Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mumbai ki baarish aur ek cutting chai

This year she was more like your girl friend- late on a date. The unpredictability only added to the romance and when she arrived she overflowed with fun, frolic and emotions that just cannot be described. The flood-gates of joy and nostalgia simply opened up.

Of course there were those numerous hassles that come along with every girl friend I suppose. Parel, Andheri and Milan subways along with Hind Mata chowk promptly go under water. Schools close down. Central and Harbour line trains take hours to normalize. Bumper to bumper car drives become the norm.

But hey!! Who cares? Paush la padto and its time to rejoice with bhajiya, pakode, vadaa-pav and of course bheegte-bhagte Mumbai ki road side tapri mein doston ke saath ek cutting chai.
Chroniclers of history say that it was two thousand seven hundred thirty seven years before Christ was born that a few leaves of Camellia Sinennsis, found in abundance at the intersection of latitude 29 degrees North and 98 degrees East longitude, fell into a pot of boiling water. The legendary Chinese Emperor Shennong noticed the colour of water changing to brown and took the risk of drinking it.

Long before Neil Armstrong took his small step on the moon, Emperor Shennong took a small sip of this concoction. The rest, as they say, is history. One small sip by the Emperor led to a giant gulp by mankind and the world was never the same again.

Since then tea has traveled far and wide. It is said that King Charles II was coaxed into tasting this brew by his wife Catherine Braganza who had brought it along with her from Portugal (And they say dowry is an Indian concept!!). His Highness smacked his lips in appreciation and lo behold rest of Britain followed suit!! I have a sneaking suspicion that Britain conquered India not because it was then a land of milk and honey but because it was the land of milk, honey and tea- and not necessarily in the same order.

So obsessed are the British about their tea that it is said even in the middle of a war their troops stop shooting from the trenches. Once, seeing the sudden lull in the proceedings, the German soldiers shouted, “What’s the matter with you guys?” Pat came the reply, “It’s tea time folks, the war can wait.”

If you think tea was only for the taste buds just see what the Americans did. When they decided that they had enough of the British and their brand of Imperialism they declared their intent of independence by having a ‘Boston tea party”. The fishes in the Boston harbor sure had a whale of a time in a sea full of tea leaves! Aha.. the taste of liberty.

In India tea is part and parcel of our social ethos. You get up in the morning you need a cuppa tea. With breakfast you need another. Reach office- have one. Meeting starts have one more. Meeting prolongs have another round. Someone drops into your cabin have some more. You pop into someone’s cabin and there is an encore. Finally you reach home and say, Ek cup ghar ki chai ho jaye.” Tea is in fact a convenient excuse for everything. And this is where India differs with the rest of the world. It forms the contextual background for arranged marriages, political alliances, boss bashing, spicy gossips or plain and simple adda baazi. There is a coffee chain in India that claims, “A lot can happen over coffee.” A good ad line. But tell you what let the copy-writer visit a road side tapri and he will realize that everything can happen over a cutting chai!!

Then there is chai, there is light chai, there is kadak chai, there is adrak wali chai, there is adrak-elaichi wali chai, there is masala chai, there is Irani chai, doodh wali chai, there is cutting chai, there is two by four chai with friends… the list is long and endless. However, it is the khadi chai that takes the cake. Taken mostly in rural belt it means you first put in so much sugar in your glass that your spoon actually stands on it without support!!

The most enchanting cup of tea I had was in the outskirts of Mangalore. It is known as KT chai. You first pour some milk in your glass. The tea is then poured delicately above it. The tea concoction is made in such a specification that it actually forms a layer on top of it!! With the help of a spoon you then have to mix both of them to get your desired glass of tea. Wonderful isn’t it?

Even as I write the rains in Mumbai have become a bit heavy. But as long as one has friends to accompany you to the road side tapri round the corner for a cutting chai who cares?

Rain Gods open your heart…. I am ready.
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1 comment:

  1. Hi I am a film student and for my final year I am making a documentary on cutting chai and how this half a glass of tea can define mumbai.

    I would like to interview you and understand your perspective about this city and why do you think cutting chai is such an important part of Mumbai.

    If you could oblige me with a brief interview do let me know. My id is chetnanagpal@ymail.com

    oh and keep the subject line: cutting chai :)

    Chetna Nagpal