When I was young, I watched my mother hurrying, shuffling, getting her two children up and ready for school, getting her mother in law and husband food, getting dressed, and getting out and about to catch an overcrowded Mumbai bus to work.
I have so many memories of her being so present in my day to day life that sometimes I feel like she has been in several places at once. How else can someone manage to cram so many chores into a single day?
So it is nice to have another memory – one of Amma drinking her chaya in a steel glass, thin wisps of steam rising above its rim. My brother and I used to stand before her, wide-eyed and curious about this drink adults had while we were forced to gulp our glasses of Boost. We wanted chaya too but my mother said we could start to drink it when we were a little older. She always let us dip our biscuits into her glass, and by the time we were done, half the glass would be empty. She’d then kiss our foreheads or sometimes simply finish the rest of her tea and get up to do whatever it was that she did in the mornings.
She never complained but I remember her face lined with worry and haste and kindness and love – all at once. My favourite face was the one she had when she sipped on her everyday tea. All those lines across her forehead used to ease off and it seemed like she had slipped into a territory that was all hers. I liked seeing my mother that way.
As I grew up, I got tired of asking to sip on tea instead of milk and by the time I was in college, I never really cared for tea or understood why it was this tonic of relief to every adult I met. Everyone who came home drank Amma’s tea and kicked up their feet and talked about their children and spouses and neighbours. To my limited knowledge – alcohol was this tonic for my peers.
Eventually when I started working, I met a lot of people with whom I chit-chatted about things that we assigned importance to just to feel like we mattered and had purpose. Somewhere along the road, I had started to drink copious amounts of adrak chai and unknowingly infused some of my best memories with the taste of tea lingering in the back of my head. I didn’t realize I turned into one of those adults I used to wonder about as a child until the day I hadn’t had my daily cup of tea and I felt a gnawing sense of annoyance in the corners of my brain.
I was working from home that day and I realized that my tea-drinking habits were formed due to the long hours at work that I couldn’t get through without my chai and biscuits. I tried opening my laptop to check some emails – the start of a process my peers and I are well acquainted with – Drowning in Work. I was busy clicking some button or the other when all of a sudden, I saw my mother next to me drinking her tea while another mug of it rested next to me. She smiled, handed me the cup and asked if I had a lot of work that day.
“Okay molu”, she says, then continues to take huge sips from her own glass until the worry-lines vanish. I drink from my mug and notice that mine have receded too.