Thursday, January 05, 2006

Chai at the fourth level of feeling

My grandfather used to say that what we call 'love' is not as simple as a single four-letter word. There are four levels to feelings, which in Urdu would be: Uns, Mohabbat, Ishq, Junoon.... (loosely translateable (translate-able?) as affection, love, passionate love, obsession).

I am beginning to think that my friend Jaygee is right; chai is fast becoming an obsession.

For there I was, sitting in the hot (if somewhat empty, thanks to some fleeting moment of divine grace) ladies dabba of a local train in Bombay.
And was I reading a book? Chatting up strangers? Impulse shopping for knick-knacks? Was I eating the vada-paav I have so long been missing?
No. No, no and no.

I was day-dreaming.
About chai.
The ginger-elaichi chai at the IWPC, to be precise...

I was thinking of how perfectly balanced it is - not too much milk, enough sugar to make it sweet, just enough ginger to lend it the glamour of spice, but very little elaichi so that it did not remind you of mithai. I was thinking about how they serve it in real cups, not in plastic or thermocol or paper. About how I could never stop at one cup.... the cup of chai that single-handedly persuaded me to apply for membership of the IWPC.

I was so rapt, day-dreaming.... about how I'm going to go back after my membership's been approved, for more delightful cups, and how I'll invite my favourite people to join me for chai-pakodi... that I did not realise that Bandra station had arrived.

In a sort of daze, I saw women getting off, I saw women clamber on. Then, something knocked at the back of my Bombay-trained, local-attuned brain. A voice inside my head asked me - hey, which stop was yours, lady?

In a sudden panic, I rushed to the train-door. The train was moving; after one split second of indecision while I conjured up visions of going on to Dadar, the humiliation of being caught ticketless (short-ticketed at any rate) the subsequent fine and the time lost, I stepped off the moving train.

I did not fall (another moment of divine grace, I suppose) and yet, I will not forget this trip.

Because a young girl standing near the door has been watching me and knows exactly what's happened. As the train pulled away, she grinned at me. I grinned back.

Then she started giggling and, as if to say "
what on earth were you thinking of?", she shook her head, part-amused, part-exasperated. I laughed back, shrugged, shook my head sheepishly....

And just like that, I have a moment with a stranger that I will not forget for a long, long time.


Vijayeta said...

Dreaming of chai! Hmmm... Reminds me of a very boring, inordinately long meeting where all i did was dream about chocolate excess from Barista! So, guess where i ran to once the meeting ended, and dug into my Chocolate Excess as if it were my life support!

Kaunquest said...

Now I want a nice hot cup of tea :-)

Dilip D'Souza said...

Did I even offer you chai when you dropped in and I was so damned distracted?

But I like your moment with the stranger. To many more like that!

Dr. Gonzo said...

Giggle :)

do NOT get off a moving train. It sounds heroic. It isn't. I have seen enough bad happen just for few minutes of a hurry.

Madhat said...

"Chai dreams kill journo"

death said...

Wow !!

Nikhil Pahwa said...

Just wondering: do you ever drink coffee or are you a teatotaller?

Anonymous said...


smriti said...

don't get off moving trains...just don't...not for chai, not for amazing seconds of connection, not to save yourself from humiliation..
now i know why i don't like tea with too much elaichi...they do taste like mithai, now that you have pointed it out.
in this coffee crazed country selling disgracefully low grade tea, i miss chai...or do i? i think i have lost the taste for it. i have become the coffee girl. i need to come back home and remember chai again...just because...

Arun said...

Good to bump into another chai lover! Will be back for more.

Annie Zaidi said...

vijayeta: Excess IS life-support, didn't you know?
kaunquest: go get one :)
Dilip: yes, you did. Or your wife very kindly did. Flavoured with something I'm still trying to identify... cherry?
prakriti: I won't. it's not heroic... it's embarrassing, mostly.
apurva: that headline wouldn't happen. nobody but me would have known of the chai-dreaming if i hadn't lived to blog the tale.
smriti: i promise, no more!
unrest cure: I drink tons of coffee. but i haven't fallen in love with it.
death, pawan, arun: :-)

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