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Tea-time reconciliation

Shruthi DivechaSeptember 10, 2017 00:01 IST
Updated: September 09, 2017 21:42 IST

A ‘chai’ acolyte finally learns to adapt to alternative options

I am a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the Indian tea, or chai . I meticulously prepare my own tea daily. I brew tea leaves and freshlyground spices, and add milk in precise measurements. I also rudely shoo away all intruders from the kitchen. What do these souls know about tea-making? It is an art, a culinary skill, unabashed love, not to be confused with the trivial brewing activity indulged in various kitchens on a regular basis.

The problem arose when we got invited by friends to visit an organic farm. The owners followed a vegan lifestyle; that means no animal products and milk. That also means no chai. Oh god, how will I survive the whole day?

An intelligent person will surely ask how I survived during foreign travel. As a student in America I religiously made

chai every day. For other travels, I simply stay at a relative’s house, securing my daily dose of elixir there. The instant teas are nothing but shrewdly packaged rubbish. For this farm trip, I smugly decided to carry my beloved
chai in a vacuum flask, but fate had other plans for me.

We reached the farm after a comfortable three-hour drive in the private bus. The green landscape along with the monsoon drizzle was enthralling. Everyone sat glued to their window seats greedily absorbing the beauty of untouched nature while I surreptitiously took sips from the flask, refusing to share my treasure.

The farm was deep in the wilderness. Simple brick walls, thatched roof, cow-dung flooring and traditional chulla with an open kitchen. The common area, which doubled up as the dining room, had wooden chairs, hammocks and antique furniture. There were visiting ducks and hens. Crickets sang and the smell of fresh soil was enticing. The children scampered around like animals freed from a cage. My daughter lunged on a tyre swing.

The farm-owners greeted us warmly. “Please help yourself with hot poha , fresh cut fruits and herbal tea.” I politely declined and stuffed my flask deeper in my backpack. Soon we started planting seeds and jumping into muddy puddles. We had a tractor-ride while rain poured merrily on our heads. We even bathed beneath a waterfall. Soaked and shivering, I reached out for my towel and thermos. While the towel was warm and comforting, the tea was all cold and curdled. How did this happen?

While everyone changed and enjoyed a late lunch, I sat dazed. We were miles away from home and my only antidote to life was gone. The gods were truly cunning.

Somebody put a mug of steaming liquid in front of me. “Some hot herbal tea ma’am.” I ignored it. My stubborn mind only craved for my own chai. I felt like a drug- addict denied his usual fix. However, the chill of the waterfall was clinging to my skin. Out of despair, I swallowed the warm liquid.

It tasted sweet, with an after-taste of earthiness. My wary mind reasoned it to be the clay mug. After few minutes, a sudden warmth flooded my body. It felt oddly comforting. “Can I get another cup?”

My request was immediately met by the smiling owner. This time she topped my mug with a generous dollop of honey. I gulped it down greedily. It was delicious. I didn’t smile back. I couldn’t admit I liked the tea. But I asked for another helping.

Stuffed after five cups of herbal tea, I slept contentedly on the hammocks, almost snoring. At 5 p.m., while others ate snacks, I drank herbal tea. I had cup after cup. I even hounded the owner for the recipe.

Soon, we headed back to our hectic, over-clustered lives in the city. The simplicity and purity of the farm had calmed me. I felt a new sense of energy and happiness. Or was it freedom from a delusion chaining me? I had been clinging to my notions for so long I had never accepted any other perception. Was I so rigid about everything in life? My mind looked for answers.

Life is about accepting change and living in the moment. It was that simple, with of course your favourite cup of tea.