“ A steaming cup of chai, invokes the memories of the days gone by.”
I tried really hard, to think back to the exact moment that chai became a part of my life. As a child, growing up in a typical Indian household we weren’t allowed to drink tea. So, my first memory related to tea, was that there was always a certain air around teatime at home. And, that I could dip unlimited number of biscuits into my dad’s teacup. Perks of being dad’s favorite, I guess.
From a very young age, I understood that we, Bengali’s, were different from the rest of India when it came to the art of making and drinking tea. In the sense, we knew how to consume the finest tea (Darjeeling of course!); soaked in a porcelain teapot for exactly three minutes, strained into a slightly warm teacup. Saucer was a must!
This however, isn’t the form of tea that I fell in love with. I went the radical way; drawn to the quintessential masala chai, much to my mother’s dismay. Made by boiling milk and water, with a slightly lower grade tealeaf mixed with a powdery concoction of cardamom and ginger, boiled till it resembles the color of a terracotta tile.
Every once in a while, when my tea is brought to me, I catch myself missing my grandparents. I am reminded of my childhood, my brother and I playing around them, as they warned us of the hot cup of tea that they held at a slightly higher level, so that we wouldn’t knock it out of their hands. A steaming cup of chai, can sometimes, invoke those memories, tucked away somewhere in the corner of our brain.
For instance, up till 6th grade, every Wednesday, we’d have to recite the Bengali poem that was being taught to the class that week. We went around the class, standing up one by one, reciting stanzas of the poem of the week. My father claims that we come from a long line of elephants. Thus, he took it upon himself to help me, each week, to memorize my poem, before my class on Wednesday. Sitting out on the balcony each Wednesday morning at 5am with dad, trying to learn one of Tagore’s many poems for class, watching him sip his tea made my day a little brighter. My life seemed perfect.
Teatime, around my mother however, was very different from the rest of the family. Without fail everyday, she got the 5pm caffeine headache. This meant, that going swimming in the evening was in jeopardy. Each summer, my brother and I would wait for the sun to set, mom to finish her cup of boiling hot tea and for her to give us the signal, that we could go get dressed to be taken swimming. We secretly joked about mom being a tea-consuming dragon, as we watched her down her tea within minutes. Now, I understand the reason why mom used to be so quiet while drinking her tea. It was, her me time, something that I have grown to appreciate and enjoy. After, coming home from a long day at school, to have those few minutes before the chaos of the evening began. Years later she told me that she looked forward to go swimming with us, it gave her some lone time with the two of us. We were the three best friends.
About ten years ago, I met one of my best friends in college. We bonded instantaneously, being Indian in a foreign land, does that to you. As we braved our first American winter together, we found solace in steaming cups of chai. It gave us a common ground, a sense of security and the warmth of familiarity. Masala chai brought us together. Till date, whenever we set up our Skype dates, it’s a ritual that we must bring our chai mugs for the date. It makes us feel closer and stronger, perhaps.
A moment of silence must be observed, for all those who are yet to fall in love with the brown nectar of happiness. Also, for those unfortunate souls, who believe that green tea should be considered as a real beverage.
Dear non- tea drinker,
I wish you’d give me a chance.
A steaming cup of chai