Ek Garam Chai ki Pyaali Ho
Koi Usko Pilaane Waali Ho
Chaahe Gori Ho Ya Kaali Ho
Seene Se Lagaane Waali Ho
And so went the song that did not just torture your eardrums with the ever-so-melodious voice of Anu Malik but also featured Salman Khan in his oh-so-short, well, shorts! And yet this song is special for it espouses, for me, and for millions of desi tea lovers all over the world, the perfect “Indian Dream”. Yes, if we can have an Indian Idol after American Idol, why can’t we have a desi counterpart of the “American Dream”? Of course, a High Definition LCD TV, an iPod, an iPhone, a Suzuki Swift, a 2 Bedroom flat in close proximity to the upcoming International Airport in Bangalore and a Honeymoon trip to Phuket Island have also made it to the latest Indian Dream checklist. But let’s just stick to the basics for now – the idea of hot tea served at the pleasure of your highness!
Let’s go back in time, about three quarters of a century, when Mr. Grandfather Sharma used to have one cup of tea with breakfast and another cup of mildly warm tea to rinse his mouth. And then came the final cup of tea; with nothing but the sheer delight of 100% fat milk, tea leaves from Darjeeling, a couple of cardamom pieces (elaichi) and a generous helping of ginger through the miniature grinder.
So as you can imagine, I had a pretty high standard to follow when it came to the most popular drink of the country. Not one to be bogged down by expectations, I have fared pretty nicely on that scale. And while I was not born into luxurious times as my grandfather, I did manage to get a bed-tea, one cup of tea with breakfast and another after the “eating” part was done. The idea of rinsing my mouth with tea did not really click with me. One reason was that glycerin does not do all that good for the taste in your mouth after tea 🙂 (for those uninitiated into the whole home-remedy funda, glycerin can be used to cure blisters in the mouth (possibly) caused by hot tea).
I didn’t just stop there – I managed to have bed-tea, a thermos full at that, in the early hours of the morning of exams. My mother would sit next to me through the first cup to make sure I was wide awake to study and revise the course. Wow, those were the days! I really missed all this in college hostel when I used to get up early to revise. Did I say revise? Hell, no – where was the time to revise anything in college? You revise when you complete the course once. IT-BHU Metallurgical Engineering is not what I would call a revision-friendly course.
But one thing college had, was the mess and the maharaj ji with his pot belly and angocha over his shoulders and his last tea at 11:00 PM. I could not read one extra word after 10:45 because my ears yearned for that distant cling of the tea glasses, mostly against each other, but sometimes also against the plastic bucket. Steaming hot kettle in one hand and the bucket full of glasses in the other, the little boy would shout “Chai …Chai iii” and we would rush into the lobby with our hands outstretched begging for the holy kawa. If it were not an exam night, one would simply get out of the hostel on a bike, or search for a rickshaw in the middle of the night for half an hour and finally take that rickshaw for double rate to “Lanka” (a.k.a. the ultimate networking hotspot with more cult value than Starbucks). Here one could meet innumerous old friends and make some new ones – all over a cup of tea. Tea was all that could revive our sleeping spirits in that 15 minute break after 2 hours of lectures.
Lectures were one excuse for tea but I, for one, don’t really need one. I can drink a cup of tea late in the night; I can drink one early in the morning, afternoon, evening; practically any time of the day. I drink it when I have to stay awake; I also drink it when I want to sleep. I remember the times when tea was the default choice of drink for all our guests (choice, as in, our choice for them :); even in those hot summer days.
But the best tea is definitely the tea from the tea stalls by the roadside. I know they are not the most hygienic but if you get that roadside tea in a disposable earthen cup (kulhar, made internationally famous by good ol’ Lalu), the hygiene issue is resolved as well! I just cannot imagine a train station/platform without the kulhar tea.
At home, along with the right quantities of sugar and tea leaves, you need a perfect amount of ginger and maybe some cardamom too. I remember a friend of mine added the cardamom to the tea leaves as a one time effort thereby bringing efficiencies to the everyday process of getting your nicotine. Some people use the tea masala which already has all these ingredients and more, but I prefer adding them separately – gives tea a more authentic feel.
I met a few old classmates of mine from college after more than 4 years. And all that talk about old college days didn’t light up their faces as much as the mention of some desi tea. That is the effect of chai. I guess we see that everywehere. I’ve had bad days where nothing seems to be working for me till I go for the tea break, have a sip of the hot Brooke Bond (or Tata Tea), chat a little and get back into the groove.
So, what is it about tea that binds me to it? I guess the answer lies in the fact that I can associate so many of my memories with it. Be it the early morning tea in bed on those cold mornings in Ghaziabad or the tea at a Lanka tea stall at a time which could be called both pretty late night as well as pretty early morning with buddies half as crazy as myself, or the masti of getting off the Kashi Vishwanath Express train in the middle of the night at some obscure station in eastern Uttar Pradesh to get some desi bubbly in my system or the absolute delight in getting the same taste on Oak Tree Rd in New Jersey, or the instant connection you develop with little known people the moment tea is mentioned, or a nice compliment of my own preparation of tea- which has been misused by some people to coax me into making tea on more than one occasion! So, I guess tea not just wakes me up, it injects a dash of energy and fun in my life!
I once got the following as my testimonial on my orkut profile
“I thought I was the world’s greatest tea-addict until Sharmajee came along”. I couldn’t explain it better 🙂
If you can identify yourself with this statement, do share your point of view in the comments section.