Tea is ready. Three cups of spiced tea are readily lying on the breakfast table, covered by rubber coasters. I do not see tea within them. Even the utensils used to prepare the tea are lying in the kitchen sink, waiting to be cleaned. Subsequently, the gas stove is also cooling down, having finished its morning duty. The cannisters containing tea and sugar are placed back to their original home in the kitchen. The carboy containing one gallon of milk with 2% fat is also back in the fridge at its usual place. A porcelain dish containing toast is resting behind the tea cups. A butter spread and knife too are there in accompaniment of the breakfast paraphernalia. My notebook computer, the instrument to document these spiraling thoughts, is also waiting for me. Waiting to be brought to life after I am fresh and lively with the bubbling fervor of these thoughts, and is inviting me to log in.
Everything’s harmoniously in tune as the typical morning scene of an American household is set; waiting for those who are eager for tea and breakfast. My daughter and son-in-law are readying themselves for the routine morning commute to their respective jobs. On the other hand, my wife is snoring. She’s sound asleep just as the children are enjoying their leisure time of school vacation, engrossed deeply within their sweet dreams as the youth so often do.
But just two minutes back? Everything was in a state of turmoil and utter chaos. The teapot was bubbling and ready for a volcanic-tea-eruption at any moment. However, my hand was holding the tongs ready to remove it from the gas stove. The cooking counter was full of tea and sugar containers, metallic tea filters, tea cups and accompanying saucers. The toaster by the side of the breakfast table was burning, busy in its morning duty of toasting the slices of bread. It’s as if the entire kitchen were alive with this morning rush.
But an hour before? The kitchen was dark and deserted. Sleeping its own slumber just as all the other participants of this breakfast preparation were as well as its main director – this frail, old man. Even the fresh mint leaves which dispersed flavor among the three cups of tea had just woken up from their cool nap and were waving in the breeze of dawn. The small world of that household was as its dwellers were, dormant and roaming somewhere, sometime in the sweet dreams of days gone by.
And… I too go on slipping in those memoirs of the times that have fled away…
A similar morning, thirty years back, thousands of miles away in my native homeland, in a residential quarter granted by my employers in India to my family. The spacious and opulent house is surrounded by a rich and meticulously maintained garden and I am waiting on a different dining table ready after the morning bath. Reading a Gujarati newspaper and gulping fresh news of the morning, I’m waiting for fresh tea and breakfast to be served. My wife is busy preparing tea on a noisy kerosene stove. The maid helping her had collected fresh, 10% fat-milk from the doorstep of the house delivered by bicycle by the milkman from a nearby village. A quarter-inch-thick coat of fresh cream has already formed on its surface. The skimmed milk from it will be used shortly as an ingredient of tea being prepared. My wife is giving instructions to the maid to boil out ghee from the cream collected in last week. The flavored spice powder, hand ground by that maid, is prepared in a stainless-steel container. Fresh, hot, typical Gujarati breakfast has already been prepared a few minutes back as an add-on to the morning routine.
My daughter is only nine years old at the time. Present day, however, she commutes in the morning to workplace, over forty miles away. But for now, she will wake up much later to go to her school just at the back of our house. She is in a deep sleep, perhaps lost in the realm of her sweetest dreams. Her twin brothers are also sleeping by the side of the ayah who is taking their care for the whole day.
Yet, the tea that I am going to relish is nonetheless, the same!
On the ground floor of a small house, my mother is busy preparing tea on a coal fired, hand-made, choolah, with her fifth child in her womb. She had got up much earlier and had ignited that smoking stove firing coal. Her eyes are still full of tears on account of that smoke. My father has just now come back from his railway wireless job after the night shift and is engrossed in the Gujarati newspaper. He’s anxious to have the first sip of tea to refresh him from the tiring night. All five of us siblings are deep in our sleep, in flat beds stretched on second floor of our house in a typical middle class, congested locality in Ahmedabad.
The milk maid from a nearby locality has brought milk in a brass milk pot of typical Indian village design, and has added enough water to get fat profit from its sale! None of her clients have enough courage to complain either!
There is no cooking platform here. All the items and utensils for the tea brewing process are spread around my mother, sitting on the ground from a ramshackle cupboard on the wall, which she has to bring down and put back. A kerosene lantern is hanging off the hook on the wall behind my father, giving a dim and just enough light for the early morning process. I had scribbled 1-2-3-4 on a slate with chalk under its light, in the late evening darkness yesterday.
But that tea is neither for me nor my siblings. Conserving their means, my parents are careful to give us nutritious food, especially that water thin milk at least. A bite away khakhara made by Mother from the Roti (paper thin flat bread) of yesterday are ready in a tinned brass utensil. They will form part of our breakfast.
The coal Choolah is not going to get respite and cool down. Its turn to get rest will arrive in the late afternoon, when the lunch preparations are over.
Otherwise, the tea is more or less similar to the earlier two recollections!
Three cups of tea
One made by myself on a Gas stove
Second made by my wife on a Kerosene stove
Third made by my mother on a coal stove.
I lift the coaster of my tea cup and watch the water droplets that have condensed on it. They remind me of tears in eyes of my mother as also the smoke of the coal stove that caused them. Her love for us children.
Thanks to my grandson Jay Jani for proof reading/ editing.