Just trying to feel my fingers around words (after a long gap in blogging) with the aid of a cup of black tea, my new-found love.
I disliked black tea.
The dark, astringent, dusty liquid with jagged corners every molecule, that cut and rearrange the very formation of my taste buds and thoughts had nothing in common with me, I always knew, and but, yeah, I must admit, I too never caught it – that egoist of a beverage – claim that it ever had got anything in common with me. It disliked me too. We lived in the opposite hemispheres of the same planet, disclaiming each other, looking the other way around, even when we ran into each other in a room, occasionally.
“Oh, it is muggy and dark here!”
“Oh, how much a man can stink!”
We grumbled aloud and shuffled out from the room at the first light after the rain, glowing in an inner glee, only bitter enemies could glee, after a taunt, we successfully hurled at the other.
Did I say I hated all things TEA!
Sorry, while the black tea demurred in a corner, the dark periphery of my vision, sulking in the closet, its milky bro lived royally in my life; it never failed to pep my evenings and mornings up with its sweet sonatas (Did it smack racism? Don’t know. Who knows! Can’t say).
I fell in love with tea as a child not because I believed all that crap that regularly appeared in magazines that claims: tea fights cancer, tea pummels ulcer, tea perfumes bad breath, tea beats cholesterol to pulp, tea stomps down blood pressure, and that tea vapourizes chunks of fat around my abdomen, but with surgical precision, steers clear of the skinny fat around my lean arms and limbs, without whittling them into bones. I fell in love with tea because I grew up watching my parents taking to tea with passion (Only milk-tea! We had other poverties, but not the black tea poverty and the rice gruel poverty, which could have made me a versatile writer of nostalgia. We came late. We belong to Generation Porotta).
I don’t remember the first time my folks rubbed tea at the entrance of my toothless mouth, and watched in amusement, twiddling their fingers in excitement, as that little beast of my tongue, which so stupidly fell for the game, tottered out of my gums and lips with half-peeled eyes, probed what the wind had carried to its door, liked that warm wetness at its feet, hauled it in, to unpack it in leisure. Tang! The child could have exploded into a pucker. I can still hear the wicked and childish laughter of my parents as they savoured my plingful expression assimilating the first tealeaves of my life.
Nature was kind to my apathy to black tea all my life until a few months ago, when I went deep into the woods.
“Take this sir.”
Through beads of sweat hanging from my eyelids I saw the skewed face of my enemy – a glass of tea, black, no, not exactly black, but black’s earnest attempt to blush, a red-black. I tried to look away embarrassed, summoning other thoughts, as if, someone else could take the tea in time to save my blushes, but tea waited smugly, with a cruel patriarchally condescending air. “Tea, sir.”
I raised my head again, looked and sighed.
All else – the foliage in the background, the blue mountains, the setting sun, and even the forest guard who held the glass were all out of focus, dimmed to distance, thanks to a 25 kilometer walk in the wild since sunup that morning to reach here, in a camp shed deep in Silent Valley. Dead tired, panting, legs aching, with a thousand needles stung hard into my back, I could not even rise up from the parapet outside the camp shed where I sat, to ask for a little milk. Even a hint of a forest breeze sent shudders down my spine. The black got me pinned against a wall finally in all sense. My vision blurred, the only crisp image before me was this dark concoction, my archenemy, that now began to grow before my eyes every minute, to engulf the horizon, the mountain and the setting sun.
“You need it sir.”
I didn’t let him complete. I grabbed the glass, drew it in one gulp, steam included, wiped my lips and looked up with the pathetic eyes of a grateful dog, pleading for more. Abject surrender.
Inside I felt the earth rumble.
It was a revelation, a koan, a kick of epiphany. I could feel a thousand crackers going off in my body. Instantly. At the mouth, the black tea, hardly believing where it had stumbled into finally, soon took to its feet, went into a wild pillage, romped and sloshed around in abandon, soaking and electrocuting every tastebud, pinching it, pulling it, pinching it again to its heart’s content, razing down citadel after citadel in the blood streams beneath that held out against the black assault for the last 42 years, while a brain stymied seeing who the stranger at the door was – for a whole minute it sat on adrenaline and dopamine, deciding on what to send as a token of breaking protocols to welcome the tea – got too excited, stammered, sputtered, fumbled, and finally crashed down.
After a few minutes I took the tea to the woods.
Never had I seen such lush green in my life, the trees and the mountains have turned so crisp that even the smallest twig fought for my attention. Suddenly I felt I grew a few fingers which could grasp the ungraspable around! I could even pick the wingbeats of damselflies! Before I thought about smiling I broke into a song! Before I thought about rising from where I sat, I was already on my feet gamboling around the camp shed, counting and even outrunning sprightly butterflies. Before I thought about putting in a sentence on Silent Valley, I had finished a whole chapter on the woods, and through curls of smoke wafting from my cup, I saw fresh words and wonderful metaphors still waiting to rain down from my finger-tips.
I thought about all those magic I had been keeping outside my life because of my foolhardiness and prejudice.
A sojourn for a brief time our life is, and still how we fill our rented boat with too huge an ego that very few experiences could find a foothold in us!
Well friends, it was the beginning of a tempestuous affair. They say love will make a dog howl in rhyme; love in the 40s gives you a sort of freedom to howl even without rhyme or shame.
Ah, black tea! Tonight I can write to her the loveliest lines! Through nights like this one, I held her in my arms, I sipped her again and again under the endless sky!
How she waited for me in camp stations deep in the woods (for the last few months since I started my jungle trips), after long and tiring walks, how she crooned to me words before I went to sleep, woke me up into stunning sunrises, saw me through the stiff icy winds on the nights on the crest of mountains in Eravikulam, consoled me in the evening when I failed to find a tiger even after a week’s long and tiring expeditions in Parambikkulam, telling me to believe her, and to wait for yet another day!
PS: The writer also has a wife and a daughter.