Drop in for a chai and a chat in Hindi

Teela and Derek Mah started the group Chai and Chat to bring together people who want to learn a new language, Hindi

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Namaste! Aap kaise hai?” enquired a pleasant voice with a discernible Australian accent. “Aapka naam kya hain? Mera naam Teela hai.”

Meet Teela Mah, an Anglo-Indian-Australian and lover of all things Indian. She and her husband Derek are the brains behind Chai and Chat – a unique initiative that brings people together to learn Hindi and celebrate Indian culture.

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Teela and Derek live in the Hornsby area (Sydney), which has blossomed into a melting pot of various cultures and has seen a steady increase in its Indian population, this stirred something in Teela. “My father is Indian, and my mother is English,” she told Indian Link. “We moved to Australia when I was eight. I love India and have travelled there several times as an active volunteer on community focussed projects through Community Church Hornsby.”

Teela’s husband, Derek, of Chinese/Australian descent, also loves India. Their keen desire to give back to the Indian community in Sydney led them to much research and meetings with Indians in the area. Going against the conventional wisdom of teaching English to immigrants, Derek decided to invite Indians to teach Hindi to non-Hindi speaking residents. Thus, Chai and Chat was launched in 2018 as a collaboration between Community Church Hornsby and IABBV Hindi School, Thornleigh. The initiative has a simple vision – to bring people together and to be a meeting point for those who love Indian culture. 

Mala Mehta, Principal of IABBV Hindi School, helped lay a strong foundation for the functional learning of Hindi. Initially, the group focussed on improving their spoken Hindi skills, slowly progressing into writing and reading by employing several mobile applications, print and online sources. Their primary resource is a book from the University of Texas called Get Started In Hindi by Rupert Snelling – specifically authored to suit the Western-style and context of learning (with accompanying audio and YouTube resources).

A Hindi lesson in progress

Chai and Chat meets every week during the school term with a core group of around 12 people. However, since their inception, they’ve had about 24 short-term visitors. The group is a vibrant representation of several ethnicities and cultures. In every session, each individual shares how they’ve used their Hindi language skills during the week, followed by a literary presentation by the facilitator. Later, the group is divided into smaller teams, where the team members practise Hindi along with their assigned tutors. The participants also indulge in fun conversations around books, food, culture and Bollywood. Teela’s favourite Bollywood movie is Lagaan.

Chai and Chat: a still from the weekly meetings
Chai and Chat: a still from the weekly meetings

During school holidays, sessions are substituted with social activities like group lunches at a restaurant or get-togethers at a member’s home. The group also organises events like the recently held Indian Street Food and Games, where a committed team of 12 members introduced almost 90 guests to delicious Indian street food and chai.  

“Chai and Chat also tries to meet the needs of the underprivileged in India, ” Teela revealed. All proceeds from their events go to charities supported by Community Church Hornsby, most notably Mukti in Pune, Dignity Freedom Network in Hyderabad and Vedike School in Bengaluru. 

The group is always looking for Hindi speakers to facilitate learning while welcoming passionate new students. They hope to expand their reach over time and possibly branch into other Indian languages.   

For more information check out their website: https://www.chaiandchat.org/

If you’re free on a Thursday night, head over to the Community Church Hornsby between 7 and 9 pm, and chat with lovers of Indian culture over a warm cup of chai. 

Read also: I just become myself in Hindi: Ian Woolford