By Shubhangi Shah
The ‘chaiwala-turned-PM’ story may continue to sell, but several entrepreneurs in the country are now taking it a notch further by selling the same product (tea, not the story), but with a twist. So, earlier, if there were chaiwalas (tea-sellers) who turned MBAs or became engineers —and their stories in turn inspired us— now, we have graduates and post-graduates putting their academic or professional degrees (even if they don’t have one) in their business names and standing out from the crowd.
It all started with Prafull Billore, entrepreneur and the brain behind ‘MBA Chaiwala’. Although he hails from Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar, he set up his tea stall in Gujarat, the state famous for another chaiwala.
Billore first ventured into the trade in 2017 when he set up a chai ka thela (tea stall) on SG Highway in Ahmedabad. Five years down the line, he has multiple outlets across India with a turnover of Rs 4 crore. Earlier, it was the MBA degree that guaranteed an eight-figure paycheck. Now you don’t even need that degree to achieve the numbers. The ‘MBA’ in ‘MBA Chaiwala’ doesn’t stand for Master of Business Administration, but ‘Mr Billore Ahmedabad’. In fact, Billore never completed that degree and dropped out mid-term.
But would ‘Mr Billore Ahmedabad Chaiwala’ have grabbed the same number of eyeballs as ‘MBA Chaiwala’ did? The moniker in itself is enough to tell the story.
Billore’s success seems to have inspired many. At least the sheer number of businesses operating pan India with similar names seems to suggest so. Just google MBA, BTech, BCom or any other chaiwala, and you are sure to find one nearby.
While it was the drive of being one’s own master that drove Billore towards business, the Covid-induced job loss was the reason behind Kerala’s BTech Chai. Again, the name itself has given it away that it is run by techies. Situated in the southern state’s Kollam district, BTech Chai, run by Anandu, Mohammed Shafi and his brother Shanavas—all engineers— boasts 50 flavours of tea. From the classic Bombay ‘cutting chai’ to something called ‘blue tea’ to chocolate and even organic ‘egg-milk tea’, think of an ingredient and these engineers have made a tea out of it. Their logo is pretty interesting too. It comprises the classic thela (cart) with both—a cup of tea and the black graduation hat—embossed on it.
Although the chai business is full of walas (men), it isn’t devoid of walis (women) either. The familial pressure of securing a government job couldn’t extinguish 26-year-old Tuktuki Das’ zeal to own her business. Hence was born MA English Chaiwali on a platform at the Habra railway station in West Bengal. High customer footfall explains the location, and the chai-cafe chain Chaayos resonating with Das explains the product. So what about the name? “Well, there was already a chai wali. So that option was out,” she says.
Das hails the MBA Chaiwala as the inspiration behind the name. “If you want to grow your business, you have to show your business,” she says.
“I could have just been MA Chaiwali. Do you know why I included English?” she asks. “To tap on India’s English obsession,” Das is quick to reply. Less than a year into business, she has wrapped up her Habra station tea stall with a plan to open an MA English Chaiwali cafe in Kolkata.
It’s not just tea that these grads and post-grads are selling. Whether it’s the native vada pav, the foreign-turned-native samosa, or the all-in-all foreign pizza, you name the food item, and they are selling it. Also, the (degree/ product) phenomenon isn’t just an Indian thing and has transcended borders. You can find an MBA Vada Pav in neighbouring Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad.
Speaking on unemployment in 2018, PM Narendra Modi had infamously said, “If a person selling pakodas (snacks) earns Rs 200 at the end of the day, will it be considered employment or not?” The comment not only garnered immense criticism but also gave rise to the term, ‘pakodanomics’. Who knew some people would be giving those (uncaring) remarks a whole new meaning?
Although the MBAs and techies are selling myriad food items, chai remains at the core. And why not? In the land of diversity, this beverage is what unifies us. From starting for the day to catering to guests to catching up with friends, at home, on a roadside, or in a cafe, chai is everywhere. It’s one of the few British legacies we don’t mind.