Be it happy, casual, grave, melancholic, romantic or lonely, individual or shared, our beloved has been a constant companion to us through ages. The entire country ‘s obsession with chai knows no end. Even trying to get someone married has a metaphor, and an entire song dedicated to it, because when mummy ne ‘chai pe bulaya hai‘, means it’s serious.
Chai is not a word, it is an emotion, said several tiny tale writers. But it’s true. There may be those who want to wake up and smell their coffee, but waking up to the aroma of boiling chai with milk, elaichi and ginger in it. But it always was not always this way, was it? We would wake up for school, and have our preferred brand of daily supplement of bournvita, complain or horlicks in milk. According to the adults, only adults had chai because if kids had it, they’d get dark skinned (talk about feeding kids superstitions!) But chai became a developed taste for most of us.
Perhaps when we went to college, we realized that there was more to life than doodh and cola – tea. And so it began – the love affair for life – with chai (sometimes sutta) and biscuit. Ofcourse one begins to appreciate the taste of tea, the aroma of masala that wafts from it and simply the temperature of the glass giving off warmth. Slowly, one realizes that it is not always about a great tasting brew, as much as it’s about the circumstances in which it’s consumed, with the Parle G or a Marie Gold dissolving inside as you dip it in, but love that thick mixture in the end anyway.
Whatever we say or think of our own Prime Minister, we cannot take away from the fact that he caught India’s attention with his emotional ‘chai-waala‘ background. Most of us won’t know the difference between a Darjeeling, Assamese, or Kangda, but we know that chai will unify us all. Be it the cutting chai glass or a tiny steel one – the pleasure obtained is equally proportionate to the modesty of the vessel it is served in.
Let’s go back to a little bit of history. Tea was originally found in China and was discovered when some leaves accidentally fell into to the boiling water of China’s second emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BC. The emperor drank from his water and he was surprised by its taste and healing abilities.
In 1824, the first Tea plant was brought to Ceylon and planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya. The pioneer of Ceylon Tea Industry James Taylor planted the first 19 acres of Tea in Loole Condra Estate near to the Kandy.
For us, it was the British who brought tea along with them. And with the Indian version of with with masala and milk –we will never get enough. There are those who are ‘tea lovers’ who claim to know its depth and flavour will never destroy it by mixing it with milk. And there’s the other spectrum of this – those who love their milky chai. Whichever tea that you may love, this was one of the most important legacies of British Raj, besides the Queen’s English and Railways.
Chai is the fuel that gets you going in the morning. It’s the perfect ice breaker when guests arrive, and a warm hug in a cup for anyone who’s upset. It is what acts as a conversation glue when two people are having an intense discussion and an excuse to prolong a good moment. Chai is a sign of respect shown to you by a shopkeeper when you enter their shop, and it’s literally the cultural symbol for acceptance. Chai is about acceptance and you know you’re approved of when you’re offered a cuppa.