20.7.14

The tales of Jeroo: Chai and philosophy



Jeroo Dalal willingly admitted that if there was one weakness she had, it was for strong chai. 

(Well, that and fresh pao.  Preferably with butter.  And some cheese. Oh okay, gossip too.  And yes, the smell of frangipani after a light drizzle.  Alright, alright, and Georgette Heyer novels. But mostly chai).

And she had a particular weakness for the first cup of the day.  Because the first cup was special.

The first cup of chai, as she often remarked, was the true alarm clock of the city.  Oh, people would awaken with the sound of cars being slapped by wet cloths, or the too-loud greetings of security guards as they took over for the day shift, or the unloading of the paper and milk vans.  But they only really came to their senses as their noses involuntarily dilated with the waft of boiled mint-and-ginger, as their scalded tongue sent admonishments to the brain, as their empty stomachs protested at the sudden influx of so much tannin, as their brains sparked into consciousness with the jolt of sugar and pure bliss. 

(Of course, there were some people who blathered on about not being able to face the world unless they had their coffee, but they were heathens really. Coffee was for hill stations, and late nights, and for winter trips.  Mornings were meant for chai, and really, that was the end of the discussion).

But what she never revealed to anyone was that the preparation of that first cup was more special, and which is why she insisted on readying it herself. 

Every morning, as she rinsed out the dented four-cup aluminium kettle that Behramsha had gifted ohsomany years ago and set about her routine, she took a moment to ready herself for the world.  The simple movements, honed to a fine efficiency by years of practice, helped warm up her body while her mind slowly yawned itself into focus.  And almost inevitably, she mused about how human society was so much like a cup of chai.

*   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   * 
Take a little bit of several completely disparate ingredients, fiddle constantly with their proportions (sometimes even adding and removing things) to achieve just the right balance, and throw them together in fiery circumstances.

Every small thing mattered.  The material of the kettle, the type of water, the kind of milk, the amount of leaf in the tea, whether you used mint or peppermint, lemongrass leaves or stalk, sliced or grated ginger, cardamom shelled or not. When you added them and in what sequence and for how long.  Whether you used a comforting old chipped mug or a little glass or a steel tumbler.  Whether you gulped it down or sipped it daintily or slurped it from a saucer.

And all this swirled and bubbled and eventually blended together to form something … remarkable.  Something that in the light of cold logic should be a total disaster of mismatched constituencies, but somehow was full of sustenance and promise and comfort.  Something that changed slightly each time and each day, but intrinsically remained the same.  Just like humans.  Millennia of the same emotions and routines, the same conflicts and triumphs, and yet, each event was uniquely different. Something that seemed harmless enough when left to simmer, but which would inevitably boil over and mess the surroundings if oversight was withdrawn for even a moment. A unique restorative that offered comfort, but one that would slowly stain every receptacle it came in touch with.

*   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   *  *   *   * 
Of course, Jeroo thought, there were those who insisted there were aliens amongst us.  That would account for those would put saunf in their chai.  Saunf! Brrrr.

No comments: