I talked to my chai wala, learned his story, and asked him to teach me his skill with the pot and kettle - Photos by author
I talked to my chai wala, learned his story, and asked him to teach me his skill with the pot and kettle - Photos by author

This article was originally published on October 29, 2015.


If there is a question every Pakistani has asked more than once throughout life, it is: ‘How have we managed to survive so long?’

Pakistan has endured wars, terrorist attacks, ethnic violence, religious violence, military dictators, and more. It has been plagued with corrupt politicians, defeats in every cricket World Cup to India, Mathira, Humsafar reruns, the Akmal family, and worse. Our women can’t go to work without being stared at. Our men can’t look within a 5km radius of a woman without being labeled a taru (starer). Our people leak money to corruption, inflation, utility bills, lawn sales, and thieves.

It has come to the point where every man in Pakistan carries two wallets and two cellphones; one to keep, and one to give away during muggings. Since thieves have begun to wise up, we will probably have to carry three of each, one to keep, one to give to thieves, and a second fake one when they insist you give them the right one.

If this continues, I am sure in a few years every Pakistani will carry one good cellphone and a real wallet, and at least nine decoys, just to be safe. It will come to the point where our pockets will be drooping with decoys. Every time the thief insists they be handed the right one, you can say, “Oh..OH… fine… fine… I’ll give you the real one this time.”

Car thievery is another issue Pakistanis face. Unfortunately, the decoy strategy doesn’t work with vehicles. We can’t drive our Hondas with a Mehran following behind via tow.

Thief: “Gari do!” (Give me the car!)

You: “OK, here are the keys to the Mehran.”

Thief: “GRRRRRR”

You: “Oh..OH… fine… fine… I’ll give you the real one this time.”

Yet, in spite of these problems, Pakistanis manage to persevere. Like the poor donkey walking on the street, carrying more weight than the mass of Jupiter, we defy the odds and continue to trudge down our paths.

How do we manage?

Some speculate Pakistanis are extraordinarily resilient. Others claim it is a supernatural entity, like the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine, or Mathira’s massive lips, but I think we all know the answer to the question.

Of course, our magical elixir is doodh pati.

In doodh pati lies relief from all of life's miseries – Photo by author
In doodh pati lies relief from all of life's miseries – Photo by author

I come from a chai drinking family. My mother consumes so much tea we have a CNG cylinder for her to drink from. Meanwhile, my working friends, like most red blooded Pakistanis, can’t survive without a dose of doodh pati every few hours. Once, a blood bank rejected a buddy because more doodh pati ran through his veins than blood. True story.

Yes, we love doodh pati, but especially when under stress. One cup of doodh pati and the boss’s barking sounds like a cat’s meow. One cup of doodh pati and you suddenly scoff at your deadline, "Sleep? Who needs sleep? I am perfectly fine. Oh, what are those flying goats doing in the office?"

But while we love doodh pati, we have never asked ourselves about the men who sell the delicious brew.

So, I set off on a quest. I would finally make conversation with the man making my doodh pati for the last five years, learn his story, and ask him to teach me his skill with the pot and kettle.

I prepared for this arduous journey by packing my equipment (read: camera and notebook), seeking counsel with my powerful allies (read: cats), bidding a tearful farewell to my love (who probably began reconsidering our relationship soon after), and preparing my steed (read: checked the car’s radiator).

A two-minute drive later, I was at the Quetta Shahjee Hotel. This dhaba, located very much in Karachi, features a young clean shaven Ali Zafar on its signboard, who carries an innocent smile that says, “Come in and have some tea. Everyone is welcome. Even you.”

Who wouldn't be charmed by Ali Zafar's benign smile? – Photo by author
Who wouldn't be charmed by Ali Zafar's benign smile? – Photo by author

Meeting the chai master

Here, I introduce myself to Abdul Wahab, who with his bushy black beard and ready smile looks like a companion of Gandalf from Middle Earth. Even his black Panda Express apron says ‘Joy’.

A smiling Abdul Wahab agreed to share both his story and the tricks of his trade – Photo by author
A smiling Abdul Wahab agreed to share both his story and the tricks of his trade – Photo by author

I ask this genial man if he’d like to share his story for Dawn Images, and explain how women far and wide will reach out to his handsome self. Smiling, and perhaps momentarily fantasizing about throwing some hot tea on my face, Wahab blushes, “I was married a lifetime ago.”

With his customers waiting, Wahab begins preparing their orders.

What all goes into the magical concotion that is Abdul Wahab's doodh pati – Photos by author
What all goes into the magical concotion that is Abdul Wahab's doodh pati – Photos by author

As he works, he explains that he has been brewing doodh pati for at least 20 years. After completing his education at the age of 15, the age-old knowledge of tea making was imparted to him from an experienced brewer.

Since that day he has worked happily as a chai wala.

Originally hailing from Quetta, Balochistan, Wahab says he moved to Karachi because of the water shortage in his hometown. At this, I wonder how deep Quetta’s water problems are for someone to move to a water deprived city like Karachi.

His dhaba, found on 10th Commercial Street, Phase 4, D.H.A., is usually packed. In the mornings, the eatery serves delicious crispy anda parathas. Meanwhile, doodh pati is available all day. Clients from all walks of life come here for their daily fix, especially from local businesses.

Happy patrons of Quetta Shahjee Hotel attest to the excellent chai brewed there
Happy patrons of Quetta Shahjee Hotel attest to the excellent chai brewed there

Several customers turn to me, unable to hold back praise for Abdul Wahab’s delicious tea. One camera-shy patron prefers to drink it the old fashioned way, from the edge of a saucer. Other, less bashful clients sing praises of how concerns in their daily lives are forgotten for a precious few minutes at this dhaba.

Some like to drink it the old-fashioned way, from the edge of the saucer – Photo by author
Some like to drink it the old-fashioned way, from the edge of the saucer – Photo by author

I have a little sip. As usual, Wahab’s doodh pati is top-notch. The balance between milk and sugar is perfect, while the kick of the caffeine is strong enough to cure Altaf Bhai’s long-running hoarse throat.

Abdul Wahab says he loves cooking tea. At peak hours, he prepares thirty cups a minute. Next, he drops a bombshell, “Yeah, I don’t like the taste of doodh pati. If I must consume tea, I take it long and black.”

The secret recipe

Abdul Wahab teaches me how to make doodh pati. He says the secret is in the ingredients. The milk must be fresh and creamy and the pati should be plentiful. Ultimately, it must be cooked with the right balance.

Having absorbed the teaching, I go home, determined to perfect the art of making doodh pati.

I patiently waited as the doodh pati brewed, eager to taste my first cup – Photos by author
I patiently waited as the doodh pati brewed, eager to taste my first cup – Photos by author

After putting together my concoction the next day, I give it a taste, and am pleased. “Not bad if I do say so myself!”

But who am I, a mere tea drinker, to judge my own creation? No, it must be reviewed by the master himself. Minutes later, I am back at Abdul Wahab’s shop, my doodh pati in a thermos by my side.

I prepare to take my creation to the master – Photos by author
I prepare to take my creation to the master – Photos by author

Abdul Wahab, the good natured man that he is, immediately agrees to taste what I have put together. As his assistant pours out some tea, I ask Abdul Wahab to judge with brutal honesty. He nods, his goodnatured smile not leaving his face.

Out poured my doodh pati, from the thermos to the dhaba tea-cup – Photo by author
Out poured my doodh pati, from the thermos to the dhaba tea-cup – Photo by author

The master decides to have it the old-fashioned way, from the edge of the saucer – Photo by author
The master decides to have it the old-fashioned way, from the edge of the saucer – Photo by author

Finally, he drinks, and I feel like I am a contestant on Masterchef, facing Gordon Ramsey himself.

The master takes a sip, while I waited with bated breath – Photo by author
The master takes a sip, while I waited with bated breath – Photo by author

'Is good,' he says! – Photo by author
'Is good,' he says! – Photo by author

After a few tastes, Abdul Wahab smiles. He says that although the tea is good, I didn’t use as much pati as I should have, and didn’t let it cook long enough, “Aap aik do dafa banay ga to theek hojay gay.” (If you make it a few more times, you’ll get it completely right).

I joke, “Yes, and then I will open a dhaba next to yours.”

Abdul Wahab laughs as if to say, “Bring it on b****.”

How to make doodh pati, according to Master Wahab:

Step 1: Put three cups of water in a pot and leave it to boil. After the water starts bubbling, add a teaspoon of tea leaves. Wait till the mixture cooks.

Step 2: Add 1 cup of full cream milk to the pot, preferably straight from the cow’s teat itself. If you don’t own such an animal, then you can find what you need at a supermarket. Let all the ingredients cook to your judgment.

Step 3: Place the pot on low heat and add sugar if you so desire. After mixing thoroughly on low heat, transfer the doodh pati to a teapot using a filter to hold back the tea residue.

Remember, practice makes perfect! And if you can’t get it right, Abdul Wahab is a drive away.

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