Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Friendship and a Cup of Tea

Every time I make a cup of tea, I think of my two best friends Sanaya and Vidhi. And of course, our crazy families. Since my morning cup of tea is how I best start my day, I start my day with amazing memories of a friendship that's been around for 12 years.



Thinking of Sanaya when I make a cup of tea is a no-brainer. After all it was she (and daddy, her father) who got me hooked to tea. I still remember the day like it was yesterday. It was my first trip to Sanaya's bungalow in Matheran in the summer vacation of 2005. We'd taken the 6 kilometer long hike from Dasturi to the bungalow (and it was the first time for me). When we got there, Sanaya and daddy immediately expressed (in their very endearing way) their want (it was more like a need, really) for afternoon tea! While making tea, daddy took out a cup for me too and asked me how I'd like mine. I was a little scared and shy as I told him almost apologetically, "I don't have tea, uncle." You should've seen the way Sanaya and daddy whirled around to get an eyeful of me. It was almost like a Hindi movie, where you'd expect daddy to drop the plate in his hand with a loud crash and cover his ears with both his palms. While that (almost) didn't happen, I did get an exasperated "She DOESN'T drink tea?!" from daddy. Then he and Sanaya with their sense of humour and gentle coaxing convinced me to have a cup of the mint tea with lots of sugar (for my Gujju preferences) and without milk (daddy grudgingly caving into my intolerance of it). And till date, it's the best cup of tea I've ever had. Every time I have mint tea, I always think of this first cup (and their whirling!).

Sanu's and daddy's love for tea can be seen in the way how their days are planned around tea. Like when we'd walked through the market halfway between Dasturi and home, Sanaya had already asked daddy to buy some mint for afternoon tea. Then of course there always was the way Sanu, with her very Parsi sweet tooth, would plan what to buy for tea wherever we'd go. If we were at Colaba Causeway then it was Theobroma's, if we were at Churchgate, it as Gaylords, if we were around college, it was Kyani's or Paris bakery, RTI near Fountain, or Parsi General for their lemon tarts, or if we were near Malabar hills, it was Country of Origin. I have some very interesting memories of shopping with her for 'something sweet for tea'. We'd have all our other shopping in one hand and we'd be balancing the very delicate box of pastries, or biscuits, or tiramisu. And then there were those days we'd try to get into a crowded bus to get home. I believe a lot of my flexibility has come from delivering these 'sweets' for tea in one piece.

There are always the great number of teas we've had around the table at Sanu's home. We'd always time our stays  and visits so we could have tea together. There would be at least 4-5 people. And somehow the 3-chairs-on-one-side sized table (pushed up to the wall on one side) always managed to accommodate all of us comfortably. Uncle, Sanaya or me would put up a large 'tapeli' (there is no other word in my mind for it except the way Sanu and daddy call it tapeli) to boil the water. Then we'd ask the question, "How do you want your tea" and the chaos would unleash! Every one had their preferences, which also changed after hearing someone else's preference, or the choice of tea available, or the food that was there, or just simply because of a change of mind. Then there was the preference of sweetener (sugar or honey) and it's amount, other additions like milk or lemon and so on and so forth. Of course there was convincing people who generally did not drink tea to have some with us. This was accompanied by loud talking, general teasing (it was the boys who usually got it from us girls), demands for food (mostly from me or Sanu because we'd always be hungry), stories of the day, western classical music, discussions of books and movies, sarcastic comments, and hugs and love; all of which were freely available around the table. And when the cups of teas were poured, they simply joined the conversation.

Tea with Vidhi was always a new experience. In her well-travelled panache she'd always have a new tea to share with me. The first one I have to talk about is the one that will always be 'our' tea: the smoky Lapsang Souchong with it's fragrance like the fragrance of the dry earth after the first rains (I know the word for it is petrichor, but somehow it's doesn't sound poetic enough to me). Both of us hoard our stocks of good Lapsang Souchong. And when we are having one of 'those' days where we miss 'us' we'll make ourselves a cup of beautiful Lapsang and comfort ourselves. Then there is her obsession with Russian Caravan. Every time she hears of a rare place in Mumbai that serves Russian Caravan, she HAS to rush there (with me in tow, of course) and have a cup of it. How can I also forget running around with her to stock up on her always depleting stock of Typhoo's Orange Spicer every time she travels back home from Indonesia. And there is always going to be the very local (I swear to you looks like it has all the parts of tea plant including barks in it) Indonesian jasmine tea that she has introduced me to as a Christmas and now she keeps filling my stock of it. She travels, travels well and introduces me to so many new teas that keep my love for it going.

The ritual of making tea at Vidhi's home is always a private thing between the two of us even when the whole family would be there. Vidhu's mom, the quintessential Indian host, would leave her kitchen to us when it came to making tea with an exasperated, "I don't know how to make your tea, you girls make it yourself". It was a symbol of her 'give up' on trying to understand us in general. The last time I went to Vidhu's place was the morning of her engagement. Her aunt and mom were running around making sure the whole family was having tea and breakfast while still getting ready. And then when she saw me (one of her 'vavajhodu' or typhoon in Gujarati), she smiled fondly and told me, "go make it". It will always be the great bond between us that she loves us even though she never will fully understand us.

Tea and Vidhi are so many places. The seating by the window in her home that overlooks the small patch of greenery with the background noise of the school next door. Or the couch at Tea Trails at Viviana Mall where we'd grab a peaceful cup of tea before we'd rush to shop for whatever she needed shop for before she flew out. The window by the bed of my parents' old home or the balcony of our new home with conversations about food and menu planning, baking, Sanskrit literature, Hindi literature, books to read, growing up and travel, silliest board games, missing the three of us. We are at our happiest when we sit with each other with a cup of tea warming our hands and conversations warming our hearts.

Every cup of tea is a walk down memory lane for me, because tea is Sanu and Vidhu. Each cup of tea is a precious memory that makes me smile or sigh. Each cup of tea is friendship in all it's simple ever-presence.