Chai Shai Aur Hum

Last year I got invited to a group called Chai Shai Aur Hum, which is a private social club of 10 women in our neighboring towns that meets every month. The idea is to just “chit-chat”- and escape the daily drill of work, family and other obligations and treat each other, turn by turn. Chai Shai means Chai (tea) etc., as in Urdu we will take a noun and replace the first consonant with “Sh” to mean “etc.”; “Aur” is “and”, and “Hum” is “we”, so the concept is loosely: Togetherness through Chai.

Having been a corporate professional all my life, I initially disliked the idea of just “chit-chat”. Also, as a long-time activist and community leader, I was conditioned that when you make time to meet, there should be a purpose, a deeper cause or project that is the focus of the meeting. For example, as a chapter leader of another group: Together Women Rise (www.togetherwomenrise), which helps women and girls in the Global South, we discuss the country that is the grantee of the month, e.g., Cameroon for October, and how the project we are funding through our 500 US chapters helps those in need, and the impact it generates. Interfaith dialogue is another pet project of mine- I was the Muslim lead for the Bergen County Women’s Interfaith Initiative for 8 years before COVID disbanded our group, and the purpose was interfaith education and understanding.

However, as the Chai Shai Aur Hum group completed one year, with each of the 10 members hosting a “chai” with “gup-shup”- an Urdu expression that means “chit-chat”, I began to see the benefits of togetherness, in this case of intergenerational women’s companionship for housewives, career women and retired women. It creates a relaxed atmosphere for women to converse, to share and to support each other. Some are seasoned grandparents, like me; others have children who just went to college.

The concept of “chai” is an important tradition in our home culture of Pakistan. First invented in China in the third millenium BC, then spreading to Northern India and finally commercialized by British in colonial times, tea or “chai” is an important cultural institution. It brings together hospitality, ritual, service and design and presentation. In Pakistan, if someone drops by, a particular form of chai- tea brewed with milk and sugar- is served with at least 2–3 snacks with it, such as samosas, dahi baras, pakoras, patties, pastries and mithai. And so, as our 12th meeting took place yesterday afternoon, we got to experience the ultimate chai shai in a luxury building in Edgewater- Waterside on the Hudson- where one of our members, Nishu, lives. She used the media room in the gorgeous lobby, with a full-fledged auditorium and large screen. She should receive the first prize in terms of chai presentation as she had her china brought down and everything was presented so beautifully. So not only was there conversation, but we watched videos of previous chai-shai’s and Bollywood songs, etc. I was delighted to see how much involvement Nishu’s daughter had in the gorgeous presentation of the tea, and how she helped us with her social media skills throughout!

Of course, Daisy Khan and I sneaked in a quick recap of Daisy’s plans for her book “30 Rights of Muslim Women”, which will be released in April 2023 Inshallah. Keep on the lookout for that, as it is an important tool especially for the 2nd and 3rd generation who are straddling multiple cultures and more importantly relentlessly traumatized by Islamophobia. I will be working with Daisy to share more about the book, and related projects hopefully with the assistance of younger folks, like Nishu’s daughter Shehzeen, who happens to work in social media and Kalsoom! So there, we did achieve something productive besides the chit-chat! Congratulations Chai Shai Aur Hum group on one year of honoring our chai culture, and cherishing togetherness at the same time!

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Wall Street escapee, retired, grandmother, coach, speaker, writer, blogger on peace, transformation and reclaiming our insaniyet (humanism)

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Mino Akhtar

Wall Street escapee, retired, grandmother, coach, speaker, writer, blogger on peace, transformation and reclaiming our insaniyet (humanism)