Friday, September 30, 2005

The realm of the brew

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.


K said...

Great post!
I love the Rajdhani Flasks, especially the invariable announcement that a flask is missing from one coach or another!

zigzackly said...


david raphael israel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
david raphael israel said...

so you went to Chattisgarh. A filmmaker friend, Jon Jost, last year made "Chattisgarh Sketches" (experimental video; might release it on DVD in a year or two).

Your "var. on theme" chai notes are wonderful. Info I needed! (without knowing I needed it). Actually I'm averse to sugar, but do like chai with honey. (Waits to be seen how I'll deal with this if moving to India. Maybe I'll turn over another leaf.)

BTW, your "all this" link isn't working for me.

More I read your musings, more I enjoy your articulate verve.

cheers, d.i.

david raphael israel said...

ps - ah I see, it's this Rajdhani, ever after [sans the accidental extra URL-inclusion]
Annie, wonder if you've ever been in trains across Italy. But perhaps the train culture's so different as to dim comparison. (My main train trek is Amtrak, DC to NYC; wish it hadn't gotten so expensive. America has forgotten how to value trains, & more's the pity.)

Annie Zaidi said...

k, i once lost a train towel. paid 90 bucks for it!
david, thanks, would like to see that docu some day.

Annie Zaidi said...

k, had to pay 90 Rs once when we lost a towel on the train :(
david, never been to italy, so don't know. but yes, that docu sounds interesting. would like to see it someday

david raphael israel said...

the American filmmaker (Jon Jost) has some hopes / possibilities of spending more time in India in future; & I believe he in past (on same trip that took him to Chattisgarh) had also taught a digital-video workshop in Delhi somewhere. Anyway: will make point of updating you about the Chattis.docu (whether released on DVD, or if eventual screening in your area!)

I've happy recollection of taking train from Firenze to Venice I think circa a November; onboard, availing myself of the wine on offer (only seen around that time of year) called nuovo ("new"): it's fresh-pressed, dark and mildly effervescent. I'm no wine connoisseur; but there's something wonderful in that one. (This, my chota Euro contrib to your beverages-on-trains meditation.)

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