A tea room in Souq Waqif in Doha (Photo Getty Images)
IT WAS THE GERMANY vs Spain match that started at 10PM local time. We had travelled the night before from India and started work as soon as we got in. Sleep-deprived and excited but feeling chilled as night set in against the surrounding desert at the Al Bayt Stadium, I nodded yes when our colleague Abhijit Deshmukh suggested a cup of tea. I am not a tea person. One cup in the morning and one in the evening are just about it. Not more. Tea isn’t something that excites me and less so at 11PM. So, when Abhijit suggested tea it was more of a reflex action to stay awake that I said yes. And I did not want to say no. Rather, I wanted to give him some company.
And then surprise, surprise! What the menu offered at the stadium’s food stall was a normal black tea and Kadak Chai, which turned out to be a regular and oh-so-welcome Indian tea blend of milk, elaichi (cardamom) and sugar, a shot of glucose as I returned to the stand to watch the rest of the game. I had expected a dip, just like we get everywhere we travel and nothing close to what we actually got. The tea being served at every stadium in Doha is the Kadak Chai that we make at home every time someone feels unwell. “Ada aar elach diye cha kha (Have tea with ginger and cardamom)” is something we have seen mothers and grandmothers shout out in the household for decades. Now that same tea has travelled the world and is being served at the Al Bayt and Lusail stadiums at the world’s greatest spectacle of all.
This drink that celebrates Indianness here at the FIFA World Cup is a testament to the Indian presence here in the region and is now our must-have at the games. So Kadak Chai it was in Spain vs Germany or with Mbappé in France vs England and during every match day that I was there.
If it’s the Kadak Chai inside the stadiums in Doha, it is the ‘Chapati Chai’ outside at the Qatara mall which is a rage. One of the most visited sightseeing spots in Doha is Qatara. And one of the central attractions of Qatara is the Chapati Kadak shop. Whenever you go to this shop you will see people queuing up for their share of Kadak Chai and Chapati. The prices are extremely affordable with the Kadak Chai costing 4 Riyal and the Chapati 2 Riyal. There is a cheese Chapati and a nutella Chapati, which is in major demand. And now with the demand increasing every day with thousands of international visitors making their presence felt in Doha, the local establishment has had to carve out a road where people can come and order from their cars without having to get off. And having tried the Kadak Chai, I can vouch for the taste.
At a deeper level, the presence of Kadak is in itself a story. It is evidence of India’s soft power that the prime minister, for example, keeps talking about. It is India travelling and despite the team not being here, fans and Kadak Chai have made the World Cup every bit Indian. When you see the popularity of Chapati-Kadak among the local elite, it is a clear sign of the importance of Kadak Chai, which is now all-pervasive. In fact, between Kadak and Sulaimani (which is the dip tea), the tea culture has now been appropriated by the local elite.
Despite the team not being here, fans and Kadak Chai have made the World Cup every bit Indian. When you see the popularity of chapati-kadak among the local elite, it is a clear sign of the importance of Kadak Chai, which is now all-pervasive. Between Kadak And Sulaimani, the tea culture has now been appropriated by the local elite
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This influence isn’t restricted to tea. Almost everywhere you look in Doha, you see Indian influence. If you go to any stadium, you will hear a lot of people speaking Hindi. Statistics published by the Qatar establishment show that Indian fans constitute 9 per cent of the people who have come to Qatar. Saudi Arabia, which has a land border with Qatar, accounts for 11 per cent of the fans and Indian fans are in the second position, followed by those from the US, who make up 7 per cent people who have come to watch World Cup action.
Prasad Kulkarni, who has been a resident of Qatar for nearly a decade-and-a-half now, helps put things in perspective. “Indians are at every level of society here and constitute a very important section. We have been here for years now and can tell you the influence is extremely strong and significant,” he says.
Maybe that’s why the Indians have gone out of their way and presented something unique to the Qatari establishment that has become a prime attraction of this World Cup. An artist from Kerala and some of his students have made what is now one of the most visited installations in Qatara. It is the big boot, which has been made using the same material that players use in their boots and laces. This is going to be included in the Guinness World Records as the biggest football boot ever made. It is being deemed as a contribution of the Indian diaspora here in Qatar and is a standout attraction.
Thus, while India isn’t here as a team, there is still a lot of India in Doha. It is the same at almost every sporting event you now attend. With 48 nations in the 2026 World Cup in the US, Mexico and Canada, which will have a healthy share of Asian teams, we need to give a firm push to ensure that India’s dream of participating in a FIFA World Cup doesn’t remain a pipe dream in the decades ahead. There is enough money in the Indian football system and with a revamped All India Football Federation (AIFF) determined to make a difference, there is no reason to lose hope. Yes, we need more exposure and more games for the national team, and a well-rounded domestic structure which feeds into the Indian Super League. With consistent effort, India at a FIFA World Cup could be possible by the mid-2030s.
The stunning efforts from Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea are proof of Asian resurgence in football. It could soon be India’s turn if things are well tended to at home. As I have yet another round of Kadak Chai and watch the stunning FIFA opening montage, that’s what I keep thinking. A cup of Kadak Chai watching the Indian team in action.