There is something very comforting about a hot cup enclosed within almost freezing hands. I love my cup of tea. Or coffee. All I have to do is hold it in the palm of my hands and the world just seems so much more comforting and inviting. If I’m sad and feeling very forlorn, the cup in my hands warms me. It reminds me that irrespective of how cold and grey I feel within, there is always a way for the warmth to seep in.
Few people understand my almost religious experience with tea. Not many can understand how a cup of infused water can transport me to a different place. But it does. The fragrance pulls me out of my clamoring thoughts and ferries me to a world of clear crisp mountain air and the scent of the soil intermingling. It takes me to a place where life doesn’t whirr past, it walks along sedately. It makes me feel like even if I rest for just a tiny while, I’ll still be able to catch up.
The flavor of the leaves bursts onto my tongue and with each sip, I taste a new component. My favorite part is when the tea tastes a little bit like the soil it grew in and you can almost taste the various spices that enrich the soil. They say that tea is affected by the soil it grows in. It’s as capricious as wine….I think I have to agree.
I am from a city that thrives on drinking tea. Every alley in my city has a famous tea shop with its regular customers. You’ll see all strata of society intermingling at a corner store where a man in a ratty vest and a blue (or red) checkered lungi is preparing tea. They’ll sip tea in earthenware mugs and dip their naan-khatais and khajas into it. Every tea-stall will have a chhotu and your best shot of getting immediate service is to befriend the boy. He’ll change shops in a few months…so it makes sense if you have 2-3 chhotus that you’re on good terms with. Sunday morning would start with friends gathering at tea-stalls. Bunking classes occurred at the tea stall near the college, never the canteen. Writing or contemplating occurred in tea cafés within bookstores. Life revolved around tea and everybody loved it.
I never was much of a tea person. I couldn’t figure out why someone would want a steaming cup of tea as a pick-me-up. I was always a coffee person. And I could never stomach the concoction of tea leaves, milk, spices and sugar. It was just so overwhelming. And then, one day, when I was incredibly sad, my dad made me a cup of tea. I’m not quite sure which one. He made me a cup of amber liquid with no sugar, no milk, no spices. It was just a cup of steaming amber liquid. The flavors of the earth burst onto my tongue. There was a faint tannin-like taste right at the end and I remember that the tea tasted a little bit like berries and a multitude of other faint flavors that my palate couldn’t identify. I didn’t exactly fall in love, but I found it comforting. Bit by bit, I learnt to love it. Coffee became a means of cheering me up. The strong taste of chicory became a means of banishing thoughts I did not want. It became a means of running away and tea became a means of voicing my emotions. I’d have a cup of tea under the evening sky, on the side-porch with a view of my garden. I’d sigh and mull things over. And then…I’d sit down to write. I’d put words onto paper and I’d get it out of me.
When I’d read about writers writing in cafés with a cup of tea or coffee to get them going, the idea was incomprehensible. How could a beverage be a source of inspiration? And then, after sitting at tea places for hours at a stretch, I realized that something binds us together. In a bustling café, food is the only common thread. People are different and their actions can send you spiraling into a train of thoughts and that will ultimately get you to feel something. And that something is what you translate onto paper. It’s the segmented actions of people in a unified area which makes one come up with ideas.
And so, I’m now one of those clichés. When I’m stranded for ideas, I go to a tea place and I people-watch. I see little kids running around a bustling area and asking for maggi. I see old couples sharing a cup of tea and lamenting on the sights they see. I see young couples holding hands and weaving dreams…I just see. And I think.
And then, when my cup of tea grows cold, I put it aside and put a pen to paper and write.