A story in a tea cup

Everyone has a favourite story, a favourite memory which revolves around tea. Which one is yous?

Aaaahhh” You could almost hear the entire landscape of Munnar say it in unison, as if it had just partaken of a sip of hot, refreshing cup of tea, whose leaves were plucked just hours ago. On that Sunday morning, the scenery around the tea estate evoked that same feeling of refreshing energy. Those endless rolling, sloping, tea gardens had draped themselves in the freshest coat of green as the dew drops glistened and bathed themselves in the sparkling winter sun. In the midst of the tea gardens, the flame of the forest shone a bright orange, matching the intensity of the sun. The bees swarmed and buzzed around happy flowers as the hazy fog shook of its laziness to reveal the mountains and forests beyond. It was time to have a cuppa myself, I thought..

Chai

The tea was had just the right balance between sweetness and kadakness. But instead of that “aaaah” which usually follows a well made cup of tea, I sighed. There was something missing, the same deja-vu feeling whenever I have had tea in these last 6 months..

In a family of self-confessed tea addicts, where my uncle had even composed an ode to his fondness for tea, it may seem surprising that I started consuming tea on a daily basis only after I joined the corporate world. Though it may seem obvious, I can assure you that there is no correlation between the two..

On one of those days after I had started working, my mamaji had come to visit us. I was excited, for the simple reason that mom was bound to prepare an elaborate feast for her brother. Lunch was served, was seen and was heartily consumed. I sprawled around on the sofa, looking dazed and confused, with half droopy eyes, a reaction befitting a glorious gujju lunch. Mama looked satisfied as well, but I sensed he was waiting for something more…

As most gujju family get-togethers go, lunch soon gave way to tea time. Uncle’s lips curled up in a ear to ear smile as he took in the aroma wafting in from the kitchen. The first sip led to an almost meditative closing of the eyes, as if he was transported into a trance like state. I wondered what had mom added in that tea which otherwise did not induce any such feeling on a daily basis….

I cautiously took a sip. It certainly was different. There were a couple of elements which she did not add normally which enhanced the flavour dramatically. There was the usual slight hint of ginger and then there was fresh lemongrass and mint. It was wonderful. And it was unfair. Why was this not served on a regular basis, I demanded as I did my best Oliver Twist expression, asking for some more..

Though she always gave a roundabout answer, I guess that it was more to do with the fact that certain things are meant to be kept for certain occasions. A sort of artificial scarcity. Like when she had family coming over. Or on some special days. Or the time when she had to impress my in-laws, life imitating that silly bollywood song on mummy calling home for chai and my father-in-law’s reaction as he told his daughter “please learn this recipe and make it for us the next time you come home….”

Unfortunately that recipe was never written down and it never felt the same even though several honest attempts were made. The proportion of milk, water and sugar, the quantum of lemon grass and mint, and the brewing time – all went through numerous iterations and permutations. But again that feeling of something being amiss refused to go away. Maybe, to use a cliché, the missing ingredient was love. Or perhaps, she wanted it to remain a fond memory, undiluted by reality…

…As our leisurely breakfast continued, I told this to my wife. She just smiled and said “yes, maybe we will never be able to create that tea that your mom used to make. And even if we were to come close, perhaps, it is your mind who just wants it to remain a memory, a small little legend…”

Aaaah! Yes, indeed. The legend of my Mother’s Tea..

Attention Deficit Disorder

Oh, our poor little rich mind. Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Emails, Phone calls, Hashtags, Likes, trending..How much can it possibly handle?

I entered office, settled down on my desk, started my PC and opened my mail box. There was an important mail lying there, screaming for my attention. Urgent! Queries to be responded to. I started typing out my answer in earnest. Dear Sir…

…Oh Shit! Kya hogaya Infy ko aaj!” screamed my colleague sitting behind me. I looked at his screen. Infy was down 10%. “What the hell happened?”, I asked him. “Revenue guidance lowered for the next year”. “Kharidna chaiye kya?” “Pata nai, thoda research karna chaiye”. I opened moneycontrol.com and started scrolling through the ‘expert opinions’. Seemed that the reaction was exaggerated. The consensus was that you need to….

“Arre yaar! Phir se wohi rising short delivery aur out!” groaned my colleague on the right. “What! Match started kya?” “Haan, Raina out” I quickly opened a new tab cricinfo.com and checked out the Gujarat Lions batting lineup and the latest score. I sincerely hoped that they could pull this one off after a string of disappointments in this edition of the IPL. If only the batting lineup could fire…

A couple of interesting pictures on my colleagues computer on the left suddenly caught my eye. I was intrigued. “Kya dekh rahe ho aap?”, I asked him. “It’s a very fascinating article, trivia on India.” “Arre, send it to me as well, please?” A new tab was quickly opened that basically contained four little known facts about India. Iltutmish saying no to Genghis Khan, Hemu hit by an arrow and the third one was….

Beep! Beep! Whatsapp. I checked my phone. One of my friends had messaged asking if today was Seema’s birthday. Shit! How could I forget her birthday! A new tab was opened and I quickly logged onto Facebook to check if her birthday was indeed today. There were three notifications. Someone had made a smart alec comment on one of my status messages and I felt compelled to reply. I was thinking of a smart comeback and was about to post it….

“Shit! Gone Mccullum!” “Abbe! Infy 15% down!” I was momentarily confused whether I should open Cricinfo or moneycontrol. I opened Cricinfo. Caught at gully chasing a wide one outside off. Reactions were already pouring in on the site. It was timepass seeing those…

Whatsapp was buzzing again. Did you check about Seema’s birthday? Oh! I checked my Facebook homepage. It indeed was her birthday. She is going to kill me, I thought. I checked her status on Whatsapp on my phone to to see when was she last seen. Safe to wish her online first and then call her later, I thought. She wasn’t. I started scrolling through the list to check if anyone else had recently updated their status or profile picture. Vikas! My friend from school. It looked as if he was about to get married. It had been months since I had spoken to him. I pinged him and started chatting up with him for a while. Felt good catching up. Vikas then asked about Seema, who was a common friend…

Oh God! I forgot! I quickly dialled her number. No response. I dialled again. “What?” was the curt one word reply. She was furious. I apologized and wished her. She started talking about some problem she was facing. I started giving advice, my favourite pastime. I was telling her, “You need to focus. Pay Attention!”, sounding as if I was the most attentive, focussed guy that ever lived. “You should not let your mind waver….”

Just then, I saw a pretty girl walk across the door. I had never seen her before in office. Was she a new joinee? Hopefully, she had joined our department. I should go and introduce myself…

“Are you there? Hello!!”, Seema was screaming on the other line. “Haan, sorry, Boss was here”, I replied sheepishly. “ As I was saying, you need to focus, pay attention….”

Just then, my boss tapped me from behind.” Have you sent that mail yet?”….

Halfway between the fireflies and the stars..

A story about a few boys lost in a forest and their journey back, guided by fireflies and stars…

The October heat was stifling. Even at 10  in the night, the atmosphere was claustrophobic and clammy. The wind was completely listless, seemingly defeated by the sweltering temperatures. And just then, to make matters worse, the electricity decided to play truant. The building plunged into darkness and a collective moan could be heard. I could not bear the heat and climbed the flight of stairs to the relatively cooler confines of the terrace. The entire block was awashed in black. It looked like a major fault. I glanced up at the sky. Even though there was not a speck of cloud on the horizon, not a single star could be seen shining on the residents of the city. They were probably hidden behind a blanket of smog. I sighed. It was pitch black all around. Quite similar to that unforgettable night in Coorg all those years ago…

It was the summer of 2004. College vacations had just begun and 11 of us had decided to go to Coorg, which was to be the first of  what was to become our annual holiday ritual. After an eventful journey, we decided to knock off the list of the must-see items one by one. Abby falls, world famous in Coorg,  was the first on the list. It was at a distance of some 8-9 kms from where we were staying . We set off around 4 pm in 3 autos on a narrow road which carved through a forest lined with dense trees and coffee plantations on both sides. It was almost like a wallpaper. We stopped to lech at the scenery while one of the autos carried on. Initially, we had planned to just “see” the falls, take pics and come back since we had started quite late in the evening.

But when we reached the site, apart from other tourists who were standing on the bridge posing in front of the falls, our friends who reached there first were nowhere to be seen. “Yaahooo” we heard from somewhere up above! “Yeahhhhhhh” sounded another war cry. And we saw them. Four of them were climbing towards the falls. Testosterone and sense of adventure had prevailed over good sense. How could we stay behind? And so off we went as well! After an hour or so of reaching the top, bathing and frolicking under the falls like Liril soap models, we decided to come down. Not that we wanted to, but the fading light forced us to think rationally for a change. After lots of slips and slides and scratch marks, we finally reached the bridge. It was now pretty dark and we quickly walked out to the road. But there was just one auto standing! The other two autos had left since it had gotten quite dark and it was dangerous, we were told. Those were comforting words indeed. Three people decided to go in the one auto and said they would send autos if they could find any. The auto started and the lights from the auto, bobbing up and down, disappeared into the distance. It was now completely dark. Luckily we had a couple of torches but what could two torches do against an army of darkness! Our hearts sank. The thought of what lay ahead now hit us with full force.

9 kms. 8 guys. 2 torches. 1 narrow road amidst dense forests. Infinite darkness. Unknown dangers.

Most of us were terrified, I have to be honest. We had never experienced something like this before. We formed 2 groups of 4, each one with a torch and started walking, slowly. The night was absolutely still. We were walking in eerie silence. The thud – thud – thud of our heartbeats could be heard. Fear started manifesting itself in ways only fear can as it gradually took control of our senses. It numbed the ability to think rationally. Even the most harmless noises sounded scary. Every time the leaves rustled and the wind blew through the trees, we stood still and flashed our torches wildly. The road which just a few hours back seemed so serene now took on a sinister shape. The silhouettes of the tall trees seemed to hide something or someone, waiting and watching.

The first 20 odd minutes everyone walked in silence, alert to the slightest movement or sound. Gradually, the distance started whittling away. As no untoward incident happened, the confidence started returning. The mind freed itself a bit from the vice like grip of fear. We found our voices. A few lame jokes were cracked and we allowed ourselves to laugh a bit. It was at that moment we saw it. An illuminated tree. As if someone had hung 100 min light bulbs on it. As we inched closer, we realised it was full of fireflies. It was a breathtaking sight. We smiled and our fear seemed to melt away. We stood there for a few seconds marvelling at the sight, soaking it all in. Our pace now quickened and a few of us even started singing. The road inclined upwards and we looked up at the sky above for the first time. It was full of bright twinkling stars. Stretched out as far as the eye could see. Millions and millions of them. We city folk could never experience such simple delights. We looked behind. The tree of fireflies was still illuminated.  We saw the stars above which illuminated the sky. It was a glorious sight.

synchronous-fireflies-philippines

It felt as if we were almost halfway between the fireflies and the stars.

The next hour we were enjoying ourselves. We reckoned we could not be too far away now. Suddenly, we saw a light from a bend on the road.  Some 200 metres away. It seemed like a small shop.  That was it. We just ran. Usain Bolt would have been proud. We reached the shop and saw each other’s faces for the first time after close to 2 hours.  Relief was evident on each of our faces. We laughed, more out of relief than anything else. We knew we were never going to forget that night ever…

..I smiled and then I sighed. There were no fireflies to illuminate things around here. Only the the dim light of candles flickering and dancing through the windows..

The Usual..

On why the routine and the mundane is essential..

That Monday began like any other day. The commute, the pushing, the rushing, the haggling, the usual. The boy was tired about the usual, the normal, the routine. He was tired of responding “the usual” when someone would ask him what was happening.  And he was tired of having nothing new to say when anyone asked him what’s new! But he was powerless  to do anything about it which, truth be told, frustrated him even more.

He sighed and braced himself for another routine monday. But then he received a call just as he reached office. On hearing, his expressions changed completely, as if all color had been drained from his face. His dad had collapsed and could not move, his mom told him. Considering the disease which afflicted him, he panicked and rushed back. On the way, terrible thoughts plagued his mind and he was unable to shut them out. He reached home and saw his dad lying sprawled on the floor. He was in obvious pain but still managed a smile. They rushed him to the hospital where the doctor informed them that he would have to be operated after two days.

The next two days were long and painful. His head was a minefield of emotions. All sorts of thoughts toyed with his vulnerable state of mind. Thoughts on fate, faith, karma.  Why put his dad through so much agony for close to ten years when he has not done anything to deserve that. And then he thought about all the things he always wanted to do with dad and if he would ever be able to do it.  Watch Wimbledon. At Wimbledon. Travel to Ladakh. Gardening…. he gravitated from pain to anger to helplessness in an endless loop. He tried to distract himself with reading, friends, TV. In vain.

But curiously, his dad, who was the protagonist, smiled through those days. He was jovial with everyone who visited him and never once did complain about the pain or his fate.

The day of the operation was nerve wracking. Time moved at a snail’s pace. After close to three hours of surgery, his dad came out. His face still showed a feeble smile. After the initial relief, the boy was gripped by worries of ” what next”.  His dad could see that his son was worried. Even angry. That was when he decided to tell his son words which left an indelible imprint on the his mind.

“I am facing this situation which you or me can’t reverse. Either I can face it with a smile or be sad and despondent about it. The choice really is very simple. And if you can’t reverse the situation, there is no point in thinking about the why and how of it. We tend to cling on to the past more than necessary and not move on. We have to face it positively and do the best we can. Leave the rest to God! He has plans for everyone. It’s important that you stop thinking about it and return to a normal routine.  That routine, however mundane is the best way to get over this and watch things fall in place, slowly but surely. That will make me happy as well”

It seemed as if someone had waved a magic wand and a heavy load had been lifted from his shoulders.

The following Monday arrived.  It began just like any other day. There was the pushing and rushing to catch the train, there was the haggling with the autowallah.  There were the hundreds of mails to be replied to.  It was the usual. But he smiled. Because that monday, he was grateful for the usual. His dad was right! It was a much needed diversion. The usual never felt better. Nothing new never felt so good…