A follow-up post to Traffic in 1732kms
Those who know me well, know my love for the drink. I mean, tea, of course. Folks who’ll say no to a tea, anytime they are offered, are a rare species. Most people are content with about two-three cups a day. The only other person I know who probably shares the same passion for tea is a long-time blogger friend – Bishwanath Ghosh. I say probably, (a) because I have not met him and don’t know for sure, and of course (b) that he has written a book about having tea and “Travels In Places Where You Stop But Never Get Off”.
I haven’t read the book, but I suspect this post will be similar. Apologies in advance for any unintended plagiarism.
Tea, I must confess, was something I looked forward to during this trip to Central India. Chai, I’ll call it, because as soon as you say tea, it sounds very English, very bland. (Also, chai is not necessarily Masala Chai, as the Wikipedia title says, non-masala tea is also chai).
One of the perks of driving a car (especially if your co-traveller doesn’t drive) is that you get to stop wherever you want with an excuse of drowsiness. Not that I ever have to use an illegal excuse, because my friend, who has clocked more miles with me than anyone, doesn’t mind the frequent stops. She has her own taste of tea though, so she seldom shares the infinite variable flavours that I risk across the many kilometres.
Also, this trip was unique in a way that it was the first time ever, that I left a chai, after the first sip. It was in Dhar, as we headed west towards Vadodra, from Indore. It was a shed just outside a hut, by the highway, just as we exited the town. I have had really sweet tea before, but in this one, sugar was a toxin! (As) gracefully (as I could), I left the glass on the makeshift table, got back in my car and sped off. I’ll never forget that place.
Otherwise, tea has been a very good experience throughout this trip. Right from Taloli, where we had the first chai of the trip to the last one, just off Navghar. One of the best, however was in Bhopal. And we would have missed having that tea, if it weren’t for our very ill-informed tourist-guide-and-driver-bundled-in-one. He was a replacement to the original guy who was supposed to come, and it became obvious in the first seven minutes that he wasn’t a regular guide. After a while, when he gave us reasons to skip many of the places to see, we asked him what Bhopal was famous for. He didn’t have to think hard for the answer that came our quickly and honestly: Nothing. We were quite surprised. Every place is famous for something. At least there is a local lunatic. We gave him hints, about what Bhopal could be famous for. Cloth, leather, stoneware, anything? He thought hard and I felt he was making a genuine effort to think of something. Chai, he said, finally. You get good chai in Bhopal. Well, that was more than good for me. Take me to the best tea-stall in Bhopal, I urged him. Half-an-hour, later, we ended up being at Raju Tea Stall, for one of the best chai we would have on this trip.
Then, there was Guptaji’s Dhaba-cum-Restaurant at Sonkatch, on the Indore-Bhopal Highway. I liked the chai there, so much, I stopped at the same place on our return at the risk of missing out an opportunity to try out a new chai! And while I was taking this photograph, Guptaji himself walked up and introduced himself as the proud owner of a place that serves this supreme chai.
Very few people I know, can make consistent chai. It is, in my opinion a great art. And as we get exposed more to statistically-determined health risks, about anything that we do, inconsistency has become quite the hallmark of chai-making. People want less sugar, less milk and a light chai. Almost hot water, sometimes. Then there are those who make chai in milk only, leaving a creamy layer on your palate. Then, there are a few, like Anna, who didn’t care about your thoughts about how tea should be made. He made it in his own unique way.
Chai, for me, over the years, has become a cartographic tool.