My six best chai/coffee memories
Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy. Coffee is a social binder, a warmer of tongues, a soberer of minds, a stimulant of wit, a foiler of sleep if you want it so. From roadside mugs to the classic demitasse, it is the perfect democrat.
I’m South Indian and coffee is life’s breath to me, or close. Plus the mother makes award winning coffee almost every time. So the six best aren’t necessarily about good coffee or tea, but the memories were great.
1. Lemon tea on BN’s sets
I was working on a telefilm and a historical series at the time. First, food and drink on sets are terrific – the teas and coffees keep coming, and the meals are really special. As the director’s assistants, Sharu and I were treated like royalty. Our comfort, it seemed, was top priority, particularly for the F&B unit. We got pampered silly and it was the mostest fun.
Shooting is stressful business. When you factor in double shifts, coming home at 3.00 in the morning and being up again at 7.00 am, it’s worse. And when you’re in charge of costume continuity in a historical with over a dozen important characters, and a boss who’s rather unforgiving of goof-ups, it can give you serious ulcers.
I survived thanks to those glorious lemon teas. The F&B man-in-charge experimented one day and it caught on wildly. We Three – B, Sharu and I – would get our generous portions in big glasses; a deep orange colour, warm ambrosia that you could nurse for half an hour, and have anxiety just seep away. He’d get the balance right every time – sweetness and tartness. Nice.
2. Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh
On a trek, this one. From Manikaran to Malana. Quite shocked at how much sharper the gradient was in the Himalayan foothills after piddly hills in the south. Not even halfway into the climb, and we were winded. A charming little tea shop with rough hewn benches. We propped against the packs and called for a cuppa. It wasn’t terrific, but how we needed it!
3. Johnson’s tea kadai, Golden Threshold
University. Rounds of ghazals, rounds of samosas, rounds of smokes. Prof CVS keeping rhythm on his match box. Circles forming, reforming. Endless days, bottomless kettles.
4. Tibetan brothers’, Kodaikanal
We went August last year, Nish, Sudha and I. Stayed in a cottage, stared at hypnotic fires for about half the time we were there. Even more memorably, the whole trip was one glutfest… I remember every meal. Nish made us her famous pancakes (famous because that’s item one of two on her ‘can cook’ list).
One drizzly afternoon, post lunch butter tea at the Tibetan brothers'. It actually works, butter in tea. Yumm.
5. Masala chai in Delhi
I’d had a terrible cough. We were at my godmother’s in Delhi. Mum was worried and Vidu had a chai ‘kashaya’ recipe, so they made it together – herbs, pepper and a dozen other spices with tea. I had it with milk and felt loved, loved, loved.
My two years with Hyderabad Times were almost entirely fun. We were a great team. How we bonded and how much we laughed. The coffee dispenser one floor down wasn’t imaginative but it seldom ran out. Any two of us would go down the stairs, bring back a tray full of beverages, and we’d sit on desks and talk. What a good paper it would’ve been if they’d let us have our way.