it is the sentiment over Arvind Kejriwal dharna at Rail Bhawan or Katrina Kaif in Malang.  I was pleasantly shocked that the tapri next door sells the Indonesian cigarette Godam Garam and it pretty popular I have unscientifically observed during winter. Although the barely literate tapri owner is aware that it is an ‘imported’ cigarette, it is the embodiment of how globalization has reached the urban classes in India.

The joy of a cutting chai, pani kum or strong tea cannot be equated with the inorganic finesse of a CCD.  Truly a lot more happens over a chai 🙂


Politics in Urban India needs a reboot: an exegesis

India is rapidly urbanizing as cities expand into the hinterland and form urban mega clusters like the National Capital Region and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region among others. Even Kolkata has a ‘New Town’ and Rajarhat to contend.  Cities are economic engines of growth with densely packed spaces and brimming with activity.  By the year 2030, as per an influential Mc Kinsey Report on urbanization states that, India will be predominantly urban.  Most state capitals are urban agglomerations, and provide most of the revenue for the state. Mumbai contributes India’s lion share of corporate taxes but gets peanuts in return from politicians whose voter base is hooked on ‘sugar’ in Western Maharashtra. Mumbai is a Cash Cow for these rural politicians to milk Mumbai dry in order to fund their ‘Pork Barrel’ projects (sorry borrowing an American Political Nuance 😛 ). Mumbai on the same lines as Delhi will not be given autonomy for this very reason as other backward regions in Maharashtra are financially on a drip line called Mumbai. Cultural reasons apart, the devolution of power to Mumbai is difficult only for the cash question in contention.   As a third generation Marathi speaking Mumbaikar, who has lived in first world capitals in our very own Asia; am honestly appalled by the traffic quicksand which I face at the bottle neck at Ghatkoper and Saki Naka everyday when I travel from far away Navi Mumbai.  Mumbai is currently going to have a Mass Transit Line soon; unfortunately we are two decades late.  A commercial backwater (or an art centric vanguard which ever pov one looks at) such as Kolkata had a Metro System way back in the 1980’s.

The urban voter’s needs are neglected. Municipal Corporations are archaic institutions with no teeth; no policing prowess and normally short changing on financing options.  A government in a union territory like Delhi has no jurisdiction over Law and Order and Land Issues and has two to three Municipal bodies with the Central Governments over arching Big Brother attitude. It is quite a quagmire of overlapping scope of work in Consultant Speak. With the rest of NCR either lying in Haryana (Gurgaon) or UP (NOIDA)- Urban Governance needs a new operating system.  

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region has the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation and Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation as its stakeholders with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) as the focal point for Infrastructure development in this megapolis.  The MMRDA is under the Maharashtra State Government’s Urban Development Ministry which is under a Congress Chief Minister, the Public Works Ministry with its unfriendly coalition partner NCP and the MCGM is under the control of the Opposition BJP-Shiv Sena. The MCGM’s budget is more than many a budget of a smaller state like Goa and Manipur.  These political conflicting turfs make for haphazard planning and execution of mega infrastructure projects.  There should be a single window clearance mechanism for such projects which reshape the economic landscape.

India needs a new social contract with its urban citizens. Parliamentarians from urban India are not able to reflect the aspirations of a rapidly globalizing youth. The Politics of this nation is stuck in 1970’s with Right to Food, Education and other welfarist legislations. Social Infrastructure public sector initiatives are fully supported by the author but in order to power these projects, one needs the cash, hard cold cash. The cities are the growth incubators. Empower them with good politics. Effective governance is tied in to good politics.  A new politics is required for reform;  new operating system which captures the aspirations of urban India. The existing parties are terribly falling short. A Milind Deora or a Sandeep Dixit is great, but we need a sea of them.  We need the ‘Citizen Elite’ to rise and usher in a new wave of caste neutral development centric urban politics.

Politics of the Urban Voter is not new. The Swatantra Party, the Jan Sangh and especially the Mumbai and Marathi centric identity politics of the Shiv Sena. The Right Wing Parties with their emphasis on free market and physical infrastructure focus have been better at capturing the urban imagination.  The Swantantra Party decayed and declined in the 1960’s as socialism became the voice of economic thinking during Nehru ji and Indira ji. Even the Congress has appropriated some of these tactics to win in Delhi and Mumbai over the past decade.  Sheila Dixit with the Delhi Metro is a case in point where urban development has worked for a left of centre Congress in a totally urban electorate.

 The Shiv Sena is a ‘Made in Mumbai’ urban ideological product. The Shiv Sena founded by cartoonist turned Hindutva icon Late Balasaheb Thackeray in 1966 at Shivaji Park, Dadar distilled the grudge of native Marathis in Mumbai against the ‘Outsider’ over the decades till it reached its zenith of power in 1995 when they reached Mantralaya in the aftermath of the 1993 riots. Although the urbane politics of the Shiv Sena was narrow and parochial; they transformed Mumbai City with 72 flyovers in five years from 1995-99. The Mumbai-Pune Expressway was a signature project of the regime.

The Aam Admi Party with Civic Society Activist Arvind Kejriwal has transformed a volunteer led citizen movement in to a political fighting force. In the opinion polls in the run up to the Delhi Assembly Polls it is poised to do phenomenally well for a first time entrant. If they succeed, they are poised to be India’s first and truly urban political voice. Lok Satta is another one down south. Such actors are needed, as microbes in the governance gut to clean up the digestive system known as politics.