All hail The Guru of Chai Nov. 4 and 5

Edison Ovations Series explores India’s vibrant chaos with New Zealand’s India Ink Theatre Company

Jacob Rajan, co-founder of the Indian Ink Theatre Company, stars as The Guru of Chai. The performance will be presented Nov. 4 and 5 by the Edison Ovations Series. Photo by Robert Catto. Download hires image.

From gleaming skyscrapers to humble market stalls, modern India is a world of crowded contradiction, a world of iPhones and ancient gods, of rickshaws and SUVs, of causal corruption and slumdog millionaires.

In The Guru of Chai, Jacob Rajan, co-founder of New Zealand’s India Ink Theatre Company, gives voice to the world’s largest democracy through a series of indelible characters — the mercurial chaiwallah (tea seller), the lovelorn policeman, the protection racketeers, the abandoned girl whose singing stops crowds in their tracks.

At 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4 and 5, Rajan will present this intimate epic of a one-man-show as part of the Edison Ovations Series at Washington University in St. Louis.

Tickets are $35, or $30 seniors, $25 for WUSTL faculty and staff and $20 for students and children. Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.

For more information, call (314) 935-6543, e-mail or visit

Jacob Rajan as The Guru of Chai. Download hires image.

The Guru of Chai

Drawing heavily on traditional Indian folklore, The Guru of Chai is a tale of unrequited love set amidst the busy markets surrounding the Bangalore Central Railway Station.

Narrated with mournful humor by Kutisar, the self-proclaimed “Guru of Chai,” the story centers on Balna, a young girl who, along with six sisters, is abandoned by their widowed father. To survive, the girls set up shop next to Kutisar’s stall and begin singing for passersby. Against all odds, their busking proves quite successful, leading a pair of local mafioso, Thumby and Faki, to demand protection money.

The sisters are rescued by Punchkin, an ambitious but honest young policeman, who falls hopelessly in love with Balna. Yet when Punchkin proposes, Balna rejects him in favor of Imran, a disreputable poet who soon disappears, leaving Balna pregnant and abandoned once again.

Years later, events come to a head when Balna’s son, who has been raised by his aunts, tracks down Kutisar, in a quest to uncover both his mother’s whereabouts and the mystery of his own origins.

“Rajan is a masterful storyteller and a gifted comic actor,” notes the Sydney Morning Herald, adding that the show is, “generous spirited and I came out feeling rejuvenated as well as entertained.”

Theatreview calls The Guru of Chai “a semi-comedic political thriller, with colorful characters, a bold intimacy and a truly dark streak of pathos.”

The New Zealand Herald praises Rajan’s storytelling as “an art form that is as ancient as humanity and as current as a Facebook profile.”

India Ink Theatre Company

Born in Malaysia, Rajan immigrated to New Zealand at the age of four, though his family originates in Kerala, in southern India. A graduate of Toi Whakaari, New Zealand’s national drama school, he also holds a degree in microbiology, but in 1997 founded India Ink with collaborator Justin Lewis.

Now one of New Zealand’s most successful touring troupes, India Ink has earned critical accolades for blending eastern and Western theatrical traditions with humor, storytelling and live music. The company’s philosophy has been dubbed the “serious laugh” — that is, using laughter to open the way to exploring deeper themes.

In addition to The Guru of Chai, which was co-written by Rajan and Lewis, major shows include Krishnan’s Dairy (1997), The Candlestickmaker (2000) and The Pickle King (2002) — now collected as The Trilogy Book, published by Victoria University Press — as well as The Dentist’s Chair (2008).

India Ink’s numerous awards include two Fringe First Awards from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, while The Guru of Chai won best play, best actor and best composer (for David Ward) in the New Zealand Theatre Awards. Rajan also won best actor honors in the 2010 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards and was nominated for the Stage Award for Best Actor at the Edinburgh Fringe. In addition, Rajan has been featured on the New Zealand television series Outrageous Fortune and Shortland Street.

Edison Theatre

Founded in 1973, the Edison Ovations Series serves both Washington University and the St. Louis community by providing the highest caliber national and international artists in music, dance and theater, performing new works as well as innovative interpretations of classical material not otherwise seen in St. Louis.

Edison programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors. The Ovations season is supported by The Mid-America Arts Alliance with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

Calendar Summary

WHO: India Ink Theatre Company

WHAT: The Guru of Chai

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4 and 5

WHERE: Edison Theatre, Washington University, Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.

TICKETS: $35; $30 for seniors; $25 for WUSTL faculty and staff; $20 for students and children. Available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.

SPONSOR: Edison Ovations Series

INFORMATION: (314) 935-6543 or