(roadside tea stall) that dots the busy cross streets and highways of India. What makes the tea unique is the blend of tea leaves, the amount of sugar, water and milk used, not to mention how long it is boiled to bring out the color of the tea leaves. If that does not give enough permutations and combinations of tea to come up with, cardamom, ginger or a blend of spices (chai masala) is sometimes used to give the chai a kick.
Tea is offered to every guest as a courtesy and served with another ubiquitous cookie – The Parle G or Glucose biscuits.
In the dhabbas, one can buy khari (a savory puff pastry cookie), aloo bonda (potato dumplings, dipped in chickpea batter and deep fried) or samosas. The bhabbawallas know the art of stretching/ boiling their tea leaves to the maximum. The leaves are usually tied in a linen or cotton cloth and immersed, bouquet style, in the milk, water and sugar solution boiling in a big aluminum pot.
Jhinuk Chowdhary, a talented photographer and one of our good friends. On his recent India trip he took this picture of a lady selling tea in Kolkatta.
Growing up, I would watch my aaji (maternal grandmother) make tea every few hours. Her lidded jars of tea and sugar are made of brass and were a permanent fixture above the ledge of her gas stove. She always kept them polished and even as a kid I loved the two fat little jars, presiding over my aaji’s tiny little kitchen, sniffing the aromas of her simple cooking and my grandfather’s occasional mutton curry.
My entry for Jugalbandi's Click: Heirloom Event
In all of my thirty something years, my aaji has been a major influence on me. My cousin and I lived with her as a five year old for a couple of years and though I do not have a lot of clear memories, one stands out the most. We were not allowed to play outside after sunset. My cousin and I had to wash up and then perched on three legged stools, in front of her little pooja corner, we recited our evening prayers and repeated the multiplication tables.
As I grew older, I learnt that she and her two sisters had lost their parents at an early age and had been brought up by an unmarried maternal uncle and a strict grandfather. She managed to graduate in an age when women were lucky to study past eighth grade. She eloped with my grandfather because his family opposed the union and managed to earn a master’s degree while taking care of two girls and pregnant with another. She was a high school English language teacher for 40 years before retiring at the age of 70.