The ‘Tea-Trolly’ Culture and what it means today

There appears to have been some backlash amongst critics and journalists about a recent advert which has been aired in Pakistan by tea company Tapal, which depicts a traditional ‘tea-trolley’ culture – that is, the procedure in which a girl meets a potential marriage partner when he comes to her house by bringing in tea for the guests. I wasn’t aware that some journalists in Pakistan have apparently been campaigning against this ‘tea trolley’ process, but this advert has certain sparked some indignant responses, such as this writer, who questions the message being portrayed to young women, and the idea of “a fairy tale romance” being borne from a single meeting in which the potential ‘bride’ meekly hands tea to her potential in-laws and converses with them about her lifestyle:

For only a fraction of Pakistan’s female population does marriage follow education. For others, it is a long and dreaded journey of carrying tea trays and pushing tea trolleys, having to answer awkward and downright insulting questions, being looked up and down rather obviously and then, a long string of rejections that destroy self-esteem and lead to depression.

So is this an unrealistic take on the rishta (proposal) process? Admittedly, this is a (I assume!) well-intentioned advert, cleverly glamorised in a rich setting, glitzy outfits and a soft, romantic view, yet the reality is far from this scene, which may only happen in Bollywood films (picture, for example the girl shyly hiding behind in the kitchen. Does that sound like something you can relate to? Exactly.) As someone who has had to see her sisters and several friends go through this process, the ‘tea-trolley’ anger is, in my opinion, at least partly justified. Where for some women, this is an embarrassing process where potential guys and their families file into their homes and judge them purely on superficial aspects, it’s easy to see why this is seen as an outdated process which enforces certain roles on women and perpetuates expectations on women’s roles in the household, and how they are ‘supposed’ to be.

Another point of contention is how modernised society is becoming, both in the West and in Asian areas. While this is largely a process which has been handed down from earlier generations, in which marriages for some were decided for young couples by their parents, wer are now in an age of technology, where ‘meeting’ the right guy can happen over the internet without ever meeting him, or where women are afforded more opportunities to meet a potential life partner through work, social gatherings or even through the ‘match-maker’ figure.

So why, then, do we still see this ‘tea-trolley’ process amongst the Asian population?

Admittedly, this process is dwindling somewhat compared to the various outlets that are available for women to meet their potential partners. There are also some who have argued in favour of this process, suggesting that in a Pakistani, and largely, Islamic culture, it is just one halal way to interact with your potential spouse, protecting both parties, as well as their emotions if the meeting doesn’t lead to a successful match.

Also, while this advert is may not be a true representation of Asian society and women’s feelings about meeting prospective in-laws, it can be argued that it does (unintentionally) show the reality of the situation – where some girls may come home from work or school and be shoved into a situation where they serve chai to strangers. Also, it’s an unsettling fact that although women’s education is certainly progressing in places like Pakistan, there may be some cases both in the East and the West, where young women may leave their work or education due to family pressure, in order to get married and please their families.

What then, if the girl doesn’t go through this tea-giving process, can she do? Due to the nature of rishtey processes (and it’s limits), there doesn’t seem to be many accepted venues for a man’s family to meet his prospective bride, and whether the marriage is an arranged one or not, there are bound to be awkward moments like these at the initial beginnings. Additionally, it has been argued that the girls don’t need to go through this ‘tea-trolley’ debacle to still be judged by the guy’s family in order for them to assess her – there are stories from all sides of the spectrum in which Asian women have their own opinions on the archtypal Mother-in-Law figure!

Yet don’t think that this is a male-bashing article – both parties get judged in this situation, and more often than not, the guys in these situations and their feelings often go unvoiced as they are expected to sit quietly with their families. I’m sure for many men who  have had to go through this same procedure but on the other side of the fence feel just as awkward and embarassed as the women do – first impressions do count for some (imagine his worry about spilling crumbs or tea on himself, trying to pretend he can’t hear the girls in the kitchen giggling about him…!)

In all seriousness, my opinions about this process are mixed – while I can see that some parents may view this as a tried-and-tested procedure which allows them to meet prospective families without getting too emotionally attached, I also very much sympathise for the girls (and guys) who feel ristricted or self-conscious with this process. I suppose the real gripe in all of this is the actual tea-serving which takes place, which seems to be incumbant on the girl being expected to submissively busy herself with serving tea so that she can appear as a ‘traditional’ good girl who is happy being a feeder of mouths in the household.

I’m sure the creators of this ad didn’t have any agenda (except to sell tea!) behind this ad, and I do like the fact that it is making people question the role of women in the rishta process, as well as their rights, particularly in countries like Pakistan where this is such a changing process. I  would like to hope that changing attitudes in today’s society, and the newer generations’ willingness to merge their Islamic beliefs with their family values will make this less of a problem, and that they are able to reconcile the two fields successfully.

You can see the ‘Tapal Tea’ advert which is being debated below:

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