Friday, July 01, 2011

My Mug Shot & Masala Chai - Of Chalks & Chopsticks

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.


  1. wow, amazing, what a great story. I liked that thing where she says "take yourself away from it and then if it haunts you, go back and if it is not there, it is not meant for you". Lovely :)

  2. Priya, thanks! I was taking a potshot at myself there! And that IS a tip I follow to curb rash spending.

  3. "take yourself away from it and then if it haunts you, go back and if it is not there, it is not meant for you". I need this line. more now after being a food blogger for those numerous single plates and bowls and cups I buy in the name of my blog.
    Lovely story Sra. was going to bed but then saw this post popping up. could not hold myself from reading it. love.sayantani

  4. Wow! Loved the way the mugs got into the daily grind. With all those details ... a lovely write Sra!

  5. I would 'eewww' 'yuck' at the Gannewala's machine too...don't even remind of the 'dull' glasses!
    I have the same 'love' for a cup...use, misuse and abuse it very much...that reminds me to go scrub it well and clean!

  6. Read this yesterday while the kid was talking his swimming lessons. I was smiling the whole time and the other parents didn't know what was wrong with me. As much as I love your tip about how to restrain from impulse purchase I like the multifunctional ascpect of the cups. Spoonfuls of rice with dal or curry and if constipated, alternate between the two! Hilarious. This is what you came you came up with when you couldn't think of an idea? This is a brilliant piece Sra. :)

  7. This is indeed a lovely piece woven around cups Sra. I loved the practical way of using them, rice and curry and hot water :-D That is sure imaginative.

  8. Oh, I enjoyed this story, and I love that mug. Beautiful! ;-)

  9. So you did it finally, Sra...and did it with a bang! You are a master of words and ideas, Sra. Impulse that is what is bothering me of late, need to learn a few tips here :)

  10. Awesome story! i love how it all centers around one piece - the mug, and yet a whole story grows out of it!

  11. Sayantani, you were up pretty late! Thanks.
    Sharmila, thanks!
    Lata, those glasses are almost a national heritage, aren't they, Lata?
    Desisoccermom, after I wrote it, I thought not bad for something done in a rush but wondered if it was logical or would resonate with anyone ... whether it was genuine, I mean
    BongMom, that's what I do {blush}
    Paz, thank you. I'm sure Bong Mom will be happy too, the mugs are hers
    Sanjeeta, come, I'll take you shopping one day!
    Joanne, thanks, it didn't really become obvious to me till you said it

  12. Absolutely brilliant, the way you have woven the tale around the cups :) Keep well, be smiling!!

  13. The line "Didn’t she sound like an advertisement, or worse, like a food blog which made everything sound exotic?" made me smile.......It's true, isn't it that we can't even talk about a cup of tea without making it sound like the most wonderful beverage mankind has ever had?

  14. beautiful mugs and an equally lovely story :)

  15. Bhagyashree, thank you, and that's a nice wish.
    Jayashree, :) sometimes I think we exaggerate in our excitement!
    Swati, thanks a lot!


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