Life of Chai

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.

Love, Sex and Golgappa!!!

It wasn’t love at first sight but there was something about it that attracted me. It was peeping from a plate in my mom’s hand. I tugged at her saree and she placed one of the round wonderful attractive crispy structures full of tangy water into my mouth. That day and today the love affair continues. Call it by any name, Golgappa, pani puri, phuchka…… 

When I was eight, my father met with an accident and had to spend around six months in the hospital. I spent those six months at my grandmother’s place amongst innumerable cousins and every evening, without fail, we, my cousins and me, used to go on a golgappa hogging(as everyone ate out of his or her limits) spree. One night I had this acute pain in my abdomen and I puked as well. The blood test results (which came a few days later) said I was suffering from jaundice. The reason cited WAS golgappas. Immediately, golgappas were replaced by bland colorless khichdi. I had to take precautions as my liver was weak. This had to be done for around two months. Two months later….. Golgappa resumed its princely status and till date khichdi stays away from my menu. Something which made me sick was welcomed with open arms and something which was a boon for my liver was banned forever. Now, this is love. It makes you sick but you just don’t give up on it and whoever said love is blind, trust me, love has the best taste buds.

School life, usually, is the biggest shareholder of our memories. Since I am not unique, I too  have the best memories from school. When I was preparing for my engineering tests, like several others, I had joined tuitions for various subjects. No, I did not need them. My parents needed them, to ensure they left no stone  unturned in their efforts to make me an engineer. So, every evening my friend and I would religiously ride our scooter to the class and then wait for it to  end. You know why? To stop at the golgappa wala in the colony (we took a special longer route back home) and have golgappas. 12 for 5 rupees. We had even struck a deal. Whoever rode pillion, would have 7 out of the 12 golgappas.

As already informed I completed graduation in the southern part of the country and golgappa aka pani puri was not as popular as it’s in the northern half of the country. In fact it was completely different. The stuffing instead of the regular potato mixture, included boiled peas mixed with chopped onion and tomatoes and the pani of the pani puri did not have the regular spices. But this did not dampen my enthusiasm. It’s been years and the bond between me and the golgappas seemed to have strengthened with age. Like a true lover I have always followed my heart and gone out of my way to find out the best spots in the town to have my favourite golgappas.

Have you ever noticed, whenever we place a golgappa in our mouth , our eyes close automatically, just like the first kiss. Innocent and ecstatic. A mouthful of heaven(obviously the golgappa HERE 😉 ). When we open our eyes there is  a warm glow  and there is smile on our lips. Kiss or Golgappa, have you ever seen someone sad after the experience. I haven’t. They always end in a smile even if the eyes are brimming with tears. The spicier the better. We never want to stop at one,  do we? The spicy one is followed by a meetha wala and then a spicy one again. It’s addictive. We feel full but the  heart yearns for more. There is no better place than having it in public. People turn if you shriek out of excitement, how can something as small as a golgappa make us so happy. The unnumbered Golgappa competitions. The people waiting for their turn stare at you scornfully( “how long will they keep eating”) . The vendor gives you a stare, when at the end you say “ bhaiya ek sookha dena”, as if you just proposed to his daughter. It’s not shameful asking for that one extra papdi.  Though lips on fire, we would not have something to cool them down. We do not want  that lingering taste to fade out soon. 

Evenings revolve around golgappas. “Aj golgappe khane chalein?”. The news spreads among friends. The more the merrier. We sweat in the warm light emitted from the bulb at the stall but that does not discourage us. We all, at some point of time in life,  have had a  favourite stall. We laugh when the water spurts out each time we try to tame the mini monster. We can’t get enough of it.  The heartburn during the deed and the sigh of relief at the end of having it all. The satisfaction when we finish our quota of golgappas. The cool pudina pani on a hot Delhi evening or the tangy imli version on a sweaty Kolkata afternoon. We love it all.  

Luckily everyone around me  loves golgappas. Even my super health conscious mom.  She even tried  to recreate the flavor and taste at home and I am glad she failed on each and every occasion. The result was always a pseudo-golgappa. Obviously the home made version is the winner,  hands down, when it comes to  health. But it was nowhere close in terms of taste. Obviously the stuffing was not mashed with sweaty hands. The water was not from the nearest municipal corporation tap.  However, how many times do we get to say – The dirtier the better. 😉 . Our dear golgappa steers clear of all the controversies. Do hell with water borne diseases. Who cares? It’s all in the moment, when no one can come between you and the golgappa. I have never tried making them at home and wouldn’t …EVER!!! Till we meet for the next golgappa outing…………. CHEERS!!!!!