Thursday, 1 August 2013

The heavenly brew

Pounding furiously on the keyboard, trying to a get these documents done before a crucial deadline, I feel a sense of panic creeping in. I need something to soothe the nerves. I need a good strong cup chai.

Chai (tea), or chaha, as I've known it in my native language, is one of those great levellers that has got me through life (so far anyways). I can't exactly remember when my parents first introduced to this divine beverage, but surely it wouldn't have been soon enough. Although my gluttonous consumption of tea is now in considerable control, I can’t think of a day where I’ve gone (without considerable anguish) without a cuppa.

A couple of years back, my sister convinced me to join in her a 3-day detox programme. My wife thought it was a splendid idea, given that she would enjoy the sight of me going without consuming any sort of reasonable solids for 72 hours. I gave in to this popular vote and enjoyed day 1 of drinking juices (yes, multiple), butter-milk, and getting reintroduced to somedelightful fruits. There was one flaw in the master plan though. I could not have any tea or coffee for these 72 hours. When I looked up the word detox; I knew this was the idea – no tea or coffee, because it is precisely the contents of these beverages that you are planning to liberate your body off in the first place. But how does one survive without tea for 3 days? HOW! Perhaps people of a stronger willpower and constitution may dismiss this idea nonchalantly, but I am human after all.
My detox regime lasted 1 day. I actually came home early from work the second day, because I thought I felt dizzy (and bizarre) and up went the pot of tea on the stove right at the moment I got home. I can still hear my wife and sister giggling away from the next room.

Moving on, I believe strongly (as strong as I like my cup of chaha), that I am not alone; at least another billion Indians (mostly) and others can attest to the fact that there is simply no substitute for a cup of tea. Coffee may get the brain firing or whatever it is that caffeine stimulates in the central nervous system, but I understand tea does it in a healthier and gentle fashion. Last thing I want is to get my brain fried up to the point of getting up and participating in a war in the morning. I’ll settle on a good hot cuppa chaha.

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Back when I was in college, I’ve consumed many a cups of cutting chai, that fabulous invention of “more than half, but less than a full glass”, on railway stations, while waiting for another astonishing invention “Mumbai local trains” to turn up. There was something about the serenity I felt in midst of a bustling Mumbai crowd, while I sipped the chai. These were little cups of heaven easily sought and brought for a rupee, back then. Because I spent much of my life in Mumbai, I probably missed out on the Pune style of dunking cream rolls into cups of highly sweetened tea. Amazing how the brain makes and retain these connections. A friend, even after having lived away from Pune for over a decade, still salivates at the mere thought of having these cream rolls, dreamingly as he sips his cuppa.

In India, chai is probably one of those things that generate employment. Not only do the chaiwallahs make a brisk business meeting the demands of millions of people, there are also other specific roles in Indian offices where the primary duty is to serve tea. Your office peon (clerk). Along with countless (and thankless) other jobs, the peon is solely responsible for providing endless cups of chai to office employees and bosses alike. The whole office pretty much functions around this vital cog.

I also like my chai brewed. While tea bags offer convenience and variety, there’s something satiating in watching and smelling the fresh tea leaves do their Brownian dance in a pot of boiling water, infused with a little ginger, cardamom and sugar sweetening the whole concoction to a new level. Stir in the milk while the pot’s coming to a boil and the drink attains a whole new dimension.
Chai served in small earthern cups on Indian trains have their own special taste, one that is perhaps enhanced by the flavour of the earthern cup containing the beverage itself. Similarly, a cup of tea on an excruciatingly hot day in summer, at lunch, between 2 innings of a cricket match has much to offer to the tired body. We may drink our chai in those humongous sized cups or flasks, but there is something entirely charming about sipping it in a cup-bashi (cup-saucer) or better still lapping it off the bashi like a grinning cat.

In Pune, the local tea place has the same reverence and following by tea-drinkers, as throngs of people visiting the local temple on a festive occasion. Sitting in these often crowded and space-challenged areas, as the hot liquid boils to degrees unknown in copper vessels, the chai is poured into small cups and served to be consumed often at steaming temperatures, you experience the same divinity as if you were sitting amongst Gods.

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These local tea places are called Amrutulya, which roughly translates to “a place where you get a heavenly brew”.

A heavenly brew indeed.


Satish Devarakonda said...

Nice Read Swamps as always...Now I need a chai to get me thru the rest of the afternoon.


Akshaya Borkar said...

Masta lekh duparchya Chaha sathi :D

Sameer Borkar said...

Boss.... This calls for a Garmaa Garam Aalyacha Chaha....:) THE devine drink.. totally agree.
Can't compromise :)

Smithas9 said...

Awesome read Swapnil!!!:) and surely love chai to coffee any day :).... so cheers to tht

Swapnil Ogale said...

Thanks for your kind words Satish, Akshaya, Sameer and Smitha. There is seriously no substitute to a cup of freshly brewed chai. There, I said it.