With recent declarations that tea might become the national drink, Vishnupriya Bhandaram dips into the piping hot debate

When Montek Singh Ahluwalia suggested that tea be made the national drink, Swati Cherukupalli almost spit her Horlicks out in shock and surprise. The 22-year-old fan of the milky sweet taste of Horlicks is visibly disturbed. “It's unfair, not everybody drinks tea,” she says. It's commonly known that people south of the Vindhyas prefer their filter kaapis. According to indiacoffee.org, consumption of coffee in the country has been growing at a steady pace and the per capita consumption of coffee is 75 grams. It has been also reported that dairy giant Amul jumped right into the controversy by asking for milk to be the national drink.

Bengalis and Assamese mostly root for their ‘cha' and ‘sa'. Even in Bengali literature, the beauty of the Sunderbans is almost always complemented with a mention of tea. When you visit 30-year-old architect Debjani Roy's house, prepare to be offered a just-right cup of strong chai, dark brown, less milk and sugar. Spiralling out of ORG-India Tea Consumption Study, which declared that around 83 per cent of households in India consume tea and that it is the cheapest beverage in the world after water, the debate is growing. Shruti Sharma, college graduate, says, “I love my morning cup of tea but I don't understand this concept of having a national anything. It's tea, some people drink it, some people don't, it's stretching it a bit too far when you add a patriotic angle to everything.”

According to news reports, the drink will be accorded a national drink status by April 17 next year to coincide with the 212th birth anniversary of the first Assamese tea planter and Sepoy Mutiny leader Maniram Dewan. Rashmi Kumari, a social worker, expresses her indifference. “How does it even matter, why do we need to have national anything? It's not like I am going to drink more tea and less of coffee. Maybe it's a gimmick to boost tea sales. Apparently jalebi is the national sweet of our country. Does it matter? Pray tell,” she argues.

Rashmi is not the only one in this war against the upcoming ‘pseudo' nationalist ventures. Rahul Tiwari, currently pursuing a Masters degree in Culture Studies, shares similar frustrations. He feels that it is just another way to push a political ideology: nationalism. “It is a reinvention of tradition to symbolise and represent the idea of one unified culture,” he adds. However, this whole debate boils up Suryadeep Chatterjee, born Bengali belonging to Assam. “As Assamese folk we are proud of our tea and if tea is getting nationalised and promoted I'll only be happy. Indigenous resources should be promoted,” he says. Anand Mallik, street photographer and visual communications student, wraps it up nicely. “What's Hyderabad famous for? Irani chais, not coffees, and what do you see the common man, migrant workers drinking at stalls on the road? Tea. So instead of lashing out against everything, join the movement and sip some chai,” he urges.

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