With various tea-centric startups now beginning to emerge in the country, one knows that they’ve tapped on the right nerve of the Indian crowd. Tea is not a mere beverage for the Indians, but an emotion that runs high in each family. Our days start with ‘chai‘ and in most cases they even end on the same note. You know you can never go wrong with the good ol’ chai! ‘Kam doodh‘ (less milk), ‘zyaada doodh‘ (more milk), ‘bin doodh‘ (without milk), ‘paki hui‘ (cooked), ‘pheeki‘ (without sugar), ‘kadak‘ (well cooked), are words which are so well engrained in our vocabulary and understanding.
Discussions – grave or casual, happiness – individual or shared, to the ever so famous ‘chai pe bulaya hai‘ being a metaphor for ‘hey! let’s get you hitched’, tea has always taken the centre stage.
In fact, I recall this one instance a few years back in Delhi when our family was grieving the loss of dear one and people had gathered in the house to pay their condolences and respect to the departed. Now let me take the opportunity to state that I come from a Punjabi family and emotions ALWAYS run high in our families. We believe in extremes. The extreme euphoria to women beating their chest and creating a show out of it in sad times (sigh!). I for one have been the kind who’s is more cosmopolitan in my upbringing, never having stayed in one place for too long. So yes, I am the Punjabi equivalent of a ‘probashi‘ Bengali. Now, coming back to the incident. It was a sombre atmosphere where everyone was grieving the loss of the dear departed one, when entered a hefty mid-aged aunt wearing a hue of off-white, beating her chest and wailing to an extent which almost had me worried that maybe she’s next!
Anyway, what I couldn’t overlook was the special care she took in carefully selecting her piece of gold jewellery for the ‘occasion.’ Please don’t ask for the logic behind this, this is as Punjabi as one could get, where even in death you shouldn’t leave the opportunity to flaunt, because…relatives! But the best (excuse my choice of words here) was when in the midst of her incessant wailing she took sips of tea being served and made a casual remark ‘Chaa te mittha kam hai‘ (the tea is low on sugar content) and then went back to her overflowing stream of tears. As taken aback as I was, I couldn’t help but notice how even in death you do not part with the tea. The only true marriage is between you and your cup of tea, no?
I too share a special relation with my cup of tea. It greets me first thing in the morning, stays by my side while I write, is the first thing I think of when I am happy or sad and that to me is, love. Although, like all Indian households, I too wasn’t spared by the relatives either when they made (absolutely illogical) remarks about me being dusky because I have ‘chai!’ Oh, the things we say and the things we do…
My maternal uncle’s wife is an obsessive tea-drinker, in fact as a child I don’t recall a single time when I didn’t see her with her ‘glass of tea.’ A steel glass, carefully placed between jute holder and overflowing with dark, very dark tea. No wonder she’s always brimming with enviable energy! But my point is, her unique tea drinking habits are now an inseparable part of her identity. All of us in the family know that she’s not to be included in the regular chai sessions of the family, as she’ll brew her own tea very carefully and then join us for the chai pe charcha.
Whatever we say or think of our Modi ji, we cannot take away from the fact that he caught India’s attention with his emotional ‘chai-waala‘ background and well, most were floored. Why? Because chai.
I’d like to conclude the part I of our #TeaSeries (see what I did there?) here with this quote:
“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
This feature is by Vernika Awal, author and founder of Delectable Reveries.