Subha Manoj

While I Was Away

A cup of kadak chai

As if the cold winds blowing angrily in this particular evening was not enough, a distinct yet subtle coldness prevailed amongst the two sisters. Neither of them knew what to speak, or whether to speak to each other. A year back on this very same day, they both had experienced the power of grief, how it could tear apart the very cosmosis of a person. The first death anniversary of their mother had brought them together yet again. Yes, a ceremony: a social-spiritual-religious amalgamation was the reason, the only reason.

Was it when they hit puberty, or when they began to have their own set of secrets, or when one seemed ‘settled’ and the other was the ugly duckling in the eyes of the society and relatives, that they drifted? But this evening, they sat face to face next to a window in their mother’s house. The winds lashed and rains hit the pane with vengeance. The house still smelled of their mother’s favourite musk incense sticks.

A lightening bolt struck the skies, breaking it apart into hues of grey and black. Anu sat with tightly shut fists, almost like a statue.

‘Still scared of thunder?’ Aarti asked.

Anu quickly loosened her fist, embarrassed that her secret had come out. ‘Never been a fan.’

As if I never knew. ‘I am going to make tea. How about you?’ Aarti asked.

‘Sure.’ …. ‘kadak’ they both said together. A shy smile escaped their lips.

Aarti set the water to boil. Waited till the water bubbled, spewing droplets out of the saucepan. She put two spoonfulls of Taj Mahal tea and sugar.

‘You mind if I put some ginger and cardamom?’ Anu asked. It seemed like a rhetorical question, as she had begun to pound both in a mortar.
Aarti didn’t bother to respond, instead she said, ‘I like it with extra milk.’ Without waiting, she added half a cup of milk. The black concoction turned light brown. The flame kept churning the tea over and over, and soon the house filled with an aroma of petrichor, masala tea, rustic memories and unspoken words.

Aarti sat with her palms engulfed over the warm cup, inhaling the vapour. Anu blew over the tea over and over again, taking quick sips. with each sip, she closed her eyes, as if swallowing something more than just the tea.

‘You know, I always loved tea made by you. You made it better than Ma.’ Anu spoke between sips, looking forelorn into the orange skies, now calm with just a soft drizzle.

Aarti raised her eyebrows, clearly surprised, ‘Really? I…’

‘Infact when I went to the hostel, I tried to make it every day. But it never came like yours and finally I stopped drinking tea.’

‘Stopped…meaning?’ Aarti asked taking quicker sips.

‘Stopped meaning stopped till now. I am having tea after seven years.’ Silence lingered for a while not knowing whether to break the dam or wait.

‘Anu…I…I didn’t mean to…’

‘I know, didi. I know. It just happened.’

‘I wanted to call you, I swear. But it was just too tough. The constant comparison. It didn’t help that I was the elder one. I was never jealous of you, but I was angry. Angry for not being good enough. You were the settled one, while I…’

‘But I was jealous of you. I was just fed up being the better one. No one bothered you with expectations. I was always the one who had to perform.’ A tear fell. And then some more. ‘Is it…is it too late now?’ Anu stammered between sips of tea. Aarti got up from the couch.

‘Wait, are you angry with me, didi?’

‘No. One more kadak chai will do good for us. Let’s see where the next cup leads us.’ Aarti smiled and kept the water to boil.

P.S. I never drank tea till I got married. I started making tea for M and then one day realised that drinking a morning cup of tea with him will help us connect and communicate more. With that thought, I started my morning cuppa chai with 2 Marie biscuits. Started with plain chai, and then moved on to strong chai with adrak. Although during all these years, I have tried green tea, white tea and much more, there is nothing at all which comes close to our Indian chai: over-brewed, over-boiled, slightly milky. And yes, I cannot have tea made by anyone other than me.

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