You don’t know how important masala chai is, until you get bad masala chai. It’s like breathing: you don’t care, but when I smother you with a pillow…
I work out of this co-working space, surrounded by assorted people who “follow their dreams”: start-up founders, writers, designers, interior decorators, photographers etc. One of the things they don’t tell you about following your dreams is that you won’t have an office of your own. These people also don’t have “routines” imposed on them by others, which is a lot worse than it sounds. It’s like being given a 500 dish menu and being unable to decide what to order. So through a lot of hit and trial, they figure out what time of the day they’re most productive, what aids that productivity, what helps them relax, and just like that a routine sets in.
For me, when I begin my day’s work, it’s black coffee. It sits well with the general vibe: it’s a new day, the air is crisper, everyone has more energy, you haven’t opened facebook, no con-calls with stupid clients have happened yet.
By about 4 in the evening, a lot has changed. There’s some work done and more left, that back has become a little stiff. Some general wear-and-tear has set in, and you must decide whether to work more or make “plans”.
THAT is where masala chai comes in, with a burst of energy that’s also strangely soothing. Tea leaves, water, milk, adrak, elaichi brewed together to get whatever shade of brown tells you this is it. Nothing else will do. Especially “tea-bags”. I’m a snob to the extent of preferring roadside chai to the fucking “Tea(Masala/Assam/Earl grey” nonsense they give at coffee shops.
Now I’m not even sure if tea actually gives that burst of energy I’m looking for. I think it’s more an image from those “kamaal ki taazgi” ads from the 90s. If it makes Ustad Zakir Hussain’s dreary fingers work that tabla like they’re on cocaine, it can surely let me write 1 email and 2 bad jokes.
I don’t expect much: just my eyes to be held open with that first sip and that sweet burn as it washes down my throat. Simple.
With all that context, you’ll appreciate it when I tell you what I got at my “workspace” yesterday made me want to demonetize the chef’s assets.
It was 2 shades lighter than the brown I usually get at the same place. If I wanted to have something that sweet I would’ve ordered kheer and if I wanted to have something that watery I would’ve ordered…water. And that would’ve at least tasted like nothing, and life would’ve been back to a clean slate.
If you’ve ever made tea, by the time you pour it you know how it ranks on the “Zero to Perfect” scale. And if it’s closer to zero, you throw it, with a silent prayer for the “lakhs of people who go hungry without milk but whatever”.
Why didn’t this guy throw it? That pissed me off more than how much the chai sucked. I shot off an angry email to the management about how something as simple as chai sucked, while their chefs were winning awards. I sympathise with them: imagine having your days full with meetings aimed at getting more funding for your company, and having to deal with one self-important prick who thinks your chai is not up to his gold standards.
They were nice. There was some assurance given and taken, but the damage would take some time to heal.
A couple of lessons were learnt though: if you know you’ve made bad chai, have the courtesy to throw it. And when you’re not in the mood for making masala chai, DON’T fucking make masala chai.