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UP Election 2017: Chai Par Charcha - Let's Talk Tea

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By Sidharth Mishra

Politics in our country has the ubiquitous quality of drawing everything in its hue and flavor. Therefore, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi's then poll strategist Prashant Kishor, ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, started "Chai Par Charcha", to discuss politics over a cup of tea, the aroma of the leaf from the gardens turned saffron, and the slurp from a steaming hot cup of tea was drowned in the noise of technology televising the discussion over the satellite, digital antenna, etc. Those who have practiced politics and those who have covered politics would agree that before Narendra Modi deciding to Christian himself as 'Chaiwala', the omnipresent tea seller was the best political seismographer who had a fair idea about the direction of the wind. Having brought him into the limelight, Modi ensured that he lose his innocence and did not remain as earthy as one would have liked him to be. He started to carry a lot of air around him. Let me add a disclaimer that I am no left-winger, who would blame the BJP and Narendra Modi for all the ills; nor am I upholder of the saffron flag, who would see great virtues even in the tea served at Keshav Kunj in Jhadewalan with glucose biscuits.
 Having come from a military school, which prided in its very British dining hall etiquettes, having tea with sweet biscuits was unthinkable. We were told that tea had to be drunk with sweet cakes and salty biscuits; in fact, this was offered to us as the "tea share". Tea was served to us in tea-pots and in teacups, which were different in their shape, look, and DNA from a coffee-pot and a coffee mug. The only time when we had the liberty of drinking tea in something other than the tea-cup was during the jungle treks and camps. Steaming hot beverage was poured into white enamel mugs with blue lining from foldable saucepans. Introduction to tea was not exactly a cultural shock for me as in the case of some of my hostel mates especially those who came from the south and the puritan families of the east and the north. While the Garus, Tambis, and Mallus had lived on "Kaffee" all their lives, the puritans from north and east on milk demurring even at the idea of tea, lest there be a loss of shine to their fair skin. Making tea in the family used to be a ritual, beginning with a kerosene pump stove taken out of the cupboard to play the "hawan kund" for the 'yagna' which ensued! The stove would be lighted, water boiled in an aluminum kettle, some amount poured into the porcelain teapot, swirled around and then thrown out and its cap immediately replaced. In it then would go spoonful of leaves from the Lipton Green Label tea box, lid replaced to let the leaves get moist. Thereafter, water was poured to the brim. As the leaves brewed and converted boiling hot water into liquor, milk was warmed and poured into the milk pot, and sugar in the sugar pot. After some time, the liquor would be stirred with a spoon to check on the right aroma and colour and poured through brass strainer placed over the cup. Then milk and sugar would be, as it is said, added to taste. And then each member of the 'tea party' was handed over a cup neatly placed on a saucer and the beverage taken as ceremoniously as it was brewed with a sure admonition for any sound of a slurp. The Brooke Bond Red Label, we were told was for the "chalu chai", all ingredients boiled together. The brands superior to what we drank were Lop Chu and Makai Bari, both from the tea estates of Darjeeling. Makai Bari is home to the first tea factory in the world, built way back in 1859. Coming back to Brooke Bond Red Label, I never had a chance to drink it until I arrived at my boarding house in Dehradun in 1979, where the brewing was not as ceremonious, as it was never done in front of our eyes, but drinking somewhat was, with the beverage served in pots with bulging stomachs. The coffee pots were slimmer and taller, so were the coffee mugs. The third place, after home and school, where I came across the white china teapots were in the railway canteens on the station platforms. But I must add here that before my introduction to Brooke Bond Red Label, I had the opportunity to gulp down the hot boiling beverage brewed from tea dust. I was at Haridwar station nearly four decades ago, poured into Kulhad (baked mud cups) from a huge brass pot with a tap at the bottom. This was my introduction to what you call, a 'Railway Chai' or 'Stationwali Chai', which became so integral to life as one started to travel increasingly. The Notebook would come with a piping hot leaf on 'Railway Chai' but some other time. Before the readers get worried why this discussion on tea in the time of polls, let me clarify: for political reporters like myself, it is time to travel and do 'charcha' (discussions) at the roadside tea stalls. As the polls have lost colour, thanks to the stringent rules of the Election Commission, so is tea increasingly losing flavour on the roadside stalls. "How could you drop a tea bag in the hot fluid," I moaned and wondered that with 'charcha' (discussion) from roadsides gone, 'chai' (tea) would also be lost.
(Sidharth Mishra is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post.)

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