Tea - Our Very Own Desi Draught of Peace
Indian diaspora is not a new phenomenon. Not very surprisingly, a number of dishes and drinks quintessential to India have become popular across the globe. Most prominently, butter chicken, tea, Dosa, Rasam and a number of others. However, I feel chai tops the charts when it comes to popularity. In other countries, like UK or even USA or others, there are probably these set patterns and times of having tea. The most common being black tea, with a couple of specific accompaniments. In India, though, there is no set time and pattern to having it. From 1 am in the morning to 12 midnight, you can have tea anytime and no one will be staring wide-eyed at you. We are quintessential ‘chai’ lovers. Whether you go to a government office or a private office, any time during the office hours, you will find someone or the other sipping a cuppa. You would see vendors with make shift tables and kettles serving only tea between 6 am to 9 am on the roads.
The sight of these roadside tea vendors making tea is an interesting one. The brew is kept to boil continuously, with the ‘chaiwala’ stirring it with utmost sincerity, care and concentration. Once you give the order, the chaiwala would very artistically pour the delightful brownish-wheatish coloured beverage in a glass which has a precise measurement of three inches in length and a couple of inches or so in circumference. It is called ‘Cutting’. It is the common man’s glass of nectar. For the Potter fans, like me, I can say that it is our very own real, desi ‘Draught of Peace’. It is an instant way to get refreshed and be ready for the challenges life throws at us every day.
Huge business deals are sealed over this beverage, probably not at the street side vendor, but a swank five-star hotel. Hearts are broken or mended over a cup or cups. Whether it is in expensive, spotless clean China or a humble Cutting, it is an inevitable aspect of our lives in India. From Assam to Darjeeling to Ooty, the tea leaves create magic in every cup. Every region in India has a different way of making and having tea. Sometimes it may vary depending on your job too. Or if you on the railway station, or traveling in a train, you would get tea in an earthen utensil, called ‘kullad’.
The flavour, the blend, the colour - there a zillion things people sometimes check before buying a packet of tea. There is no one way to have it. Literally every individual has a preference of how strong it should be, how sweet it should be and whether it should have milk or not. The conditions are simply endless. So you can imagine if there is a joint family, the person who makes tea, would probably go a tad crazy. “Par chai to kam se kam peeke jaiye” – could we atleast serve you tea? Is one of the most common dialogues you would hear being said to a guest even if he or she is in rush, at any time of the day. Or in another scenario, your colleagues would coax you “chalo chai peene”, “let’s have tea”. So I have had tea at work simply to break the monotony. If you say no to tea, you would most probably be looked daggers at or in a way that you have committed a heinous crime!
So in gloom or in rush, in celebration or in mourning, in sickness or health or even absolute crazy banter among friends, there will always be a cup silently witnessing people’s lives. Have it with an omelette or a biscuit or a ‘Pakoda’ (a deep fried savoury dish made with gram flour and onions or potatoes), all goes well with it. The cup knows your joys, sorrows, ambitions and secrets. It gives a patient ear to all of it. It doesn’t matter if it is a 350 Rupee five-star tea with a matching saucer or a slightly unclean Cutting worth 10 Rupees. It will rejuvenate in the same way. Perhaps, just maybe, the only difference between the two would be that the five-star tea would be perfectly brewed and presented but it may not be as alive as the other one on the street. The one on the street would be alive with stories and pulse of the neighbourhood, the locality and the country. And with that, it is just the time for me to have my evening brew!