Early morning tea (bed tea) is habit for many of us in India and elsewhere, but do you know that it has its origin in British colonial times.
In Agatha Christie‘s short story ‘The case of the Perfect Maid’ (1979), there is an Indian judge living in English countryside of St. Mary Mead. In the story the Indian judge is known to ask for his Chota Hazri at 6 in the morning. In colonial times, Chota Hazri was the described as the early breakfast of the British officers working in India.
Merriam Webster‘s dictionary defines this term Chota Hazri as ‘a light meal eaten very early in the morning’. In Hindi-Urdu Chota (छोटा) means ‘small (adjective)’ and Hazri is from Hindi-Urdu Hazri = Haziri (हाज़िरी) meaning ‘presence/attendance’. Since Haziri is a feminine noun in Hindi-Urdu, proper phrase would be ‘Choti Haziri‘. It can be presumed that this phrase could have originated among the Indian servants of British colonial officers, who had to give an early morning call to their masters.
John Beames in his ‘Memoirs Of A Bengal Civilian’ (1960) notes that an early morning meal was served between 5.30 to 6.00 in the morning , and consisted of tea, eggs (boiled or poached), toast & fruit. According to Hobson-Jobson Dictionary, Chota Hazri was largely practiced in Bengal Presidency of British India. It also informs us that the Dutch Colonials in Java (now Indonesia) also practiced this custom of early breakfast with a large cup of tea served with a large piece of Cheese.
The entry on Chota Hazri from Hobson Jobson is given below:
Chota Hazri has also been mentioned in literature written in Hindi and Urdu. Influential Urdu writer Qurratulain Hyder (1927 – 2007) in her short novel ‘Ek ladki ki Zindagi’ (एक लड़की की ज़िन्दगी, 1996) mentions Chota Hazri in a circuit house of Sakkur (Sindh, Pakistan).
Famous Hindi novelist Shivani (1923 – 2003) in her memoir ‘Jaalak’ (जालक, 2007), mentions Chota Hazri while describing about early morning breakfast of a British couple Mr. & Mrs. Henry.
An Indian civil servant of British India, Santdas Khushiram Kriplani, has written about his life with the British bureaucracy in India in his autobiography ‘ Fifty Years with the British’ (1993). He gives description of his daily routine, starting with Chota Hazri.
To sum it up, bed tea as the Indians call the chota Hazri now, has a long history to talk about.
Beames, John. Memoirs of a Bengal Civilian. London: Eland, 1984.
Brown, Patricia. Anglo-Indian Food and Customs: Tenth Anniversary Edition. Bloomington, IN: IUniverse, 2008.
Kirpalani, Santdas K. Fifty Years with the British. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1993. Print.
Leong-Salobir, Cecilia. Food Culture in Colonial Asia: A Taste of Empire. Place of Publication Not Identified: Routledge, 2014.
Yule, Henry, and A. C. Burnell. Hobson-jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases. Richmond: Curzon, 1999