So many stories in a cup of tea!


Tea stalls in India are ubiquitous. You will find them on busy roads, sometimes more than one on a road; outside theatres, outside office complexes, near the vegetable market, everywhere.

Most of them serve coffee, tea, hot milk and a limited menu of yummy snacks that vary depending on the time of day.

The beverages are served in small cups made of thick glass. I am yet to see a tea stall that is not doing brisk business throughout the day.

Some of them play the latest Bollywood hit numbers. The owners of all these tea stalls know their regular customers and their unique preferences – less sugar, black coffee etc.

They laugh and joke, their hands boiling, sieving and serving, without missing a beat. Nerve centres in people’s days, where they come to recharge or unwind.

I remember one such tea stall near my parents’ home. Every evening, my Dad and I would stop by to have a cup of tea, laced with fresh ginger and cardamom, when my kids and I stayed with them during the holidays.

And when we sipped our teas and chit-chatted, many regulars would also be there. A man, whose wife was in hospital, who would come there, with a thermos to buy coffee to take with him to the hospital, after work. There was a group of sales executives, with their ties loosened, discussing their sales calls over a cuppa. They joked with the tea stall owner and went on their way. There were two nurses who stopped by to buy snacks for their children on their way home.

There was an old woman, who would also visit the tea stall at the same time. Her wizened face bore the grooves of many wrinkles, wrinkles that had witnessed her hard life. She did odd jobs in the area and from what we knew, she lived alone. Making ends meet would have been a challenge. But, every evening, she would come to the stall, neatly dressed, with a string of jasmine adorning her loosely tied chignon, and a big red bindi on her forehead. She had bright eyes and a mouth that looked like it had smiled a lot despite the difficult journey.

On one such day, as we sipped our tea, the old woman walked to the stall and placed her coins on the counter, asking for her usual tea and bajji. She proceeded to enjoy this with relish, slurping the tea in an almost musical way. She would nibble into the bajji and then sip. We watched her, enthralled. This was probably an important part of her day. Her eyes stared into the distance, as we wondered what thoughts visited her mind.

And after she finished her tea, the stall owner called out to her, “Amma (Mom), do you want another cup?”

She replied, “Don’t have change.”

The owner said, “There’s an offer today, buy one get one free.”

Her eyes appreciated his generosity and kindness, but her shoulders stiffened proudly, as she smiled and walked away, nodding her head to say no.

The tea stall was a world unto itself. People dropping in to unwind, stopping to catch up with friends, sometimes relaxed, sometimes in a hurry to get to their next appointment, sometimes happy, sometimes sad.

So many stories in a cup of tea!

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Another Day Begins


I am on my morning walk.  I enjoy the cool air as it envelopes my face.  The Sun is still an orange tinge on the horizon.

I see other joggers and walkers.  Some are techie-joggers, they have devices strapped to their arms and their wrists, measuring various parameters.  They are on a mission, say their serious faces, burn, calorie, burn.

Cute little dogs are on their morning walks too, pausing here, sniffing there, enjoying the smells of dawn.  Their owners stretch themselves, sometimes walking, sometimes trotting with their pets.

The drone of vehicles has started on the main road, as I leave our building. Early morning office-goers, trim and proper, in their formal attire, well groomed and ready to take on the day, with their laptops and papers and smartphones.

School-going children waiting at the bus stops for their buses. Teens listening to music, the younger ones chattering away, some other ones still half-asleep, clinging to their moms.

The last-minute breakfast-munchers, quickly biting into a sandwich, as they get ready to take on their day.

One set of people going into the tube station, one set coming out, both sets in a hurry, smoking, eating, talking into their phones, but hurrying.

The newspaper vendor, doing brisk business, as everybody wants to know what’s happened in the world, while they slept on.

The caffeine-lovers, who sip large-size take-away coffees, as they walk.  I want my coffee too, but I have to finish my morning beat.

When I reach the stadium, all these thoughts vanish, as I watch people whizzing past, walking at alarming speeds, jogging and some even sprinting.  A few stretch, a few curl, a few twist, a few climb, a few hang….on the exercise bars.

I join the ‘serious‘ now. Meeting my fitness goals for the day. The Sun is up and about.  I finish. I guzzle water.

I head back home.  The frantic office-goers are now replaced by older folk, who are on their morning walk; men and women walk back, swinging their tennis or badminton rackets, after energetic games.

The vehicles are noisier, the Sun is warmer, the trees are greener, the wind is warm.  I reach home. I measure, I note.

I turn my attention to the rest of my day.

From a bookworm


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I am a bookworm. If I could, I would spend all my time with books, yellowed or frayed, dog-eared or shiny and new, from the library or from the bookstore.

I could snuggle inside a book all day and feel the words wrap around me. My bookshelf is an old-cane one, that has borne the weight of millions of words that have been lovingly chiseled into beautiful books.

Each time I read a great book, I pause and wonder about the journey of words from the author’s mind to the printed word – scratched or deleted, replaced or enhanced! The fountain of ideas never seems to dry up. Amazing books are being conceived and written even at this moment.

The pleasure of reading reigns supreme in my life – reading a good book, by the window, on my easy chair, with a fresh mug of coffee. Idyllic! Rain lashing outside would be an added bonus.

Like caffeine-shots, I need my book-shots every night. My books are scattered around our home. Their covers, spines and smells invigorate me.

My love affair with books started when I was in grade three. Every Sunday, my sister and I would accompany our dad to the vegetable market. From there, we would drop in at my dad’s brother’s house. Enroute to my uncle’s home, there was a book shop. My dad would buy us a comic each. We would finish reading one comic each in our uncle’s house. Once we got back home, we would swap our books and read the other’s. What joy!

When a library opened close to where we lived, my sister and I were there at opening time during our holidays, waiting to get in and borrow books. We would then run home to read.

We read late into the night, with our granny’s voice chiding us to sleep. To hide the fact that we were reading late into the night from our parents, we would put a thick towel under the door, to prevent light from escaping through the crack at the bottom.

There is always a book that travels with me in my handbag. I unabashedly bend my head to look at book titles that people are reading on the train or in the airport.

I check online for lists like ‘100 books to read before you die’, just to be sure I don’t miss the good ones.

Books continue to shape my life in so many many ways. If there is one legacy I want to leave behind for my children, it would be my books. My happiest moments are those, when I see my children finish a great book and look up with that blissful expression- an expression that only other bookworms would understand.

Books, books everywhere but not enough time to read.

Hot Bajjis & Filter Coffee on A Rainy Day


It has been a hot, humid day thus far.  Finally, in the afternoon, the glare of the Sun is hidden by clouds, grey, dark grey and now black.  The clouds hang low in the sky, waiting for a signal to let go of the heavy water drops they are patiently bearing.  I stand on my balcony, watching.  The birds are waiting, the green leaves are parched, and waiting.  The humidity is killing.

In a few minutes, plop, plop, the rain drops fall down..huge heavy drops, reveling in their free fall from the heavens.  Big drops, falling faster now, sheets of silver gray, as they beat against the windows and fall on my potted plants.  The trees enjoy this fresh wash as they sway in the gentle wind that blows with the rain, now this side, now that side.

I allow the rain drops to fall on my face, the small needles of water rejuvenate me. Little silver threads moving in a cascade with the wind, the soothing sounds, the gentle flow of water as it touches the earth.

The children are expected from school any moment now.  What’s a rainy day, if one is not tucking into something yummy to eat!

 I decide to make ‘bajjis’ – potato slices dipped in gram flour batter to which salt, chilly powder and a pinch of asafoetida are added.  I pour oil in the wok and switch on the hob.  When the oil is heated just enough, I fry the ‘bajjis‘.

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As they gurgle and fry in the oil, I make a cup of filter coffee for myself.

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South India Filter Coffee in its traditional steel tumbler and cup (davara)

The first batch of bajjis is ready, a dollop of tomato ketchup and we’re good to go.Featured imageI watch the rain from my kitchen; the aroma that’s unique to frying, travels in the air. Tiny wisps of these may have escaped through the bottom of the main door.  In a few minutes, the children come trooping in, hair wet, clothes plastered and sniffing the air appreciatively, “Mom, what’s cooking?”

Bajjis“, I reply.

“Yummy”, they chorus.  Golden bajjis with ketchup, washed down with rain!

On Being Indian During the ICC World Cup


We Indians are an emotional lot!  We are quite vocal, have very strong views about cricket, about our players and about every little thing associated with cricket.

Having won the 2011 ICC World Cup, the pressure on the team, carrying the expectations and hopes of 1.2 billion people, can only be imagined.  The excitement in the country is palpable.  Retailers & brands are probably torn between promoting Valentine’s Day and the ICC World Cup, especially on day one.

Inside each home, cable connections are being checked, schedules are being matched with fixtures. People are probably trying to complete important assignments at work so as to keep their schedules relatively free to watch the matches.

I can imagine the scene in each Indian house – the whole family before the TV, the mom supplying a constant stream of samosas, pakodas, tea & coffee.  I can imagine neighbours from one block, all gathering in one house to watch the India- matches, yummy food from each house, lots of chips and drinks. Boisterous yelling, whooping, unblinking eyes,collective sighing and a billion hearts palpitating.  I can imagine the curses and yells of frustration, when a power cut happens during a crucial match.

I can see boys, girls & men wearing the same T-shirt they wore the last time round, for good luck. I can see people who stood up in the last World Cup, when a wicket fell, and who then continued to stand till the end of the match, for fear that a change in their posture would alter the outcome of the match. Will these people stand through all matches that India will play for this World Cup too?

I can imagine people talking cricket, walking cricket, breathing cricket and arguing cricket endlessly.  Cricket is the pulse of the nation after all.

And as 1.2 billion hearts pulse in unison the refrain, “India, India, India, India”, my heart pulses with them, as I wish the Men in Blue the very best.

Good luck, Team India.

Airport Persona


After an hour-long drive, the taxi driver drops me off at the airport. It is 10 pm and my flight is only at 1.30 a.m. I resign myself to this long wait.

I am not an airport person at all. The cold gets to me.  I am already wrapped up in my ‘goes-with-me-everywhere’ shawl.  I finish all the formalities and settle down to wait.

I am a silent observer now. I watch and categorize the people in the airport.

The ‘talkers’, who are talking non-stop into their phones.

The ‘earphoners’,  with earphones that look like extensions of their body, gently moving their head or tapping their feet.

Then there are the ‘oblivious’. Fully stretched out and deep in sleep..(what if they miss the announcement for their flights or don’t hear the alarm?)

The ‘duty free shoppers’, who do the rounds of all the shops till their flight is called.

The ‘hassled moms’ who are managing cranky kids or high-energy toddlers, who run around the airport.

The ‘corporates’ – men and women in formals, still working away on their laptops, signing major deals, and so busy at this unearthly hour.

Then the ‘models’ – women who look so well-groomed and fresh despite the lateness of the hour. How do they manage it?

Then there are the ‘readers’ – who scour the bookshops in the airport or who take out books from their hand bags & read till they land at their destination.

Then the ‘coffee & tea’ drinkers – at the coffee shops – busy sipping and enjoying themselves.

Then the ‘pacers’, who can’t seem to sit still. They pace up and down.

Don’t know which group I fall under – maybe a ‘reader’ sometimes & ‘coffee drinker’ sometimes, ‘duty free shopper’ too maybe, but never a ‘model’. Would love to be in the ‘oblivious’ group but am too paranoid about missing my flight. Imagine enduring another day in the airport!

For now, I am frozen and wishing I could be back home, stretched out in the comfort of my bed.

Sigh…52 minutes more.

Couch Potato for the day


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Today is Sunday. No deadlines to chase, no lists to tick-off (I mean, there are, but they don’t seem important).  The day has started quite well.  My husband & children have made plans to visit the zoo, yet again.  They ask me if I want to join them, but I decline.

“The howler monkey, at the entrance, will probably call out to me in recognition, ” I say. My preteen rolls her eyes at the poor joke, while my son giggles at this ‘funny joke’.

Actually a selfish thought  takes root in my brain. Imagine, six hours of solitude.

The family troops out at 10 am.  I shut the door and amble back to the couch.  I deliberate on what I should do to maximize these six hours – a visit to the spa? haircut? pedicure? No, screams my brain, no.  My inner voice announces the final decision, stay put on the couch the whole day and watch television, eat, and catch some shut eye.

With the decision made, I make arrangements to transform into a couch potato for the day.  I bring some junk food, a water bottle, and a freshly popped packet of popcorn to the coffee table.  I throw in some magazines to the ‘couch-potato package’. I make two steaming mugs of filter coffee and pour them into a thermos.  This too gets added to the coffee table.

I am ready now.  I plump up the cushions and settle in comfortably.  All the remotes, my phone and the tablet are with me.  I switch on my tablet and browse through some videos.  I see one of my favourite actors from an eighties movie.  My brain immediately hyperlinks to a soap that used to air when I was still in college.  I search for it, and the Internet doesn’t disappoint.  I start watching, one episode after another.

I cry at the sentimental bits without inhibition and without my husband’s voice telling me, “It is only a movie, all those people are going to finish their shoot and go home to a nice dinner. Don’t waste your tears.”

I laugh and giggle at the funny bits, stuffing popcorn and wafers into my mouth, without missing a beat.  I pour myself a hot cup of coffee and sip it as the story progresses.  I feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into the couch.  It is mid-day now.  The sun is streaming into the living room and I am loath to get up from the couch.

The series finally gets over, along with the huge tub of popcorn.  Today, there is no place for guilt in my life.  I switch off the TV and stretch out on the couch.  I love the silence in the house.  I hear some thud-thudding from my neighbour above and two mynas calling out from the tree nearby.  Otherwise, pure bliss.

I put my mobile on silent mode, as I feel sleep overtaking me.  I fall and fall into layers of sleep, deeper and deeper.  I am in dream land, and there is a kaleidoscopic panorama unfolding in these layers of sleep. I don’t know what I dream about, but the visuals keep changing.

I wake up and look at the clock.  I have been in oblivion for nearly three hours.  The room has become less bright now as the sun has moved across to my neighbours’ block.  I am still stuck to the couch, no plans to move anytime soon.  I stretch to pour the second cup of coffee and enjoy every sip.  I browse through the magazines and read the news on my tablet.

I am done with all that I’d planned.  What next?  I smile in happiness at the wonderful day it’s been.  I stretch like a cat and feel the tensions of the week dissipating.

I, me, myself…superlative!

Coffee, me, myself Part II – Enter the dragon


I have to warn you that if you want to drop by at our home between 7 am and 8 am on a weekday morning, you may not meet me but a fire-spewing dragon.

I am a night owl, and when the Sun actually rises, it is still midnight in night owl world.  Imagine being forced to wake up at midnight every morning to send your children to school.Featured image

The strong filter coffee jolts me awake. With my hair tied up in a grim knot, I am ready to take on this mad hour in my kitchen. My brain is processing four completely asymptotic threads of activity.  Within the next 60 minutes I have to process six different lunch & snack boxes in various combinations to meet individual requirements. The four burners on my hob are working full steam, now cooking, now boiling, now frying.  I am like an octopus, my hands moving with precision, stirring the contents of one pan &  tossing another. All it takes is one moment of inattention and the dosa is burnt, sugar goes in where salt should have gone….you get the picture?

Sounds from elsewhere in the house indicate that the children are awake and fighting over that most precious morning resource – the bathroom. Suddenly the tenor of those voices change….there is a full blown pillow fight. I reduce the flame to simmer on all burners and run to play referee. I moderate and resolve. I am rewarded with two titles simultaneously, ‘mean mom’ and ‘best mom’. The burning smell from the kitchen has me sprinting…not too much damage, thankfully.

Breakfast, lunch and snack items are produced and stacked on the kitchen counter.  I carefully check if I have colour coordinated the hand towels with the right boxes. No pinks and girly colours for my boy.The kitchen looks like a gale just blew through it. Water bottles are filled and I look at the clock. 7.55 am….Phew!

My son walks in at that precise moment with a wail, “Mom, I need 10 pictures of vehicles for a class project.”

I yell at no one in particular, “This is the icing on the cake”. 


I shoot off prints and cut the pictures & hand them to my son. My body is now emitting steam. 

The children start their breakfast. My son positions his book where his plate should be; his hand moves at a weird angle to shove food into his mouth. My daughter’s hand has paused midway to her mouth as her eyes devour the book she is reading. I let out another volley of ‘mom-pletives’ and the pace of breakfast consumption improves. This is followed by another round of yelling to ensure that the kids have remembered to take all their stuff.  In all this chaos, my husband remains calm, focused on the newspaper, totally oblivious to the mad household erupting all around him.  Finally everybody is ready. I let out a huge sigh of steam as each member leaves the house.


 I have the feeling of having completed a high-intensity cardio workout. Wonder why the weighing scale shows no change ?