The Drama of Chai
Woman's Era|October 2021
An epiphany for the throat.
Khushi Jain

The entire process is mute. It’s not your conventional soap opera. Water is sloshed into a pot as flames of blue and orange come to life with a click. Steadily, bubbles start forming in the clear liquid. A train of containers starts lining up on the counter. Each carriage is differently sized. The cinnamon is in a 4-inch plastic can with its label intact. The cardamom is in one of the many small containers with a silver cap. Milk sits in a pot, dotted with condensation, straight out of the refrigerator. The last two jars are facsimiles, one with the sweet crystals of sugar and the other, with the dark brown granules of tea leaves. They all await their turn. Milk goes first. Sugar. Pinches of cinnamon and cardamom. And now the drama starts to stir. The tea leaves seem to bloom the moment they hit the sweltering mixture. And with them, a spring of the senses begins.

Swirls of ghostly steam ascend towards the already yellowing tiles above the stove as the strainer trembles over the cup and the chai leaves its pot.

Chai is an epiphany for the throat. It wakes it up, it wakes it up to life. It has a sense of liberation, of freedom. Chai reminds me of Genesis, an origin. I wouldn’t want to belittle it by calling it brown. It is not brown. Coffee is brown. Chai is the colour of the earth. There is no one word for it and yet it is ubiquitously acknowledged. A paradox in itself, chai is a confluence of pluralism with a unique universality. It never tastes the same. A midnight cup with a guilty snack reeks of excitement. An opulent fancy china tea-tray is an ode to hedonism. A shared cup blossoms with incandescent love. A combination of chai and conversation is preparation for future nostalgia. But, each of us, barring a few unfortunate exceptions, is born with this craving for chai. It is intrinsic despite the fact that its experience is as varied as it can be.

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