Culture and Chai

Here in Hyderabad, a chai from one of the street vendors is 10 rupees. Hot and milky, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, it’s handed to me in a disposable paper cup. I’m surrounded by moto-drivers on their morning pit-stop, local women carrying large metals jars on their head, resting in the cool of the shade. 

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At a high-end cafe with wi-fi and air conditioning, the same drink, served in a clay mug, costs 110 rupees. The Hyderabadis around me are typing on macbooks, speaking in accent-less English, they have the well-refined, polished look of someone who cares about self-image. There are no moto-drivers with dusty clothes and women in saris with metal jars, communicating with a gap-toothed smile and friendly head wagging. To a westerner, the difference between 10 rupees and 110 is inconsequential, but to Indians, in a country where the average person spends 88 rupees a day,  the cost of one drink in this ambient, air conditioned cafe can buy them a week and a half’s worth of morning chais. 

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I bring this up to illustrate the lifestyle disparity that exists within Hyderabad, and the side we've chosen. 

 

Minerva boasts cultural immersion. We are traveling through 7 cities, 4 continents. We’ll be global citizens after 4 years of world travel. 

 

But what does it mean to be culturally immersed? 

Is it that we buy the fresh coconut for 25 rupees from a dusty cart on the way back from the grocery store rather than $5 coconut water from whole foods? When we interact with local culture, a fact that we need to accept is, it’s with a very small, educated, wealthy subset of the population that we become reasonably acquainted with. 

It’s dismissive and unfair to say it doesn’t qualify as cultural immersion to interact with wealthy Indians, people who still grew up, went to school with, or have their roots in this city.

That being said, can we admit that cultures become more and more homogenous once we've reached a certain income bracket? A wealthy person in Hyderabad and a wealthy person in San Francisco will have more similarities than a working-class person in these respective cities ever will. 

 

With wealth comes international travel, liberal values, and freedom. Things deeply rooted in most of us, that Minerva teaches us to cultivate and maintain.

Looking for people exactly like us isn't the way to do that. 

Our main interactions with people who are representative of India are transactional: it’s the Uber driver that brings us to Charminar, or the waiter who serves goat cheese and basil pizzas as we work on our assignments. It's the room cleaners that wipe down our dining room tables and clean our toilets. It’s the people we rarely make prolonged eye contact, let alone conversation with. 

We avoid things that make us uncomfortable, averting our gaze from the homeless swaggering down Market Street, pretending the man trying to sell us pens or window shades at traffic stops on the way to Jubilee Hills doesn’t exist, always looking away, pretending not to see things that cause our stomachs to twist, to stir emotions deeper and darker than comfort and familiarity in our gut.