Tea Leaves


I wake up every morning with the sunrise, and the first thought that springs to mind is, ‘What tea am I drinking today?’ When I’m in a mood to indulge myself there are the myriad thoughts of a possible breakfast drizzled with enough butter to keep Siberia warm. When I can make myself scrambled eggs with dollops of cheese, I’m the happiest. If I can manage ham, bacon or even Heinz' baked beans, then it’s a Sunday. But the tea?

Tea could be anything from the seemingly ordinary cup of Tata Life to the exotic sounding Blackcurrant with Ginseng and Vanilla, Darjeeling or even Jasmine tea. A mug filled to the brim with milky, sweet chai and I'm impy-dimpy-do with happiness. Then there are the days when it’s just Coffee or Hot Chocolate that I want but we shall not talk about those days today. The first stop for the day has to be at the tea cabinet.

Even as I toddle my way around the house trying to keep the sunlight from poking like needles in my eyes, I can smell the tea brewing. There is quite nothing like sitting with the newspaper in hand mulling over the cryptic crossword but we can’t always have what we want.

Ginger tea is always very invigorating, masala chai brings back fond memories of sitting in the balcony with friends as the cups of tea made their way from the kitchen. The everyday chai reminds me of Dad making that awesome cuppa during the weekends. Heady Jasmine is meant for those days when I want to wipe away memories in a moment of madness. Darjeeling is, of course, for those times when I want to be Holly Golightly in my own version of Noo Yawk- suave, sophisticated and unbearably charming. Then there is Numi Tea, Organic and beautiful. Numi Tea remains an expensive pleasure only indulged in when I have nothing but time at hand. Of late, Numi Tea has become a photographic memory. Who wouldn’t be fascinated when a flower blooms in the water only to infuse it with hints of chocolate and spices and other alchemical ingredients? 

These days tea is my morning indulgence and the occasional post-midnight cup of elixir. Gone are the days when I would drink cupfuls of tea by the hour and would reserve the coffee as my cup of nostalgia and all things dramatic. There was a time when the overcast skies and a light breeze blowing meant I would make myself a cup of coffee and sit back. These days it’s the tea that adds the drama and coffee that is quotidian.

Behind the ritual,
There is the spiritual

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.

Simplicity, Work and Enjoyment

“My secret for long life is simplicity, work and enjoyment.” – Maia Helles

I’m loving every bit of this video of Maia Helles by Julia Warr. Julia met Maia Helles a ballet dancer, who’s just turned 95, on a plane on 4 years ago.

Shot in Fire Island, New York, this film (4min. 23 sec) captures the secrets of eternal youth as Maia Helles, a Russian ballet dancer turns 95 but still remains resolutely independent, healthy and as fit as a forty year old. Made by Julia Warr, artist and film maker who met Maia on a plane 4 years ago and became utterly convinced by the benefits of her daily exercise routine, which Maia perfected together with her Mother, over 60 years ago, long before exercise classes were ever invented. Set to the music of Lola Perrin.(2011) Film by Julia Warr Music by Lola Perrin visit juliawarr.org visit lolaperrin.com

There is a beautiful cadence to the routine and the ritual: Maia watering her garden, Maia exercising (she’s been doing these exercises for over 60 years!), Maia preparing a meal. I love the bits of splashes of orange - the little flower printed orange pillow on her exercise mat, the bright orange pan hanging on the wall, the movement of the bluish curtain fluttering in the breeze; little things of joy, suspended staccatos in this opus. There’s tenderness in the moments between the rituals - as she gingerly ties her apron, as she fusses in front of the kitchen fluffing her hair, as she sips tea at her simply set dining table and as she smiles the wrinkles and lines carefully aligning themselves.

I’m thinking I should focus a little more on Maia’s philosophy of simplicity, work and enjoyment. I’m always multi-tasking: answering emails, biting into an apple, reading a cooking blog, planning dinner. I need to slow down, breathe and focus. Bite into the apple, answer an email, bookmark the cooking blog, postpone thinking about dinner. Make this a habit till it becomes second nature and then just who I am.

It’s nearing dinner time. I peel a couple of potatoes, dice and toss them into the pressure cooker with the lentils. While this cooks, I slice the onions, mince the garlic, julienne the ginger, slice the green chillies, count the curry leaves. I saute these sliced and diced veggies in some ghee with sizzling cumin seeds, throw in the powdered spices and roast till it smells like my mother’s kitchen. The tempering is ready, the lentils and potatoes are waiting. A bowl of rice with a heaping of dal, a glass of wine - simplicity, work and enjoyment have come together as dinner.  

Maybe this is where I start building the rituals and routines I’ll grow old with. Taking a moment to fluff my hair when I pass a mirror, putting away the laptop after 10 pm and picking up a book to read, meeting friends more often- living fully, staying engaged in the moment and being beautiful

My Favourite Short Story

I was introduced to Richard Brautigan years ago by way of this evocative piece on a man visiting his ex. I return to the sadness, the loneliness and the stubbornness in that piece quite often but in happier moments, I have another favourite. This one from Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn

I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone

I was trying to describe you to someone a few days ago. You don’t look like any girl I’ve ever seen before. I couldn’t say “Well she looks just like Jane Fonda, except that she’s got red hair, and her mouth is different and of course, she’s not a movie star…”

I couldn’t say that because you don’t look like Jane Fonda at all.

I finally ended up describing you as a movie I saw when I was a child in Tacoma Washington. I guess I saw it in 1941 or 42, somewhere in there. I think I was seven, or eight, or six.

It was a movie about rural electrification, a perfect 1930’s New Deal morality kind of movie to show kids. The movie was about farmers living in the country without electricity. They had to use lanterns to see by at night, for sewing and reading, and they didn’t have any appliances like toasters or washing machines, and they couldn’t listen to the radio. They built a dam with big electric generators and they put poles across the countryside and strung wire over fields and pastures.

There was an incredible heroic dimension that came from the simple putting up of poles for the wires to travel along. They looked ancient and modern at the same time.

Then the movie showed electricity like a young Greek god, coming to the farmer to take away forever the dark ways of his life. Suddenly, religiously, with the throwing of a switch, the farmer had electric lights to see by when he milked his cows in the early black winter mornings. The farmer’s family got to listen to the radio and have a toaster and lots of bright lights to sew dresses and read the newspaper by.

It was really a fantastic movie and excited me like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, or seeing photographs of President Roosevelt, or hearing him on the radio “… the President of the United States… “

I wanted electricity to go everywhere in the world. I wanted all the farmers in the world to be able to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio….

And that’s how you look to me.

Origin Myths

Christopher Hitchens detailing out the Virgin birth myths in various world religions and mythologies (what's the difference again?):

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise. When his mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danae as a shower of gold and got her with child.

The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother's flank.

Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived.

The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis.

The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan.

Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka.

Horus was born of the virgin Isis.

Mercury was born of the virgin Maia.

Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia.

For some reason, many religions forced themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence.

- Chris Hitchens, God is Not Great

I am 20

A film made in 1967 of the hopes and ambitions of Midnight’s Children when they turned 20. 

Young men and women born on Independence Day in 1947 were selected from different parts of India and interviewed to discover their hopes, desires, ambitions and fears. They spoke about love, they spoke about their heroes and they spoke about their frustrations. The result is this unique film. 

40 years since the movie, there is still an India, there is a Bharat and now a Hindustan…and these shall never meet? Indians then and now speak of similar frustrations- bribes to be paid for “seats in a college or school”, security and stability in the form of a government job, sitting in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned room, a desire to “be a cog in the machine." 

It seems the more things change, the more they remain the same. "We have a hopeful tomorrow but our today is very precarious” as one wise PN Subramaniam says in the film.