My chaiya obsession started when Amma started working. I was two-years-old. She says that she got the job immediately after my birth and calls me a “blessing”. Well, I wasn’t “blessed” that much with her presence but I was truly hung onto Vajeeha aunty, our domestic help. Before my parents could put me in day care (which I got kicked out of), Vajeeha aunty took care of me.
I always tailed her around the house. Even cartoon network wouldn’t distract me. She used to talk to me in Urdu which I never understood but I would keenly listen to her sweet sounds. Vajeeha aunty couldn’t have kids, hence she adopted me until Amma came back from the office. One day, after a tiring day’s work of handling my tantrums, she made a brown water thing for herself. I was too short to see over the kitchen counter to understand what it was, but I could smell it. The hot aroma floating around our dirty blue kitchen walls.
She then picked my little body up and sat me down with her on the front porch. She watched the streets while she enjoyed the weird beverage in her steel cup. I pointed to it. At first she was hesitant to give me some, but I forced my way through fake crying. She then got a steel spoon and fed some to me. I hated it but I wanted more. I wanted whatever was filled in that steel cup. That Sunday, Amma made the same thing in a fancy ceramic cup and I insisted on drinking it, but it didn’t taste the same. The sweet disgusting intoxication was not there. The intoxication that drew a picky two-year-old to crave it. Maybe it’s the steel glass, I thought.
Years later, we moved out of the place. I learnt how to speak Hindi. Vajeeha’s aunty adopted her own child. I was left orphaned in the mornings. Until Appa met with an accident. It was not major but it was enough to keep him home for a good amount of time. Even while that was worrisome, him being home, visible to me, greeting me every time I came home is what the relief in me was all about. The fact that he was home, in front of me was all that mattered the most to me.
While he was in bed rest, Amma would be at home, making tea, coffee and what not until he recovered and could function. When I returned from school, Appa would greet me at the door with his recovering smile. I didn’t need to open the door with the key for a while. Once Amma started working, dad took control of the evening food. He started making chaiya in the evening. He was a man who needed his tea at 6:30 pm or else he would turn into a cranky baby.
Even with his broken hand, he would make the tea. And it would always be the “arey waah” type. One day, I stood next to him, observing the man make his tea. He whipped out the copper bottom vessel and poured in one and a half cups of water. Put it onto the stove and let it boil with exactly 5 spoons of sugar. On the other side, he would keep the milk to boil. He would take a spoon and stir the milk so the cream would not settle on top.
Then once it reached its boiling point, it would rise with that white glamour that makes the whole kitchen quiet with its shh. When the water boiled just right, dad would throw in exactly three spoons of tea leaves and let it sit in that hot sweet water for a while. He would then sieve it and add exactly one cup of the hot milk to it. The black and the white made a dirty brown. This was my first day’s observation. The next day I waited for 6:15pm to see this cranky baby make his tea. On the third day, I kept all the ingredients out. And on the last day I was promoted to man the milk.
I would hover my head over the milk tumbler, engulfing the hot fumes into the pores of my skin. Watching the waves swish swish, until they rose with the froth, like a tsunami, ready to engulf the sweet black water Appa made. But this did not last. The ritual broke and everything went back to normalcy. I was given the key to open the door again.
One day, I didn’t go to school due to a made-up health issue. That evening, I wanted to make tea. A 12-year-old ready to conquer the tradition. I stuck my head into the vessel cabinet and pulled out what was necessary with the loudest clanking ever. I meticulously followed the same steps Appa did. I kept both the contrasting colours to boil with the correct proportions, until the milk rose and the water boiled at the same time. My brain could not understand the situation and shut itself. I put in the three spoons of tea leaves into the milk. A disaster.
Yet I sieved and made the tea. The drain drank it that evening. I really did not want to give up. And I tried it the next evening. Everything was put in the right vessel. But the tea tasted like boiled water. Third day, it tasted like milk. Fourth day, like leaves and fifth day like steel. I was about to give up when unexpectedly my uncle showed up with his parents. I always saw Amma offer the guests chaiya. So, I asked them if they wanted some. They said, “aren’t you a little young to make tea.” I wanted to prove them wrong.
So, with utmost dedication, I started the process. Took out the copper kettle, poured one and a half cups of water. Let it boil with the water. Opened the orange packet of milk and poured it into the vessel, kept it boiling while stirring it. I did not let my eye off that stove for the whole time. Put in the exact amount of tea leaves and let it boil and sit.
I concentrated on the big waves of milk, then mixed the two and served the piping brown chaiya in steel cups. They loved it. They adored my tea. Uncle even went for seconds and I was the star for the night, until I heard the sentence that made me regret everything.
“And now she can make tea for her husband”.