Having spent four days in Chhattisgarh, doing what I do - consuming substantial quantities of chai - I realise what a grave mistake it is to give up control in the realm of the brew.
Chai is not the sort of thing you drink because it is a nice brew with many variations on the theme, and you're fond of it. Or because it helps you relax. Or because you need a caffeine fix. Or because you're socializing politely amongst people who don't drink.
No... chai just is a bit of you. Like blood. Or, like a steel rod fixed somewhere between your joints. It gets internalised, as gradually as bone and ligament, as inevitably. It becomes a large part of you, and you get so used to it, you can no longer function without it.
Chai is personal, intensely so. As personal as touch, and you feel as bereft and vulnerable without it as you would without your underclothes. Very few people can quite make it so it exactly fits your gut, your tongue. Very few people even realise what they're doing wrong when they're making it. And you can guide them but you cannot imbue them with your gastronomic sensibility. Their hands will often err on this side of sweet or that side of milky.
Such is my take on chai.
And for me to get bad chai - day after day, morning after night, theme after varied theme, in office after office, on railway station after station - is a relentless assault upon all five senses, which I bravely endured, for three days, without a word of complaint. But when I began to feel like there was a thick powdery-solid layer of milky chai drying itself on the back of my tongue, my resolve died. On the night of the third day, I buckled and asked the hotel to send up some hot water in a flask, tea bags and cubed sugar.
But my travails were yet to end. Room Service mixed up orders, and sent me milky tea instead. And, for the first time in my life, I SENT IT BACK to the kitchen. Never before have I summoned a waiter, induced just the right amount of icy disapproval and restrained irritation into my voice and said, "Take this away, please!"
And having said all this, I apologize.
Sorry, Rajdhani train.
I like your chai.
I like the little satchets of everything and the flasks of boiling (give or take 35 degrees C) water.
I like being able to hold my tray on my lap, a cup held awkwardly between my knees. I like being able to use only half a satchet of sugar and perhaps no milk powder at all. I like tea when it is weak, suggestively sweet-bitter. I like being in control.
I promise you, Rajdhani train, I will never EVER complain, even when my knees get scalded. Just don't give up on the flasks, please.