Julie Sahni's "South Indian Filter Coffee with Amma" brought back memories of the day I first tried my hand at blending tea and reached the sad conclusion - "Blending tea is not my cup of tea."
I am not the expert cook Julie Sahni is and neither did my mother assist me in my little endeavor. The incident I can recall is the opposite pole of the story Sahni shares about her love for food and admiration for her mother. Also, my goal was to come up with anything that could even closely be identified as "Tea" or "Coffee", let alone, a professional Chef's Special : "South Indian Filter Coffee".
Much like Julie Sahni, I am a fanatic of food, especially milk delicacies, but for the difference, I am only an expert at relishing the finished delicious product and not actually making it. I am a complete novice when it comes to handling the kitchen. Now this, where I live, is unacceptable for an eighteen-year-old girl and an invitation for endless taunts by my father.
Just how Sahni talks about her developing relationship with her mother over some favourite dishes, I'd like to recall how, in my case, Assam Tea helped me realize the importance of the pride of a daughter being able to brew tea in my father's eyes and how in the process, I learnt so much more.
“My daughter doesn’t even know how to blend tea!”
Whatever the discussion may be, THAT’S how my Father wins every argument.
On his last birthday, I planned to surprise him with a steaming cup. Needless to say, the kitchen was in a complete mess as it took me ages to track down the ingredients I could vaguely picture my mother using last evening. I had just a few minutes before he woke up and I frantically battled my way along the elaborate process of blending tea.
Few wrong ingredients here and there and a loud pop of boiling milk made me replace the water entirely- THRICE. I was lucky to have not burnt myself by now as I dodged and ducked the milk splashes each time the monster of the pot would rage in fury. I was on the verge of giving up just before the aroma of fresh Assam Tea finally broke loose and the potion resumed a surprising calm. I lowered the gas flames and when I was sure that I had the monster under control, I flipped the stove off. SOMETHING must have gone right because the color didn’t really look okay. What mattered most was that I had won the challenge!
Leaving the kitchen in an uncleanable mess, I decorated the cup on a fancy tray and approached my father's bed. He breathed in a long slurp, waiting for the taste as I stood there triumphantly, thinking that he will never win another argument. Even though his eyes told me how inconsumable that bitter liquid was, a smile beamed across his face. I realized that it was never about my learning how to blend tea. It was the worth of the effort I’d put in to see heaven on his face.
The challenge I thought existed gave way. I realized how a little effort on my side could bring a world of joy in my Daddy's heart. Yes, he sipped that "Tea" till there were no dregs remaining, effortlessly maintaining that bright smile I can give up the world for.
I have come to the conclusion that out of all kinds of food, there is one item that holds the maximum significance, at least in all Indian households. That one revered item is "Chai". It can be used to measure one's maturity, attitude and love. You can make out the stage of life one is going through just by the kind of tea he drinks or makes. "Chai" brings joy and recreation. Be it "Maa's Chai" (Mother's Tea) or an early morning "Thelley waali Chai" (Tea Stall), this one little potion of happiness talks about endless memories and emotions.
In my case, I can say that Tea, regardless of how it tastes, can be used to fathom the depth of relationships and hence, Audrey Hepburn rightly says-
When you have nobody you can make a cup of tea for, when nobody needs you, that's when I think life is over.