So we are going to have a national drink. That might be tea. This might happen exactly a year from now. In April next year, to be precise. This “declaration” was made in Jorhat by Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.
Was it a government decision he was announcing? When you give tea the “national drink” status, should not people be allowed to have a say? What about Parliament? Or, is Yojana Bhavan's “declaration” final?
The United Progressive Alliance, heading the ruling coalition at the Centre, never stops emphasising that it stands by the aam aadmi (the ordinary man). Precisely as an aam aadmi, I would like to know who exactly decided to confer this exalted status on tea. What is the national urgency? Was it cleared by the “high command”? Because that is where matters are sent by the Congress (heading the ruling coalition) for the final say? Were the coalition partners consulted?
And pray, why tea? Were the merits of other drinks to be given this national drink status considered? Why not coffee? Why not the lowly kanji (gruel)? Why not lassi or buttermilk? Why not ganna juice? Why not neera or padhaneer? (Morarji Desai organised sale of neera through official outlets in what was once Bombay, and now Mumbai) And why not the delicious tender coconut water? Along with the tender pulp, it would make a wholesome meal.
Among all these, the case of coffee to be declared the national drink is stronger. Tea can never match the fragrance and taste of filter coffee. On taste, people may differ but the pleasant aroma that fills the air while making coffee is not there while preparing tea. You can't help enjoying this unique aroma when you are either roasting or powdering the beans. Or, even when you are pouring boiled water over the freshly ground coffee powder in the traditional percolator. The aroma fills the entire room. Enter any Coffee Board shop anywhere in the country and you will know what I mean. The aroma is irresistible.
I don't know whether it is scientifically correct, but coffee appears to produce more stimuli than tea. You can judge this from the spirited discussions that take place at Coffee Board outlets. Even in the Central Hall of Parliament I have seen more people ordering coffee than tea.
One can go on and on over the merits of “coffee by the yard,” but the main point is how, when, why and by whom was tea chosen?
Two comments are attributed to Mr. Ahluwalia. One, this “decision” is intended to honour Maniram Dewan, first Assamese tea planter and Sepoy Mutiny leader. “The other important reason” is that half the labour force in the tea industry is comprised of women and it is the largest employer in the organised sector.
Both reasons are not convincing enough to choose any drink as a national drink. No committee has gone into this — that is the usual style in government before taking such a momentous decision, isn't it?
More to the point, looking at the national scene today, is there any tearing urgency really to declare a national drink? Are we not getting along, merrily or otherwise, with whatever we are drinking? In fact, a serious-minded person like Mr. Ahluwalia should consider: instead of naming any drink “national,” should not we be concentrating on giving our citizens clean drinking water? Even to make tea, you need water. Its availability, and access, should be made easier.
(The writer's email is firstname.lastname@example.org)