Dotting the “i”.
Crossing the “tea”.
When you think of India, the first beverage that comes to your mind is chai. As a country, it runs on chai. In India it is understood that when you graduate from drinking Bournvita to chai is when you are slowly transitioning into adulthood. My journey with Chai began in the 10th grade. Every night, after dinner my mother would prepare a hot cup of tea, which would give me the caffeine rush and help me burn the midnight oil, especially during exams. And before I knew it, I was hooked on to it, just like the other one billion Indians.
I strongly disliked the chai prepared by anyone but my mother. The tea that she prepared was like sweetened water but with a slight undertone of tea powder. While the tea that the others prepared was the typical, strong, over-boiled, pungent chai with very little milk. No matter how much you tweaked the way the others prepared chai, it would never be the same as the one made by my mother.
Soon I was so addicted that I would regularly drink about four to five cups a day. Sometimes, I would slice a hot piece of fresh pao (bread), spread a dollop of butter on it, and dip it in my tea. It was wonderful, to dip the pao in the hot chai, watching the texture of the airy bread soak up the tan liquid with melted butter dripping from the sides.
I began depending on chai while studying. My tea intake was directly proportional to the amount of study matter.
The frequency of my daily chai indulgences, made my mother anxious. My mother did try to drive home the point by saying that it would blacken my lips. For at that age physical appearances mattered more than internal well-being. Although this tactic worked partially, I continued nevertheless. Perhaps I would have reduced my daily tea intake. However, the rebel in me wanted to defy my mother’s opinion only to needle her sense of superiority.
Soon, I moved to Mumbai in order to pursue my higher education. There was a world of a difference between the chai here and the one that was prepared back home. Naturally, I developed a strong disliking for the tea available here and I substituted the beverage with South Indian filter coffee. When I would go back home on short breaks, I would temporarily replace my new beverage with the old one.
The taste of the light tea my mother prepared reminded me of home. Now that I didn’t get to enjoy the experience as often, I began to cherish every sip. The hissing of the tea powder as it was dropped in the steamy, sweet, boiling water was now the most nostalgic sound I had heard.
My journey with chai has been a very personal one. It helps me escape into a temporary retreat. Most people take it for granted, I on the other hand have numerous memories attached to every cup of tea that I have sipped.