What are the two most important rituals that every household in India performs each morning? Sipping a hot cup of tea along with reading the newspaper! Isn’t it?
But how exactly did this morning cuppa become such an important part of our life? Feeling drowsy? Chai pi lo. Having a bad day? Have a rejuvenating cup of tea. Down in the dumps? What about a nice cuppa to revv u up!
What is it about this quintessential drink that the English bequeathed to us as legacy to be continued forever! Be it the cutting chai sold at the roadside tapri that people enjoy every morning with two pieces of the pabulum Parle-G or the overly priced 5 star hotel tea or the railway station wali chai or our very own maa ke hath ki subah ki meethi chai. Nothing like it to charge you up for the rest of the day.
Add to it what you like – ginger, tulsi, black pepper, cinnamon, anything in the kitchen that goes with the weather and taste and voila, you have your panacea for all ills ready! New age entrepreneurs have capitalized on this idea and brought this mundane drink with all its variants to cafés specially dedicated to it.
Remember when in the 90’s, then heartthrob Salman Khan lip-synced Anu Malik in “Ek garam chai ki pyali ho, aur usko pilane wali ho”. Even those girls with culinary skills limited to Maggi were ready to give an arm and a leg to make a garam chai ki pyali for Salman.
Not me though. It was not as if I did not adore Salman like every teenager or I didn’t know how to prepare tea. It was just that tea has never been “my cup of tea”, pun intended. I must be among the few nonconformist Indians who march to the tunes of a different drummer. That is because I have always been partial to our very own desi milk rather than videshi tea. I am not sure about India but “Amul doodh piti hai Shalini.”
Thanks yet again to my elder sister! When we were quite young, we were both given a glass of milk each morning by our dear mother. My sister hated milk. So, she devised a devious plan. She would quickly shut the door and draw the curtain to darken the room. As soon as I would finish my glass, should quickly passed hers to me, urging me to drink and telling me that I would become stronger. The dark room would prevent me from seeing the white colour of the milk as I always had “maltova” added in mine. I would readily comply. She would then quickly take back her glass and each of us would go to keep our glasses in the kitchen. This went on for a long time before our mother realised what was actually going on. Needless to say, she started making us finish our glasses in front of her. But all that double consumption only made me “healthier.”
One could easily make out who between the two of us was well fed during childhood when the drawstring selling urchins in the marketplace back home call out to me as “auntyji naare(नाड़े) ” while addressing my tea drinking sister as “didi naare(नाड़े) le lo“.
Then again as one of her eccentricities, my sister only drinks one saucer of tea, twice a day, boiling hot. I good naturedly chaff her to directly strain the tea inside her mouth instead of a cup.
Though I never had any fetish for tea, my folks tell me I can make it really well. My sister jokes about me being good at the three ‘च‘s – chai, chapati and chutney. Whenever we had guests at our place, I would dutifully go to the kitchen to prepare tea for them as per their liking.
I fondly remember our family friend, Uncle Pandey, a retired Professor of English from IIT Kanpur. He was a recluse with very peculiar habits, but ever so often, he would come over to our house at around seven in the evening, sat at a fixed place on the sofa and asked me for tea. He often told me that I was among the three people in his life that he had allowed to prepare his cuppa. Rest everyone made “horse’s piss”, as he liked to call them. He often allowed me to tag along with him to watch plays or on outings simply because I could brew a delectable cup of his liking. He is one of those who have had a great impact on the development of my flair for languages. I am not a language student, but he would share his knowledge with me, lend me books from his collection which he never did to others and took me to taste specific dishes from certain food joints that he enjoyed. Although he is no more amongst us, every now and then I remember him while preparing tea.
Hubby and I are as different as chalk and chees. Since I like milk, he obviously has to be a tea lover. It was only a few years after marriage that I too started to have the morning tea, just to give him company. Unlike for him, that is not the only medicine I need first thing in the morning to open my eyes. However, as they say, after a few years of marriage, you start sharing each other’s tastes. So even though he could never develop a fondness for milk or any milk product, I picked up this habit of tea, partially thanks to him and partially to the chilly winters of Delhi.
Connoisseurs of tea would abhor me for not appreciating its different variants. But I really can’t differentiate between Darjeeling tea, Assam tea, Green tea, Black tea, this tea, that tea – seems like different varieties of tea far outnumber the ingredients that go into making it.
One fine day, hubby became health conscious and brought 2-3 big dibbas of green tea, with flavours namely normal green tea, tulsi tea, lemon n honey tea. Phew!! He put boiled water in his cup, dipped a sachet in it and immediately took it out. I asked him what to do with the remaining not even half-used sachet. He told me he does not need any more colour as it will turn bitter if put for long. Now the middle-class “Monisha” of “Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai” woke up inside me. How could I let the remaining tea of sachet go waste! I quickly boiled water in another cup and put the sachet in it, let it sit inside for a few minutes till the water darkened. When the “Monisha” inside me was satisfied that I have drained this sachet of every bit of tea it had to offer, I flinged it in the bin. Though the taste was horrible, I quietly gulped it down my throat, quite content with my doing. The trouble is, hubby loves his green tea every winter night!
But chai is definitely a beverage of the elite. Why else will they have “chai pe charcha“? It has the power to even make you a strong candidate to run the largest democracy in the world. “Milk wala baccha” is only making his muscles, but “chai wala baba” is making the country!
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