The bubbles burst faster than they should and suddenly a warm golden and then a dark orange color takes over. I know it’s 4 o clock in the afternoon. Bangles tinkle and the sound of something hot pouring into a glass fills up the atmosphere. It’s time for chai. My mom has been doing this for as long as my memory goes. Had she auditioned for Cinderella’s character, ever, she would have won the role hands down. Impeccable timing, so what if it’s not midnight!!!!!
I would not ruin her reputation by calling her tea. CHAI, she has been for the last twenty six years that I have known her. Yes, her. She does not need an introduction. She is a member of all our families. She wakes us up, when we want to catch up on the extra five minutes of sleep. She keeps us awake when we are busy burning the midnight oil. She is a friend for all seasons. A perfect excuse for the most baseless chatter. She is a perfect alarm clock.
It does not matter which garden she was born in. It does not matter which brand brought her up. It does not matter who takes her home from the grocery store. She knows she would mingle with everyone in the family. A steel tumbler or a porcelain cup, she would happily dance her way into it. Though the kullhad is her favorite abode.
She is hot. She is an addiction. She controls us. She is a sadist and enjoys the most when we yearn to be with her at the exact time dedicated to her. She demands respect. Your heart swells with pride, when someone asks “khana banana aata hai” and even when you know nothing, the answer echoes” haan mujhe chai banani aati ati.. 🙂 “. She can be strong. She can be mild. Her complexion reflects her strength. Gingered for the sore throat and with a hint of cardamom for the tired soul. When the chants from the arti in the nearby temple overpower all other noises, sitting by the window with a mind like a blank canvas, chai helps you paint the prettiest picture you want. With every sip, figments of imagination, come to life.
She is a perfect companion. A cigarette in one hand, chai in the other, the world is at your mercy. The latest project, the approaching deadline. Appraisals and increments. Planning higher education. She has been a part of all the conversations. She has been the perfect stress buster. She is the bread and butter for so many. Chai wallahs in the train with their distinguished accent. Chai ki tapri on the meandering treks, even where habitation is sparse. Sitting on a hill top gazing at the valley. All you need is a cup of chai and her best friend, the glucose biscuit. They are inseparable. Pakodas are the closest next but they are seasonal.
She loves the rain. On a rainy evening, at a dingy stall, in a transparent glass, she seduces her way to our lips. Love stories spring around chai stalls. Rains and chai have the best cinematic history( only after the saree clad actress). Remember Tabu walking towards Ajay Devgn, in the movie Vijaypath, on the foot over bridge at the legendry chai stall. Or, the Shahrukh from Dil se…, where the incessant rain and the beauty of Manisha Koirala could be contained by the kullhad of chai, and nothing else. Salman’s moment of towelled glory.. ” ek garam chai ki pyali ho”. She has her strong hold over politics too. Who could forget the famous Amma tea party.
Winters at their peak. The temperatures fall to 3 degrees. I wouldn’t even want to imagine below that. We lose count of the layers of clothing. Shoes, socks, muffler scarf, gloves. Yet the chill runs down the spine. It nips any part of the skin that is exposed to the weather. Frost bites. Frozen palms after a bike ride. I wonder how would arctic feel like. Winter chill seeps in, through the multiple layers of clothing. You hold her tight in your palm. The vapor rising from the cup.Take a sip and suddenly the strange warmth envelops you. Purse your lips after a hot sip and gulp in. Heaven. Nothing comes close to a hot cup of tea on a chilly winter evening. Hands half covered in woolens, hold the cup as tight as they could.
Summers are not left out though. Heat takes over and the frequency of having chai reduces. However, we still need to wake up. Gossip doesn’t take a back seat in summers. Chai knows her importance even in the peak of summers. Bread pakodas and chai outside college gates and a group on friends. A packet of glucose biscuit and cups of chai, don’t we just miss the hostels sometimes.
Across seasons she has held her position in nuptial arrangements. She gives confidence to the nervous would-be-bride when her prospective in-laws come to woe her for their son. The trembling hands with the tray of chai is symbolic of the iconic arranged marriage system in our country. The ritual might have faded away but its symbolism hasn’t. The unforgettable number” shayad meri shadi ka khayal dil mein aya hai .. isiliye mummy ne teri mujhe chai pe bulaya hai..”
I was five. I loved watching my dad sip something from a handled something( my picture book said C for cup). Each sip would be taken with the same enthusiasm and ended in the same satisfaction. Sometimes the uncle on the opposite sofa or my mom would have synchronized sips. Sometimes there was a rhythm. I was inquisitive(Doesn’t bournvita say brain develops maximum by the age of 5.. so mine was at the pinnacle of development). What is it that is served to everyone who visited our place but not to the kids. So, one day I decided to taste whatever it was but was scared to ask my mom. As usual my parents walked out with the guests to see them off. I sneaked into the hall and tip toed towards the cups. Since there was very little left in all the cups, I poured all of it into one. My joy had no boundaries. So what I did not have pebbles like the crow in the story I could still bring the level of the liquid up… Just when I was about to take a sip, there was a strange burning sensation in my left ear. Was it the effect of the liquid but I didn’t drink even a drop. Immediately I reached for my left ear. It wasn’t there. My eyes welled up with tears. My ear was in my mom’s hand and suddenly I found myself rising and the ground moving away from me. I was beaten black and blue. Why didn’t my mom beat my dad, why me? Kill the crow who taught me how to bring the liquid up. Today, I know I was beaten up not because I wanted to have chai but because I had used the tactics of the crow. Bloody Crow!!!!! However I haven’t had chai….EVER… Not till date.