Divya Swami Attri tried to pass on the love for tea to her daughter. Here's what happened next
As a FOB (Fresh of the Boat) immigrant, I zealously carry on my Indian cultural sensibilities, with a lot more gusto then I would have back in India. Seen as a typical FOB syndrome, a lot of desis like me go through this transformation! It is not only for the sake of nostalgia that we cherish and hone our sensitivities towards our diverse and multilayered culture but also because these significant sensibilities are the byproducts of our bringing up which act like branch-roots, spreading in all directions providing us the stability and nourishment needed for our identities in an new land.
My attachment to the foods and drinks that I grew up on goes beyond the standard realms of habit and patronage, insomuch that a humble cup of tea becomes much more than just a cup and its contents. I went through this realization a few weeks back when my eight-year-old daughter received a cordial invitation for a high-end tea party. I surprised myself when I--rather than my daughter--displayed a childlike enthusiasm to the invitation! The concept of a tea party celebration for young girls of her age was certainly not the "in thing" these days. Fearing that she might inadvertently decline it, for the oddity of its nature, I accepted it on her behalf, and cajoled her to go for it.
The reason for this elated reaction was my genuine interest for this humble beverage called Tea, which is also a preferred desi drink, aptly labeled the 'national drink' of India.
Growing up on umpteen cups of tea right from my early childhood has made it a pint-sized but integral part of my desi food habits, which I would like to pass over to my kids. Having enjoyed a fine selection a variety of tea, from premium Darjeeling to fruity Nilgiris, from the strong intensity of desi dudh-patti (milk-and-leaves) to energizing herbal blends, from experimental drinking of spicy sage to exciting mint flavors. I have admired this soothing beverage, regardless of taste, form, and style.
Sipping freshly brewed tealeaves in exquisite silverware surrounded by the cascading green tea plantations of Kalimpong, to drinking in an unbaked clay pot in an overcrowded Indian train compartment are the two broad ends of the many memories that I associate with tea.
Tea is one of the many good things immigrants have bought to the United States. However, I feared that in a coffee loving country, if unexposed to the fine tastes of tea blends, my daughter's food palette would only accept an occasional Chai latté on the go! Attending this tea party would introduce her to this genre of beverage bringing some excitement to her expanding taste buds. Who knows it could even pave the way for her becoming an ardent tea enthusiast in the future.
My daughter went ahead for the party and my keen anticipation began. While I was curious to know her feedback regarding her first 'formal' connection with tea, I mused about my own connections with the tea world.
It is not merely a warm cup of infused green leaves and spicy aromas, for many tea lovers. The entire process of brewing and consuming brims on the verge of a holistic approach. While drinking my cuppa, depending on the circumstances that I am in, my mind switches on to different modes, and the word 'Tea' takes on a more profound statement than a mere commodity.
This is how it goes; in the company of others, tea for me becomes 'The Evergreen Act-of kindness', establishing and sharing a warm relationship. When in solitude, it becomes a time to 'Think Easily Above-all', giving me the ability to recuperate, reflect and reenergize. In headlock situations where I am looking for a break, drinking tea becomes a 'Truly Effective Alternative', giving me a much-required moment to pause. Above all, packed with abundant antioxidants and other stress relieving and energizing qualities it subtly becomes 'The harmless Enjoyable Addiction'!
I stopped musing as I see my daughter cheerfully waving goodbye to her friends. "Mama it was good fun, we learned some rules about table manners, we drank and ate in real chinaware, we learned how to stir without any noise!"
"But how was the tea sweetheart?" I asked her, growing impatient by now.
"Oh no mama, not tea, we had 'pink lemonade' to drink in those pretty cups!"
Divya is a teacher and freelance writer. She lives with her husband and children in Robbinsville, New Jersey
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh