After Dhool Bhaet at the Shanteri Kamakshi Ramnath Devasthan, I walked around heavenly rice fields and stopped by the canteen outside the temple for a cup of Chai. Next to me, this gentleman savored his morning cup. He poured it in the saucer, lifted the saucer to his lips and slurped.
Typical of the Konkani, he carried a puncho – a coarsely woven, gauzy towel around his neck. Loved the way he sported his watch, just as my grandfather adorned his Favre Leuba; and his shirt pocket was stuffed.
He asked, “Ramnatha Bhaetik Aayla?” I nodded, “vhai.” See how he asks: have you come to meet with Ramnatha? NOT have you come to worship Ramnatha? Long experience and hardship showed in every wrinkle on his face, and there was a deep calmness to him. He focussed on his chai and parted with “Dev barae karo” ~ May God take care of good care of you.
I grew up on Kaapi. During hostel days, we debated attributes of the perfect kaapi till the early sun splashed across the horizon. Then I proclaimed I could never live without kaapi.
When acidity affected my running a few years ago, I switched to the refreshing Almond Pista milk. When I travel to India, I switch to chai. Not tea! Tea conjures ghastly images of bloated, corpse-like tea bags, bobbing in white styrofoam cups. Please don’t call that chai.
In Mumbai, chai is what laborers drink: the zhadu wallah (sweeper), paan wallah, bus conductor, … . You see them squeezing tiny glasses between thumb and index finger, and haltingly sipping the hot elixir. As it passes over the tongue and gullet, eyes roll in delight and a sigh of relief escapes each sip.
When you are in the mood for only a few sips, a cutting chai costs half as much. At 3 rupees, a cutting chai (how many pennies is that?) is the best value in town. This is in no name dukans and canteens where you share well-worn formica tables with sweaty commoners.
Don’t take your perfumed girlfriend there. Take her to Coffee Day, where the guy behind the counter (in a goofy hat) makes a big show of using a machine to froth the milk and then drops a tea bag in it. *shudder* And he has the gall to charge your 25 rupees. Bloody Murder!
Where is the Shiv Sena when you really need them. Someone tell the MNS dada to stop scoping bars and turn his attention to coffee shops. They are a dire threat to ‘our way of life.’
Wasn’t it the brave freedom fighter, Bal Arunladhar Tilak who famously proclaimed: a three rupee cutting chai is our birthright, and we shall have it.
Canteens outside the Ramnathi Devasthan Goa appear to be ideal places to capture Chai drinkers. A few years ago, I immortalized these two, enjoying chai time at the canteen next door.
Visit Ramnathi, great chai and salvation too.