Friday, July 01, 2011
Really, she didn’t deserve these mugs. Such pretty, sunny possessions they were, too, and how she abused them!
She had a philosophy - something she had evolved to curb reckless spending. It went like this, and she never tired of hearing her own voice dispensing this exquisite piece of advice: If you like something you see, move away from it. Only if it haunts you, go back and buy it. If it’s not there, well, it was never meant to be yours.
How often had she said this to people, with such conviction that no one dared find it funny. She couldn’t control her impulse, however, when she noticed these at the crafts festival, and justified the expensive buys telling herself she needed it, otherwise she wouldn’t want them so much. (Now, had she just hit upon the converse of the other philosophy? And that reminded her, how long had it been since she had thought of that word - converse - now where had she come across it last, in school, Maths? Physics? …)
Both were hand-crafted. The one with the lattice pattern on the rim was an antique too! How many years had she dreamed of taking a day off from work and sitting by that quiet, sunny corner with a fine cup of tea and a book? She would sip her tea, savour every swallow, pause to read a few paragraphs, sip some more. Ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper would all meld with sugar, milk and tea leaves to form a harmonious whole that yet retained the individual flavours. (Now had she picked up that line from somewhere or was it her own? Didn’t she sound like an advertisement, or worse, like a food blog which made everything sound exotic?)
Hadn’t she wanted each sip to remind her of her home in a dusty town in North India, which she had at first been so glad to leave behind but missed desperately later? And hadn’t she found a less tasty but acceptable version outside her office in another city further South - ginger was the more predominant taste; after all, one couldn’t expect a poor South Indian hawker to realise the importance of the right proportions of spices or to buy good amounts of those costly commodities!
Anil Chai, or so she thought of the masala tea vendor, shared space with a sugarcane juicer and she’d watch, appalled yet fascinated, as the flies milled around the machine, which snapped up the sugarcane stalks and threw them out in a smooth movement as quickly. “Ganne ka ras, with essence of fly,” she had remarked to herself often, even as the machine operator filled the green extract into dirty and dull glasses, added some lime juice and chopped ginger and served it to waiting customers. She wouldn’t ever drink that juice off the streets, nor ever in these mugs, no, the very memory would sully them!
But she had besmirched them. The mugs had held fond fancies, but she had squashed them with her penchant for practicality. Didn’t find a glass to mix her smelly Ayurvedic medicines in? Resort to the mugs. Didn’t find another mug to bake her one-minute microwave chocolate cake in? Use these. Didn’t feel like extricating a soup plate from the crockery cupboard? Pick one of these off the kitchen counter, fill it and heat it up in the microwave, never mind that she hadn’t enquired whether 200-year old mugs could be heated so! No wonder the antique one was acquiring a yellow cast - must be all that turmeric from the curries and Indian soups she was heating up all the time. In her case, a one-pot meal involved putting a few tablespoons of rice into dal or curry heated in the mug and eaten with a long-stemmed spoon in front of the TV. Constipated? Drink mugs and mugs of hot water, alternating between the two.
Enough! She’d had enough! She’d wallowed enough. Practical she was and what she had done with the mugs all along was extract value for the money she paid for them. It was time for romance.
She rose from the bed and made her way to the kitchen. Out came a new scrubber. She wet it and washed the mugs vigorously with liquid detergent till they were odorless to satisfaction. Henceforth this scrubber would be dedicated to these two mugs.
She moved towards a shelf and reached for some jars - whole spices, some of the finest Assam, sugar. Milk came from the refrigerator. Her stone mortar and pestle were waiting - she ground the spices as fine as she could, not minding her aching arms. She boiled the water and the milk, added the rest of the ingredients and boiled some more. She turned off the heat. Now she would strain the tea into not one but both mugs, take herself over to her window and live her fantasy!
There, I've done it, met the deadline when I thought I would fail badly. This story is going off to the food fiction event Of Chalks & Chopsticks, hosted by Bong Mom and created by Aqua.
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