Tea !

Indian tea. Chai. Available at every street corner. Well before the sun shows up. To long after he has disappeared into the Arabian sea !

It doesn’t take much to get this going. Tea powder. Loads of milk. Plenty of sugar. Traces of ginger. And voila, theres this ‘chai’ ! And as the sugar coat courses the alimentary canal, a strange energy pervades. Usually. Placebo or otherwise. That is fact.

Many have romantically described the humble tea as some kind of a ‘least common denominator’.

For everybody has tea. From the stock broker who makes a million as he twiddles his thumb and the slum dweller who makes an inconsequential sum amount after heaving his whole body and lifting inconsequential construction equipment.

Everybody has tea. From the office goer to the street side hawker. The college professor to the cop. Thugs to theologists. The player to the proctor.

The tag of ‘least common denominator’ seems to fit in perfectly.

Of course, the tea is served in the glass tumbler ! So much part of our tea drinking routine. So much so that the flavour of the tea also seems to come from the glasses that hold the tea.

Washed many times over in a day. Refilled as many times. Perhaps more ! The tea glasses are an integral part of ‘chai’ ! Adding their own twang to the tea.

But imagine. Imagine you worked in an office some distance away. Or at some obscene height in a construction site with no lifts ! Ordering tea in a glass is impractical.

Worse ( & more probable) if the vendor knows your overdue amount on the credit card and is doubtful of the return of the tea glasses…

Tea comes in a polythene bag, with plastic cups. Home delivery !

The same tea. With Tea powder. Loads of milk. Traces of ginger. Sugar coated. But in a plastic frame ! It may not have the glassy feel. Its still tea. Offered with happiness.

The next time your taste buds take to the sugar and milk like a first time MP making his first swindled million, take a moment to savour it more !

Popularity and preference sure point to tea power. Tea brings alive any discussion. On any topic. Business and recession. Life and culture. Body and fitness. Anything and anything at all.

Like the other day. An insipid discussion was in progress. About the important part plastic has begun playing in our lives. Insipid. Until the time the tea arrived. Brought from the local corner tea store.

In some time, we sipped tea. Out of a plastic cup. Poured out of a polythene bag ! You bet, there was a different ring to the discussion.

The group ranted and raved about plastic.

My mind was elsewhere though. The flavour of human ingenuity underscored the flavour the tea! Or plastic for that matter.

A – 1 bliss

Take a look at this snap.

Those green chillies hanging like a string of wall decoration are sure to catch the eye. In some time, they will be dipped in flour, fried in oil and served with a flourish. Chilly Bhaji ! And as this is getting written, the ‘mouth watering’ phenomenon sees new levels of inundation.

Those are for another time though. Take a look at the name of the Tea – Stall : ‘A-1 tea stall.’ Now, that is something, isn’t it !

This must be a hybrid of two superlatives. ‘A Class’ and ‘Number One’ ! Both ‘A’ and ‘1’ by virtue of being the first off the starting blocks of their respective series, take pole position as they say in F-1 ( notice the ‘1’) races !

The modern day world has no time, money and patience for that is B grade ( or C or D or anything else for that matter). Similar is the case of positions 2,3…etc !

There is a vast array of products. That are sold as ‘A-1’ quality. ‘A-1’ leadership position. ‘A-1 taste’ and so on. A double reinforcement of sorts !

The effort to belong to / be SEEN on top of the heap is mind boggling. And after all that effort, how must it feel to continue to be, part of the heap !

As the mind masticates that thought in a way that would make a cow hang its jaw in bitter shame, inundation due to the mouth watering are a swallowed tale.

This shop, is set in the chill of Kodai. Serving chili bhaji, tea and coffee. The chill of the hills, offset by the heat of the bhaji and the aromatic milk laden, sugar soaked tea, (re)defines ‘bliss’ !

So ?

You see, this A-1 tea stall, indeed attracts crowd. How much of it was because of they calling themselves ‘A-1’ is a question that begs no answer. At its supreme best, all that the question can get, is a smirk from the missus.

Of course, when the servings redefine bliss, whats in a name. But, would it make a difference if they called themselves ‘B-2 Masala tea’ ?!?

Perhaps. Perhaps not! There is something that has no ‘perhaps’ to it here : The bhaji and masala tea.

Well, that taste…that’s bliss. Perhaps its important say it properly. …’bliss of A-1 quality’ !

Cutting Chai !

An art installation on Cutting Chai at the Kala Ghoda festival

‘Give me two cutting’ shouted a colleague. That was some months ago after a careless & loud ‘would you care for a tea’?!? I was new to Mumbai, staring wide eyed at every interaction & new culture. And this was my first tryst with a roadside tea shop in Mumbai. There were a group of us. And his sound thundered. ‘Dho cutting chai’ ( RTT: Two cutting tea) ‘Cutting?”

The infamous imagination wandered. “Cutting?” Now what was that !?! Whatever could it be ? I rankled all of my ramshackle brain.

And just as the tea was getting made, i conjured up the following.

Could it be ‘cutting edge’ tea? Like embellished with secret potions of nectar and holy water. Perhaps it had some technology infusion. Perhaps it helped survive the heat and the crowd. And gave a degree of resilience ! All of that could fall under the category of ‘cutting edge’.

Or perhaps it was to do with ‘cut’ as in ‘take a cut’. As in bribes. As in stock market gains. And so on. So, perhaps ‘cutting’ meant the shop keeper would take a sip before serving it to you, perhaps !

Or perhaps it was tea with lesser quantum of sugar, milk, tea powder. You know, tea where some quantity of regular ingredients were cut off !?! Budgetary necessities. Perhaps dietary !

Perhaps it was tea to give you an incisive cut !! Like in Julius Caesar, ‘this was the most unkindest cut of all’ !

Maybe it was to do with multi lane driving, where one driver from another lane ‘cut into your lane’, and the tea kind of cut into your routine.. That sounded far fetched.

The mind wandered and multiple visages of tailors dangling big scissors to accountants with spreadsheets, to doctors on operating tables with a phalanx of anaesthetists came up.

To put a stop all the floating images that were terrifying me further, with a hesitant quiver, i asked ‘err…what is cutting tea’ ?

There was a cumulative commotion of explanations. And the essence was ‘one’ ‘tea’, split in two ( or more) glasses for two (or more) people. And variants there on !

I said, “ah ! Back in Bangalore, its called ‘By – Two’ ” and before i could explain that its origins were in ‘one cup divided by two’, one wisecrack in the group, asked aloud : ‘Bite Who ? That sounds violent !”

I was new here. And i wanted to make friends. And in all seriouslness i said : “Yes. By-two sounds so violent. Cutting is so smooth’. There was a solemness that emerged from nowhere. And i gulped the tea.

I have embraced Mumbai since then, with multiple rounds of cutting tea ! That group member who abhors violence, for some strange reason goes the other way when i walk by.

(This post was inspired by a rekindled memory, thanks to an art installation on ‘Cutting Chai’ at the Kala Ghoda Festival )