A cup of chai for one and all

I am not a tea person, the fancy chamomile, rose and, hibiscus, yes, but the English tea, or in my case, the Indian tea, which is prepared with milk, water, and leaves: No. Plus, each time I prepare a cup of tea, I am requested to not attempt making it again. (I am a decent cook otherwise, and it's not just me, who believes so). Elders in our family, refer to the likes of me as products of the coffee generation. Perhaps, they're right. We meet over coffee, not chai, right? Yet, you will find black tea leaves and bags in my kitchen. Also, teacups (with saucers). As a coffeeholic, I am often asked to explain the why of a tea kettle, a tea cosy, and teatime cookies (read: wheat flour biscuits, not cookies, from a bakery in the neighbourhood) in my home. The explanation is very simple, the emotion behind it, perhaps not.

Most of my summer vacations were spent in my maternal grandparents' home in Chandigarh, India. In that home, a lot changed over the years ( at one point even the walls were brought down to make space for a growing family), except the existence, place, and importance of an aluminium pan. It was a tiny one and could hold just two-three cups of water. Granny ensured it was filled up with water, always. Its place was reserved — leftmost of the four-burner gas stove. For, as she'd say, 'Anyone who walks into the doors, should be offered a cup of hot chai." So, the knob would be turned each time the doorbell rang. Over many summer breaks, I saw tea being served to vegetable vendors, grandpa's friends, granny's colleagues, house help, visiting relatives — even the newspaper delivery man, plumber, and electrician were not spared. I gathered it was granny's way of saying how everyone was always welcome. Even when a visitor would initially refuse the offer, he/she would stay back for more than chai. For, before conversations over coffee began to trend, life was shared over a cup of chai. Crumbles of biscuits, the aroma of tea leaves, and the requests for the addition of ginger or cardamom made every cup special and memorable.

At home, mum continued the tradition. Chai, in our home, is not just a beverage. It is an emotion. Mum and dad love tea. Mum likes collecting teacups (and mugs) and has many pairs lined up on our kitchen shelves, crockery cupboards, lofts, and more (you get the drift). Tea, as I have learnt from her, can fix everything from a sore throat to a broken heart. Of course, her tea tastes just as it should — warm, comforting. I may not have got the 'tea-genes' from my family, but I sure make up for it with my aluminium pan. And whilst, I fail to give up on coffee, I am quick to offer a chai to a guest (non-guest). Call it a crazy family ritual, but the pan did teach me a lovely lesson — It was always good enough for all.

This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.


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