All through my teens and the twenties, I followed all the (Indian) hipster or arty traits - wore handloom, went for plays, had hot political discussions, read thick life-changing books, studied literature, watched avant garde cinema even carried a jhola but, there are two things that I never did - I never wore a fedora and never drank tea.
I have not worn a fedora till date but, tried on other kinds of hats and caps and though I worked as a journalist for the first part of my career, I didn't have tea till I left journalism, left the city of my birth and my family behind and replanted my self into another place.
I have always believed that I came of age in my very late 20s and early to mid 30s. I was a late bloomer or plain dumb about life till it hit me with a ton of bricks on my face.
Anyway, coming back to tea that has become my best friend somehow in the last decade or so. I never drank tea because I was brought up on milk. I loved milk. I could have milk any time of the day and feel lucky. My friends hated me for that because, I would go to their homes, turn down their mom's offer for a cup of tea and ask for a glass of milk instead - even in college! This not just embarrassed my poor friends but, also got them huge lectures on how they should also drink tea like me - facepalm and sorry everyone I did this to. I was too selfish and too much in love with milk to be any better.
It is almost surreal to think that in my avataar as a cub in the newsroom I was in-charge of 'making tea' for a whole year for the entire team because, I was the youngest. I knew exactly how much sugar or milk each person in the room wanted and if someone wanted none. We used to get a pot of tea with separate sugar and milk with cups and dishes every 3 hours on a silver platter - literally. It was a luxury that stopped at that. The serving had to be done by the people themselves. So, according to some crazy old tradition, the serving had to be done by whoever was the youngest in the room till someone younger than them joined the team. I was stuck with serving for more than a year!
Anyhow, while making tea for everyone even in the coldest of winter evenings in Delhi, I didn't feel like taking a sip myself. It was simply a matter of taste.
In my new avataar in a corporate company in a new city by the sea full of tinsel dreams, I was happy to skip winter altogether. For the first couple of years I didn't care for tea even when I settled into Bomaby. However, I tried out some raw and Darjeeling tea with friends at coffee shops because, coffee is another drink I don't indulge in - I still don't. By now there was no one I knew who didn't drink tea or coffee. Life had changed by 360 degrees.
I think it was in 2005 that I started having black or raw tea in the mornings as an experiment. I tried it with sugar, strong, with honey and then, light and without any condiments. I could not have warm milk by then because, I had developed lactose allergy - Sigh!
With time I started experimenting and found out the various blends, about the aroma and even different flavors and herbs that go well with tea. It has been a great journey is all I can say. In the last several years we (tea and I) have come a long way. I drink it with salt, honey, sugar, nothing and still love it though milky tea is still a big no.
Now I cannot imagine mornings and evenings without tea or reading a book or watching Netflix or bad TV at my parents' without a cuppa.
Tea has this endearing quality like water. It makes you feel full and hydrated, it takes away pimples - the villains from teenage years, it gives you warmth in the coldest of days and keeps you from being thirsty on a hot day. You can drink it hot or cold and as a fancyass drink at a high-end cafe.
Since we started our journey together, tea and I have traveled back to Delhi, taken highs with lows and gone through life as best friends. I have written poems and clicked enough pictures of my teacups from across India to stand testimony to our love. I have felt it give me support and warmth in the coldest of situations and let me breathe when the dementors came to suck my happiness. It has been my Patronus and light in the darkest of days - sorry for the Potter references but, somehow there's no other way to explain this better.
Tea may not be someone's whiskey but, it does better. It gives you courage and strength by letting you regroup your thoughts. It doesn't addle your brain and it does not judge you for being poor. You can still buy your cup of happiness from the local stall for 5 bucks.
Tea may not have made me rethink my life but, it has given me courage to face it without fear on winter mornings when the world is freezing but, you have to drive 35 km one way in the fog to reach work and come back in worse light. One cup before leaving and thinking of another waiting for you when you get to your destination is enough to keep you going. It is like Birbal ki Khichri really. It lets you survive the worst. (If you don't know what I am talking about, please click on the link to read.)
I think Indians should make tea their national drink because it reminds me of Birbal ki Khichri when I see the crowd around a tea stall in winters - people with little hope and kids with almost no warm clothes hold on to their small plastic cups tightly to let heat seep into their hands and let their imagination take over.
Imagination is such a big champion of the will to continue when reality looks like death on testosterone. Tea lets you dream that you are warm, among friends and at home - the aroma, the warmth and the smile that it brings to your lips on a cold winter evening or when you are completely soaked by Monsoon rains and have bone aching fever. In your imagination tea changes the bleak and the drab to something possible to surmount because there is still love all around you. Tea is magic in a cup. I am glad that I found it when I did because, as a child I never lacked magic in my life but, as an adult I was desperately in need of some that did not make my mind hallucinate chemically.
And no, I wouldn't want to mix tea with politics because look at where it has taken America. They now want a Wall like the Chinese. I believe tea is more of an icebreaker than a wall maker and the country that started its journey with a tea party and the country that introduced tea to the world both threw up politicians that believe in walls for safety. Come on guys where's your heart? Sometimes I worry that with a chaiwallah as a PM, India too maybe heading for a wall - or maybe not.
But, whatever it may be, with wall or without, here's saying cheers to chai!