Being a social anthropologist I have always been fascinated by new words or words coined for the first time and trying to find their etymological meanings. Living in Mumbai one comes across a variety of such words in everyday parlance.
One such word which is so commonly used is Tapri. Mumbaikars have given their own meaning to the word Tapri - a shanty tea stall strategically situated at the corner of a street, outside college campus near offices and outside railway stations.There are several ways of describing a tapri but what is it that makes tapri-chai tick . Strong and sweet,energising,affordability for all pockets availability through the day , cuts across communal and class and gender lines and the right quantity , served in small cups or the typical Irani type glasses . Sometimes there are accompaniments like a jar of khari biscuits . If the tapri counter is slightly bigger then some cream rolls where a tapri chai lover can dunk it in the hot chai.(Chai/Tea)
Having lived in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 60's 70's and 80's I have witnessed the evolution of the tapri chai-wallahs . Though their methods of making the chai is the same (of boiling and boiling and boiling till the mixture is strong and black to get the right bitter taste Milk was practically non existent as compared to now where one can demand a bit of extra milk and sugar . There were no accompaniments, no tea-boys to run too and fro to serve tea for people working away from the stall.The wire mesh stand which holds four to six glasses of chai is ubiquitous The common man those days did not have that extra money to spend on cuppa chai nor the habit . The tapri-wallahs had no mobile phones to entertain themselves with. The tea-boy is a recent phenomenon usually some relative or sibling of the tapri-wallah who runs extra errands for him and also earning tips .The regular tapri drinkers are plenty mostly idlers , students who have bunked classes or waiting for lectures to begin and are uninterested in the canteen fare (They want to be outside and experience whats happening in their own environment) and people who are working in shifts.A Tapri-chai corner is more of a meeting place for serious and lighthearted discussions . From serious local political issues, murder crime rape to scams and cinema fare it covers all. A Gossip corner for all , a place to plan and devise college capers and a quick tête-à-tête for young couples. It sure is an interesting and versatile space. An interesting feature to note is that other tiny counters have cropped up nearby mainly vada-pav and juice stalls also wanting to do brisk business. Sometime back there were vendors selling boiled eggs sprinkled with salt pepper and chilli powder but now are difficult to spot. Another feature which has slowly disintegrated . The Kerela kelawallah (kela is Banana in Hindi) is omnipresent.
Tapri-chai is synonymous with ' cutting chai'. Cutting which means literally half glass is a term coined by the younger generation and is now universally used by all. It is a typical term used by a Mumbaikar but now accepted in other cities too.
Tapri-chaiwallahs have replaced the bygone vendors selling sugarcane sticks (usachya kandya in Marathi), boiled groundnuts (ukadleya - boiled ,shenga - peanut in Marathi), chaana shengdana (chana -chickpea,shengdana - peanut in Marathi) which again was affordable and popular.
The tapri-chai is a unique feature of every Mumbai street corner equally energising and making one vibrant like the city.