Anyone who knows me well will know that I am quite addicted to tea. If they know me even better, they’ll know that over time I have managed to reduce the cups of tea I consume in a day from five / six to two. But, at two it has stopped. One is my morning cup of tea, without which I cannot wake up, and the second is my evening cup of tea. The morning cup of tea is a caffeine rush, but the evening one is a sacred ritual.
My fondness for tea was most definitely ignited by my grandparents. Growing up with them, evening tea-time meant many different things. It meant dipping Marie biscuits in tea till they became soggy and disappeared into the cup. Some days, tea-time turned into an indulgence as we would order snacks such as pakodas and jalebi. Some days, we would grab our cups of tea, and crowd around the TV to watch something interesting. But, most importantly, tea-time was family-time. It was a time for the three of us to stop doing whatever we were doing and spend time together.
Another thing that I loved was watching my grandfather make tea. He was always very particular about such things and insisted on making it himself. And, there was a proper process that he followed, from first heating the tea-pot, to filling it with hot water to adding the leaves and then finally adding the milk. If he saw anyone adding the tea leaves directly into the pan, that person was done for. Tea-making was a sacred ritual, and he did not like short-cuts. I remember how I would always get a teaspoon of sugar, and my grandfather and grandmother would get 2 aspartame tablets each as they were diabetic. I was always intrigued by the tablets, and would sometimes eat one, just for fun. I would also ask questions such as, “Can you get diabetes if you eat these tablets?” I was clearly never the logical type.
This was our ritual when I was in school. Once I went to college, we didn’t always have tea at the same time. Some days I returned late, and we missed our tea-time. Sometimes when I returned late, I would still have my cup of tea while sitting with my grandparents even though they had probably finished their tea by then. When I left home, tea-time stopped being together-time. But, we all still stuck to tea-time, wherever we were. My grandparents had their cup of tea usually between 4:30 and 5:30 pm. I had mine as well. If I was in office, I had it in the canteen. If I was at home, I made it. If I was traveling, I had it earlier or later. But, the evening tea was never missed.
I also tried to stick to the same method of making tea. That meant, sticking to the same tea leaves I used to have in Calcutta. Lopchu tea leaves were difficult to find, so I would buy them whenever I went home, and carry them to whichever city I was living in at the moment. Over time, it became difficult to stick to rituals. Occasionally, I would run out of Lopchu tea leaves, and buy some other ones. For some reason, I felt guilty doing so. I also stopped making tea the correct way. I would just boil water, and add milk and tea leaves to the boiling water. The tea stopped tasting the same way, but I remembered the “correct way” to do it, and vowed that one day I would go back to the same method when I had time. And, it was still “tea”.
Whenever I went home, I would still have tea with my grandparents in the evenings. But, my visits home became less frequent. My grandmother is now no more. Our tea-drinking group has reduced from 3 to 2. Things have changed. My grandfather no longer makes the tea, I have stopped buying the Lopchu leaves religiously. At home, we always had tea in small cups and saucers. Now, I usually use mugs. My tea takes different forms nowadays, from ginger tea to cardamom tea. Sometimes, I use tea-bags too, something my grandfather hates. But, it’s still “tea”.
Even though, things have changed a lot, one thing which hasn’t changed is the concept of tea-time. And, that’s one thing which I can never dream of stopping. It’s still an important ritual. Everyday, no matter where I am, the moment the clock starts ticking 4 pm, I know it’s soon going to be tea-time. It’s difficult for anyone to understand why the evening tea ritual matters so much to me. My grandfather is the only person who asks me everyday in the evening, whether I’ve had my cup of tea. Probably, he’s the only one who gets it. The meaning of the tea-time ritual. And, also how it has gradually changed. A decade and a half back, there would be 3 cups of tea on a dining table in Calcutta. Now, there’s one cup of tea on that dining table in Calcutta, and there’s one in my hand, wherever I am. But, what’s important is to stick to the ritual and to keep going on.