3.15 P.M. 317 P.M. 3.30 P.M…. “It’s late already”, I crib to myself, while constantly waiting for the office boy to show up with the evening round of the chai, a ritual that has me enslaved so much so that I can’t focus on the paper I am suppose to be making sense of. Such is the power of Chai. Or such is the power of a ritual, because not so long ago in Ohio, I couldn’t fathom a day without my cup of Caribou, to the extent that it would be the second thing I did after booting the system in the morning(that too since it was essential to report comp. time in the morning at my office). Then, the idea that my life would be enslaved by two cups of ‘Chai-Tea Latte’ (yes that’s what it is called in the American Chains, out very own chai with a redundant Tea as suffix!) seemed laughable. Especially since I thought I had evolved from a Mocha kind of a person to a no crème- no sugar, house coffee drinker in record time. Hence I guess it is fair to rephrase the above contention that it must be about culture and the caffeine-fix it subscribes to!
Chai, ever since the english left it on us, has since been as desi as it gets in spirit. It has been everywhere- as the quintessential symbol of college life in India, where almost all of us are familiar with the chai-walah bhaiya outside college grounds with the accompaniment of pakoras, samosas, bhajiya or vada pav depending on where we were on the map. It has been the element around which family discussions have revolved in mornings and evenings. Sometimes as the symbol of rail journeys with its “Chai…Chai…Chai….” immortalized by the vendors or the tease in renditions like “…mummy ne meri, tumhe chai pe bulaya hai..” as an indication of new relationships being forged or as the universally understood metaphor ‘chai-pani’ for under-table bribes. Whichever way, Chai has evolved with our spirit, from being a household beverage to the kitschy connotations for its urbane youth.
Coffee, at least in America to me is like oxygen-the nation runs on it. No one would be found rushing to workplaces without disposable cups of the fuel, even if it is just De-Caf.( It still is coffee and that’s enough)It is almost like you are programmed to drop in at the local Starbucks (which is every 100m in the country) even before you can make sense of the morning newspaper. America is serious about its coffee, like its business.
And then, Europe almost instantly puts the American coffee to shame. If you have had a euro-cappuccino, you will never settle for a Starbucks again(the only reason you might, would be the challenge to find coffee-to-go in Europe. They are in no hurry when drinking their coffee, and it makes sense). Hence it only made sense that I spent almost half my food budget in Europe on coffee. The plethora of dazzling, classy, world of cafes across the pedestrian meandering streets in Vienna or Paris would entice you even though coffee is more expensive than a meal. If that weren’t enough-Kaffe und Kuchen (means coffee and cake), in the German bakeries ensure you never count calories while in Deutchland. What also differs, is that cafes are the way of life, not the fuel selling chains, but each one with a uniqueness, charm and pace of its own.
And ofcourse coffee has some smart metaphors with it too- as the date beverage invitation that never went out of fashion or the invitation that followed the date with its promises that have nothing to do with coffee itself. Of course most guys out there have waited for that one cup of coffee….:)
Next time you brew that cup for your kind of caffeine fix, think how it has come to define you, your people, your culture.
P.S: In response to my posts not beinf personal enough, I thought it was appropriate to tag some frineds I have had the best Chai with. Here’s to Pallavi, Shobhit and Purvesh- the best chaiwalahs in the world!