It is 6:00 am and the first thing that comes to my mind is tea. Any kind of tea would do early in the morning, black without sugar, black with sugar, tea with milk and sugar or tea with milk but no sugar. Morning tea always brings back wonderful memories of the time I spent with former Prime Minister BP Koirala, or BP kaka as I fondly called him, while he was in Benares during late 1970s, and when I was a in my final year of a Master’s degree.
During those days, BP kaka’s family lived in a house called ‘Nirala Nivesh’ in Mamurganj. It so happened that Dasain was approaching and I had nowhere to go. I had gone to visit them before Dasain and when they learnt I didn’t have any plans and was going to stay in my hostel itself, they immediately said, “You are coming here for Dasain, go get your things”. Thus, I ended up spending my Dasain vacation with them. I had no idea what to expect during my stay there but the following day brought plenty of surprises, starting with the morning tea.
Next morning, I found everyone sitting around the dining table, waiting for a cup of black tea. Soon enough, someone brought in a kettle of boiling water and BP kaka got up and asked the person to leave the kettle on the table. BP kaka was in charge of the making tea that day, much to my surprise. I watched in awe as he first washed the big stainless steel jar that was in the middle of the table with hot water and then added the right amount of tea in it and let it sit for a minute, before pouring hot water into it.
“Making proper tea is a skill and not everyone knows how to do it. Its taste depends on how you make it”, he said, as if reading my thoughts. I watched as BP kaka explained how each step improved the tea’s flavor, as he went through the ritual of making tea. We all sat and watched BP kaka complete the process and pour tea for all of us with its rich aroma. Then someone said, “BP baba, you showed us how to do it yesterday too”, to which he replied, “We have a new person here, so I thought of repeating it”, and asked me to help him the next day. I had great respect for him. He had a special charisma.
The next day is when I truly understood the meaning of ‘morning tea ritual’ at Nirala Nivesh. The previous evening Girija kaka had arrived. The dining table was more of an idea-bouncing pad than routine breakfast chitchat. There were serious issues discussed which also included preparations for Dasain.
My next fondest memory of tea is that of my mother’s morning request for a cup of tea. I remember her sitting on the dining table with a big stainless steel glass of tea with milk and enough sugar, early in the morning. Later she started drinking it without sugar but the amount of tea remained the same.
Morning tea had a special place in my heart because that was the time when we all sat together and talked about what we had dreamt of at night or plans each of us had for the day. I sat there even though I did not drink tea.
I always felt tea drinking was a kind of addiction. Although I thought too much caffeine was not good for health, I usually enjoyed shopping for tea with my parents. They knew all the names and combinations to make good tea. My father always told us that a certain way of making tea was the best. I still remember my mum saying “get Assam tea for color and Darjeeling tea for flavor, aroma and taste”. So we always ended up buying more of Assam tea and less of Darjeeling tea. I could never understand the difference between the two as a child nor did I understand the difference between the regular way of making tea and the British way of making it. For me tea was tea.
As I grew older, I added orange pekoe and earl grey to my collection of tea. Little did I know that the variety of tea did not stop and there were plenty more, including granular tea, leaf tea, green tea and fruit flavored tea that one can get in little tea bags. We, however, are used to drinking regular chiya. I was surprised to find that chai also featured in the menu cars of some American restaurants. Little did I know that chai in the USA was the same as ‘chai garam’ sold at the railway stations in India with generous amounts of milk and sugar!
Although most people find tea with milk and sugar tasty, I prefer black tea with no sugar. I never thought I would appreciate tea so much. I was not much of a tea drinker initially but then gradually, I developed a taste for it. Now I definitely love a cup of black tea in the morning and each cup takes me back to the days I spent helping BP kaka prepare his version of tea in the morning.
Next time you grab your cup of tea, think of the wonderful memories associated with it; you never know what memory may come rushing back in a flash.
The author is an educationist and children’s writer