The Role of Journalism in History

In his section on Opium in the book, This is Your Mind on Plants, the author Michael Pollan writes about how his first story that was to appear in the leading newspapers in the 1990s was redacted and cut after a legal review. (The entire essay is printed in the book that was published 20 years later). This essay seems to precede the opioid crises in America that was to surface just a decade later. But it was apparent that the undercurrent was already at play. The world just had no idea how it would pan out. 

This is your mind on plants – Michael Pollan

His sentence on journalism and its bearing on History resonated on so many levels, that I noted it down then and there. 

“There’s a parable here somewhere, about the difference between journalism and history. What might appear to be “the story” in the present moment may actually be a distraction from it, a shiny object preventing us from seeing the truth of what is really going on beneath the surface of our attention, what will most deeply affect people’s lives in time.”

Michael Pollan – Our Mind on Plants

Later in the book, when he is talking about caffeine, he mentions this piece of Asian history that emerged from the tea-drinking habit of the British. By the 1800’s tea drinking had become a normal routine of English life. Jane Austen refers to tea in her books published in the early 1880s. In the book, Alice in Wonderland, published in 1865, tea parties are galore. 

“Yes, that’s it! “, said the Hatter

with a sigh, “it’s always tea time.”

Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland

Here is the excerpt of the section on the British East India Company’s tea trade with China.

Since the company had to pay for tea in Sterling, and China had little interest in English goods, England began running a ruinous trade deficit with China. The East India Company came up with two clever strategies to improve its balance and payments position: it turned to India, a country it controlled that had no history of large-scale tea production, and transformed it into a leading producer of tea – and opium. The tea was exported to England and the opium, over the strenuous objections of the Chinese government, was smuggled into China, in what would quickly become a ruinous and unconscionable flood.

By 1828, the opium trade represented 16% of the company’s revenues, and within 5 years, the East India company was sending more than 5 million pounds of Indian opium to China per year. This helped close the trade deficit but millions of Chinese became addicted. After the Chinese emperor ordered the seizure of all stores of opium in 1839, Britain declared war to keep the opium flowing. Owing to the Royal Navy’s vastly superior firepower, the British quickly prevailed, forcing open 5 “treaty ports” and taking possession of Hong King in a crushing blow to China’s sovereignty and economy,.

So here was another moral cost of caffeine: in order for the English mind to be sharpened with tea, the Chinese mind had to be clouded with opium.”

Michael Pollan – This is your mind on Plants

The adage ‘History is written by the victor’ does ring true in most cases. How many perspectives of every narrative are there? How does one classify a good side or a bad side? The perspective of time lends a helpful lens. For instance, when Madeleine Albright, the first woman senator met Vladimir Putin in the 1990’s, she was asked of her opinion of him. She recognized him as a despot in the making, and one who was preternaturally occupied with the idea of a United Sovereign States of Russia (USSR before it disintegrated into Russia + all the other smaller countries). I suppose this is an example of a seed taking root in one’s mind and growing and festering with time. The war on Ukraine is but a step in that direction.

More importantly though, what is current journalism missing for the larger picture today? Whether it is in the reporting of Covid, the Ukraine crisis, or the larger commodity of people’s attention spans. Our future generations would point to this day and age of our shrinking attention spans in an attempt to capture our attentions, and see the arc from some place that humanity had reached. Would it be a virtual reality universe designed to give us more options to escape from life, or will life itself change? Nobody knows. But in order to see how it pans out, we need our critical faculties about us. 

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ said Alice.

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the cat. ‘We’re all mad here.’

Lewis Carroll


“There is some Tea in school, and everyone is acting really weird!” said the daughter announcing her entry into the house a couple of years ago, dumping her school bag where it must not be dumped.

“Oh – did you have some? Did you like it?” I said a trifle too eagerly. I am a tea-lover myself, and have been trying to get some company in the house whenever I brew the marvelous beverage. All efforts have fallen flat thus far. The husband likes coffee, and the children swear by chocolate flavored drinks (the teenager also has her tongue out for Boba – a heady mix of tapioca pearls and sugar that suddenly coasted into popularity like the record albums of these young artists you had never heard of before.)

If I could exalt any beverage to Divinity, I would pump for the humble Tea.


I have been teased multiple times about High Tea and every now and then pick up a Miss Read book for she properly exalts Tea and the ritual of Tea drinking:

“The very ritual of tea-making, warming the pot, making sure that the water is just boiling, inhaling the fragrant steam, arranging the tea-cosy to fit snugly around the precious container, all the preliminaries lead up to the exquisite pleasure of sipping the brew from thin porcelain, and helping yourself to hot buttered scones and strawberry jam, a slice of feather-light sponge cake or home-made shortbread.”

“Isn’t Tea just marvelous?” I said again, for the scholar had lapsed into a silence.

“Generally, I am like not opposed to like Tea as long as like it doesn’t like you know like hurt anyone, but this time they are all like acting so weird! I mean like come on! Like nobody is going to remember it like next week!” she said liberally sprinkling the ‘likes’ in the sentence.

I was fogged. When had Tea hurt anyone?

“Please! Please! How many likes will you put into a sentence that doesn’t need ‘Like’ A.n.y.!” I said carefully quoting the ‘like’ in my sentence with air quotes. “If I were to write out that sentence, no one would give you any Tea!” I said, looking proud of myself for bringing the topic of disc back to the marvelous beverage of my dreams and likes.

The daughter looked at me with the tender look one reserves for the dim-witted, and tousled my hair. “Oh! you don’t know what Tea is right?”

I drew myself up. I may not have any accomplishments of note in other areas, but in the area of Tea, you could not say that. “ I am not just boasting about the fact that I can be counted upon to have Tea with Friends any time, I also take pride in knowing some friends who know all about Tea! The Nilgirisis a major producer of the divine drink – the beautiful hills does not only use its marvelous climes to produce this drink of the gods, but also nourishes the people who have the luck of calling the hills their home, you know?” I said looking proud of myself. “And – and I am not done yet! Though I may not be able to tell you the process and the differences in tastes of the different types of Tea, there are plenty of good friends of mine who can. “


“You’re just salty that your posts on Tea don’t even like get half as many ‘Likes’ as the number of likes in my sentence!” she said.


“OOOOHHHH!” said the cheering squad witnessing the exchange in the kitchen.

“Okay – Like I told you before: you really need to listen to what I say more closely! Anyway, like I was saying: Tea is mildly annoying stuff that isn’t great. It isn’t as bad as Gossip …” she said, knowing how I will frown upon gossip. “but sometimes can start bordering on that line.”

The English Language is ever evolving and fluid language is marvelous to behold. Really Tea is essentially a social activity, even though we have taken to gulping it down to and from meetings in the most unceremonious manner these days. What I would do to have a proper Tea Time marked in the calendar to catch up with friends instead of this frenzied gulping? So, I suppose using Tea as a word for this essential yet inessential banter is amusing and I must appreciate the folks who thought of using it for this purpose.

I remember enlightening my parents on my trip from College about adding Pongal & Kadalai to our jargons.

In college, I found to my amusement that Kadalai and Pongal did not mean groundnuts and boiled rice with lentils & pepper. It refers to Tea with the Gender specifications added in (You ground-nut-ted when with the opposite sex, and Pongal-ed er rice-lentil-with-pepper-ed with those of the same sex)

Essentially, these refer to non-essential communications that are essential. They are the stuff that link us humans together – one groundnut, lentil piece, or cup of tea at a time.

Language and stylistic constructs will continue to evolve, and that is as it should be. Our languages will continue to merge, diminish, and ebb and flow with our populace and time.

“I’d like to sip some Tea while listening to your Tea dear!” I said finally looking proud of myself.
“Good one Amma! Waiting to say that haven’t you?”
“Yep! “I said. Triumph comes in tea-sized bites.


Nature’s Adventures

The son and I read a chapter book together. Hitherto, we watered gardens with Liam in The Curious Garden, or ate cookies out of a tin with Frog and Toad. This time we decided to spend several days with Edward and Avon in ‘The End of the Beginning‘. Avon, the snail wants an adventure and he seeks it with the help of his friend, the ant Edward. Over the next twenty odd chapters, the pair of them meet salamanders and have perilous snail crossings on narrow bridges. The beauty of the whole thing is that they had never really left their tree branch. At the end of their long and arduous journey, the pair of them find themselves facing the end of the branch and turn back. The Beginning of the End. Or does the end signal a new beginning?

The book had many philosophical sayings, and the next time the son and I observe a snail, we shall wonder what goes on in that animal’s brain.  Adventures do not need exotic settings or the need to traverse large oceans. It is all right there on the tree branch.


It also brought back some of the best adventures I had had as a child in the Nilgiri Hills growing up in those wonderful surroundings cradled by Mother Nature. Everyday from our Elementary school a few kilometers away, we took a different route walking home. One day we stuck to the narrow roads laid out by the municipality as an occasional vehicle passed us. Another day, we slid down the hills, picked some berries at the bottom of the hill and found another narrow footpath leading home. There were days when the walk took us twenty minutes, and days when it took us an hour. The whole place was tiny enough to not merit a marking on the map of the state, but it held adventures enough for a lifetime for us.

sultan's life

The toddler son and I enjoy taking a walk in our neighborhood and finding little by lanes within our neighborhood. For us, it is a revelation of sorts. One path leads you to the shaded path with oleander trees sagging with the weight of the summer flowers.


Another path in the neighborhood has an plum tree that shows you how squirrels thrive near that tree. We see clusters of plums flung to the ground with nothing but a bite taken off of them. Every time I see those little eaten plums, I think back to one glorious summer afternoon spent in a friend’s garden. We had a blue quilted comforter laid out on the lawn and were watching the breeze gently ruffle the grass and skim the trees  as the children played. The son was then a baby and sat up in that adorable fashion that made him look and sway like a bowling pin used to prop open a door. Pretty soon, the topic turned to squirrels and fruit trees. Our host then set about plucking plums from his tree before the squirrels got them. We sauntered over to inspect, suggest and generally hinder the fruit picking process when I heard a slurp. Turning around we saw we’d saved the plums from the squirrels, but the baby human squirrel in our midst was looking triumphant: red-lipped, red-cheeked and red-chinned having bitten into the plums himself. Talk about being caught red-handed .

Night Life

There are wonders galore in our own little branch, if only we set out to find them.

An Asian Reading Fest

Regular readers of the blog know that we recently returned from an Asian vacation. Every time I take a vacation with the sister in the Middle East, she has a set of books ready for me to read. The books she had laid out for me this time included books written by Jean Sasson, who happens to be one of her favorite authors. Jean Sasson  was a nurse by profession and spent a little more than a decade working and living in Saudi Arabia. One of the princesses of the Al Saud family solicited Jean’s help in telling the inside story of a Saudi princess’s life. She has since written eleven books dealing with various problems faced by middle eastern women.

This time, the book I chose from her pile was ‘Growing Up Bin Laden’. It is a book about Osama Bin Laden as told to Jean Sasson by Osama Bin Laden’s fourth son, Omar Bin Laden and his first wife, Najwa Bin Laden. She uses their alternating voices in the book to tell the story of his life. It is the first book of the kind and is an interesting read.

I am following up this book with two books that I hope to write about soon in conjunction with Growing Up Bin Laden:
Al Qaeda, The Islamist State And The Jihadist War by Daniel Beaman &
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

I suppose I expect to get a glimpse of the view from within Bin Laden’s family, from a professor on Middle Eastern Affairs and a President who finally caught Bin Laden, but is abetted by a world that is still host to a variety of terrorist organizations.

Serious fare thus far you will agree, so I followed it up with delightful fare.

What better mode to release those endorphins than by paying a visit to Malgudi?


I fell in love again with R.K.Narayan and his writings. Every time I read one of his books, I am amazed at how simply, how nonchalantly he takes you on a stroll along the Sarayu river after passing through the tantalizing wares on Market Street or on quieter days muse and saunter along Vinayak Mudali Street, passing Albert Mission College on the way. The charm of Malgudi never stales. I have come back and scoured the local library for books on R.K.Narayan and find very few.

Note to self: Buy some books by this great writer and donate to the library the next time I visit.


While I visited the hills of Dehradun with Ruskin Bond, or Malgudi with R.K.Narayan, the husband took off on his own into the Tamil world of Sujata.

Blissful are the days when one is visiting another world while sipping tea in a cool room.

S’mores by the Russian River

We’d been up to the Russian River for a spot of camping and the children were obviously enamored by the flowing water. It was a  lovely river and the day was even better: Cloudy and just warm enough to not make it uncomfortable. The river was teeming with people – some canoeing, some kayaking, some paddle-boating, some just wading in the waters. There was some sort of boat race, and the local canoeing club was obviously busy with its river rentals and before we knew it, we had saddled ourselves with three canoes, a paddle boat and a highly enthusiastic bunch of children.

The whole experience brought good memories of reading Three Men In a Boat and I found myself looking at the book longingly again. It was time for a re-read.

The daughter and her friends teamed up to canoe out on their own, and made a lot of noise about girl power. They got themselves into the canoe, looking spruce and fit in their life jackets and picked up their oars. They looked ebullient at this new-found independence and pride at having been allowed to strike out on their own.

“Go Girls!” they screamed, but of course nothing happened till the local nib who rented us the canoes untied the thing and pushed it mid-stream.

The toddler son looked forlorn at not being chosen first by his sister to get on the boat. He was usually chosen, why not now? Was it because he could not row? Well, if that was the case, he was going to show her that he could. Yes he was. 

A few minutes later, all the boats had pushed off like drunken lads swaggering from a pub, and only the youngest boys were left behind by their doting sisters.

The boys looked solemn: If their sisters decided to strike out as Four Little Women In A Boat, then they would do their best to be Two Little Men Without A Boat. They found themselves a paddle each and spent the entire hour paddling standing firmly in the water. They took Jerome K Jerome’s words to heart:


“Life was not an idle dream to be gaped and yawned through, but a noble task, full of duty and stern work. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

They found themselves going forward 5 steps and then being yanked back by 3 steps.

It was later that we learned that the girls performed in much the same way downstream when they had difficulty maneuvering their canoe. At first, they resolutely declined help from the men, and preferred to get down themselves to push the boat out again. The river was shallow enough even in the middle of the river bed for the girls to stand and push.

As they sailed into harbor, they were soaking wet and remarkably happy at being able to jump into the water.

The burgers, salads and s’mores after a day like that, were especially welcome to the children.

“We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach.  Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and judgment. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

The Contentment Unit of Measurement

This Spring, we are with Bala, that gullible grandfather with a booming voice, hearty antics, a retired man with a ros-ie outlook on the working life, and genuinely enjoying the company of his grandchildren: young blood and all that.

As I have written before, what with the pace of life and so on, we decided to take a short trip up the hills to Lake Tahoe. It was a marvelous time to visit. The mountains had had a fresh sprinkling of snow less than two days before our visit, but you’d never know it, the way the sun beamed down upon us as we ascended the mountains. Pure bliss. Lake Tahoe is one of those places that can soothe as well as it can pump adrenaline for the adventurous. And why not? There is a pursuit there for every one. From the quiet walks, to the serene views, to the snow, there is Paradise right here.


We stayed at a house with a kitchen in it, so the mother was content. Finding a good kitchen in which to make a warm meal to feed her family at the end of the day is what makes the mother happy. So be it.

After a hot dinner, I sat with my legs-up on one of the fuzzy armchairs for a spot of reading. A reading light provided just the right amount of light, the son played with his cars on the floor, the daughter arranged the setting for a board game, the fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, and it was a cozy scene. I had picked out a magazine on mountain living or some such thing, from the conveniently placed magazine trove nearby. It turned out to have rather a lot of material and pictures on houses in the area. Lovely pictures of clean houses with vases, throws and plumped up cushions. I mused on the cleaning effort that goes into an everyday home.

One time I remember dropping into a friend’s house without calling in advance and was struck by how neat the whole place was. Not even a key was out of place. My own key was missing from the center table where I had placed it. I looked for it while leaving, only to find that my friend’s then 3 year old son, had taken the keys and put them away in the Keys Drawer. I was so impressed.

Things are different on our side of the spectrum. Oh so different! When I walk into a hotel room for instance, I can slice and dice the room in a jiffy and tell you how it will be after a day or two of us in there. I can tell you where exactly the rental papers will be strewn, where the keys will be plopped, where the chargers would be hanging and tangling themselves, where the socks will be bubbling out of the shoes and where the wet towels would be laid out.

I thumbed through the pages, all the while admiring the neat photographs, and wondering how people lived like that. The husband belongs to the jolly category of people who will tell you that a squeaky clean place like that must

(a) belong in a magazine for photographic purposes or

(b) be a hotel,

and then proceed to flop his coat on the recently cleaned couch.

Of course, this is a source of trouble in the dear home. For me, not him. For the misplaced coat never seems to bother him. He is convinced about the too-neat-to-be-a-home theory. A theory in which he is ardently supported and praised by his loving father-in-law, who thinks nothing of stewing brochures and magazines in every available spot in the house.

Storms, Televisions & Other Things
Storms, Televisions & Other Things

The father was sitting across the hall with an equally attractive home living magazine in his hand. He wobbled up in few minutes  to show me a stately mansion with an impressive number of bedrooms and large garden. The grin on his face was set to ‘Tease Thy Daughter’ and he said “So, how about buying something like this for a vacation home?”


I looked at him and said with a quake in my voice, “Can you imagine cleaning a place like this?”

Contentment comes in various forms – mine is in the size and shape of a three bedroom house.

A Jane Austen Education

 I like to draw relaxation from the joy in little things. The ability to stop and look at a flower or amble along with friends and family discussing the little matters of life that make up the notes of music as we hum along in our lives.

IMG_7466 (1)

The ability to feel like it is okay to not be driven by this high sense of purpose, but living a useful life all the same.

There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life. - Booker. T. Washington
There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life. – Booker. T. Washington

When people talk about good stories, they are usually pumped up about plot, drama and suspense. I am all for plot, drama, suspense, mystery, hot-cold love and so on. But our lives don’t always turn out that way, nor should it. That is why I recharge myself with writings of Miss Read, Jane Austen and P.G.Wodehouse. When I read these authors, I can assure myself that it is perfectly okay to lead lives that will not get a dramatist to reach for his recording device, but one that is joyful enough in its pursuits and activities to make it an interesting one.

Every time, I unwind with a Jane Austen movie, the nourish-n-cherish family rolls its eyes and flees the television area. Now that I think about it, it seems to be the only way for me to get some air time with the television. Hmmm (Evil laugh with gleam in eyes). But I hope one day to be able to get them to enjoy the movies with me.

I am reading ‘A Jane Austen Education’ by William Deresiewicz, that is essentially all the life lessons that her writings have for us to imbibe. Such a delightful book! There are some things that are clearly just the author’s perspective of applying her writing to his life. Not to mention that this book was written by a man, so it is only natural that his and my perspectives vary. 

The books starts with my favorite book of hers: Emma.

Little nuggets of writing like this spot the whole book and make me want to open it up at random and read again.

Jane Austen was about a year old when another English Author wrote a statement that could serve as a motto for all her books. “Life is a comedy for those who think”, said Horace Walpole,  “and a tragedy for those who feel.”. Everyone thinks and feels, but Jane Austen’s question was, which one you are going to put first? Comedies are stories with happy endings. I could grow up and find happiness, Austen was letting me know, but only if I was willing to give up something very important. Not my feelings, but my belief in my feelings, the conviction that they were always right.

Another one:

Being happy and feeling good about yourself are not the same thing.

A dictum that Mansfield Park reveals, that is as good today or even more apt today than any other day in the past.

Perpetual amusement leads only to the perpetual threat of boredom.

 I can tell you that it was truly a shocking revelation to me, that a recent study said we reach for our phone 221 times a day. (

Imagine that. More than 200 moments in time when we could be observing (anything at all really) spent checking a digital device. Are we not just as guilty as the Crawfords in Mansfield Park for needing that kind of continuous stimulation? It is no wonder that Digital Addiction is a real thing  requiring treatment.

It reminds me of this article:

Anyone with any degree of mental toughness,” artist Georgia O’Keeffe wrote in contemplating life and the art of setting priorities, “ought to be able to exist without the things they like most for a few months at least.

A sobering thought indeed.

A bad rinse is good?

It had been a rather long journey for us.  We had already spent 13 hours on the bus. We had gone from (hot and sweaty) to (cold and hungry) overnight. The journey had been rocky and not, altogether pleasant. The bus had droned over endless hot, dry plains, before beginning its 3 hour ascent to the cool, refreshing hills in South India. It was 6 a.m. when the driver stopped for a break at a riverside village. “Vandi patthu nimisam nikkum” he shouted (The bus will stop for 10 minutes. )

Our knees looked like gnarled trees as we stepped out gingerly to stretch ourselves. I was happy to breathe in the fresh mountain air. We could hear a swift river flowing nearby and this small village was named after the river.


To add to the appeal, the fresh smells of Nilgiri tea wafted around us. The father and I made our way quickly toward it. The tea-shop was a shanty like any other on the route: A tin-roof, a couple of kerosene stoves and glass tumblers that were narrow at the bottom.  

The point is, there we were, sleep-walking towards the spot where our noses were leading us and our bodies shivering with the early morning cold. The father ordered two teas in his booming voice.  It was then that I stirred and noticed the men in the tea shop were clad in dhotis. The guy making tea was obviously a bossy sort, for he clicked his tongue at his helper. Distinctions were evident between employer and employee. The employee was a man, clad in a much-dirtier dhoti than his employer. I mean, if you are going to become this filthy, is there any point in wearing a white or cream colored dhoti? Why not just wear a brown towel or a tree bark and be done with it? Maybe it was their corporate dress policy, I thought to myself and settled into a sort of stupor again, my mind wandering. What if he wiped his hand on his dhoti and then put his fingers into our tea-cups? It happens all the time. Should I say something or risk it and down the life-saving and hope it would not become the life-taking in this case?

The teashop near the hills and river
The teashop near the hills and river

I peered into a vast vat with what seemed like steaming hot, very watery tea and said, ‘This isn’t the tea is it?” The father peered in looking worried. You don’t drink 100’s of cups of tea for nothing. When you peer into pots of murky liquid that you suspect is tea, it doesn’t make very good tea. I hesitated before asking the man – you see these chefs can be picky blighters. You look dubiously at their tea, and the next thing you know, they behave like recalcitrant mules on a mountain path and refuse to part with a biscuit packet, marketed by Parle-G.

I was trying to see how to put things tactfully (I can’t say I have progressed much over the years), when the bossy bloke bellowed to his helper, possibly the sous chef in the establishment.  The disgruntled helper, or sous chef, wiped his hands on his dhoti and then plunged his hand into the vat I suspected to be tea and extracted a few glass cups. I mean! What? Had I not caught myself, I might have fallen over backwards in a neat scoop. The s. chef, however, noticed nothing and bustled about with his work. Having extracted the glasses from the muddy waters, he wiped it dry with a piece of cloth that would have given food inspectors in the western world a heart attack and deposited the cups on the counter for the tea.

The father and I exchanged deep looks packed with meaning and I saw the light of resolve and understanding dawn in the father’s eyes. His eyes had the it-is-a-simple-matter-of-education gleam in them. Once a teacher, always a teacher. He said to the pair of them, quite politely in my opinion, something to the effect of washing the cups in flowing water before offering us tea in it. Washing, he said, does not happen in stagnant water that looks like tea.

The disgruntled helper or sous c. growled. “Saar! It is washed!” he said

My father appealed to his inner teacher once again and explained that washing dirty cups in dirty water still leaves the cup dirty.

It did not go down well. The sous chef now looked like a sulky sous chef.

Saar! All washed Saar. I wash again.”  He smartly picked up the cups and dipped them into the same water again. I moaned. The father moaned and the chef groaned. Maybe the code of conduct with respect to washing cups had been gone over several times in his training, but had not registered much like the corporate dress policy.

“Flowing water pa! You must pour water over the cups and wash them. Otherwise, all the dirt will be in the cups too. What you want is to go for the clean effect of flowing water. Remember your town was named after flowing clean water from the river.“

What happened next could try the soul of the most optimistic teacher, for the man, simply plunged his hand into the water, took a cup and filled it with dirty water and poured it over another cup and washed it. He beamed freely at this bit of going-the-extra-mile-for-the-customer while we cried in our hearts.

“Clean water my good fellow. Clean water!” cried the father, while the helper stood there looking confused.

I noticed with a sort of sinking feeling that the father’s voice being a stentorian one, all tea-makers in the little river town on the mountainside heard this little altercation, thereby dishing our chances of picking up tea elsewhere.  I tugged the father’s sleeve to let things be and asked to buy a bottled water. I then smartly poured a little bit of water on the cups and then asked for the tea in them.

I had, of course, affronted everybody by doing this. The father, for he felt that he now had to explain Economics to his daughter (Who spends Rs 20 on bottled water to wash teacups  when the tea costs Rs 5 each?)  The chef and sous chef cried too, for they never understood why folks bought water in a bottle in the first place, when it could be had for free in the river. To use good money to wash already washed cups was just excessive. They probably went home that night and lectured their children about not becoming obsessive and how a little bit of grime and dirt never hurt anybody.

As it turns out, they may have been right.

I quote from the article:

The findings are the latest to support the “hygiene hypothesis,” a still-evolving proposition that’s been gaining momentum in recent years. The hypothesis basically suggests that people in developed countries are growing up way too clean because of a variety of trends, including the use of hand sanitizers and detergents, and spending too little time around animals.

Squeaky clean dishes contribute to lower immune systems and therefore higher allergies.

P.S: The episode above happened about 20 years ago, but the mind has a way of resurfacing old snippets when it reads something new.

Tea Please!

For a 1-night trip to a destination 4 hours away, there really was no need for me to act like the Sergeant Major in Akbar’s Army about to embark on the Battle of Panipat. I can imagine him inspecting the elephants, looking over the horses, asking the chief trainer why it is taking so long to domesticate rhinoceroses, talking to the kitchen manager to make sure enough supplies have been packed for the long march ahead etc.

My tasks as I went about the house gathering things were just as varied. Make arrangements to feed the fish, take care of the trees, pack the snow pants, gloves and caps, butler up and pack the food, take on spare shoes, DVD, audio books, physical books, kindles. By the end of all this impressive bustling, the car trunk looked reasonably well occupied. The children and their parents were all counted and loaded. We backed out of the garage when I yelped like a cat that caught a stray pellet from a naughty child.  It was as if a bolt went through me. “What?”,  WHAT?”, “Amma!” the voice modulation on each expression would have had Opera teachers proud. I murmured a sheepish ‘Sorry’ and scampered off to get a last minute something from the kitchen. I prudently hid it in the handbag.

“What did you miss?”

“Yes – Amma. The car is full of stuff!” said the daughter who had made the last seat into a sort of villa with curtains, pillows and a blanket. I doubt whether Emperor Akbar was as comfortable in his royal palanquin as she was.

“I’ll tell you later.” I said in a mysterious tone, donning a serious expression, for I was sure to be ticked off had they known what the commotion had been about.

I don’t know about you, but I find being perfectly dressed a chore. By perfectly dressed I mean for the weather. Take for instance, Tuesday. I checked the weather forecast, and it looked pretty much the same as Monday. On Monday, I felt like a shaved penguin in Patagonia, for it might have been bright, but it was tooth-chatteringly cold even indoors. My cotton slacks and sandals were struggling to keep bodily warmth and by the time I stumbled into the house and drew up in front of the heater, I was beginning to lose feeling in my toes.  So, the next day, I turtled up and wore, I mean, I bucked up and wore a turtle neck sweater, closed shoes and went proudly, only to be sweating mildly.

Anyway, the point is, when I mess up on such a grand scale while looking at the weather forecast for a place I live in, I can be pardoned for messing up on a trip, right?

We started out from Spot A to Spot B. Spot A clearly thought it was May, and had asked the sun to shine that way, while Spot B thought it was January. It is only when we got down from the car to take in the breath-taking view that one realized that breathing in was alright only because the air does not freeze.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 9.48.04 AM

Chill-blaines crept up within an hour of being exposed and when I dashed into the department store for some milk, my mind was craving a good cup of tea.

“We can stop at Starbucks!” said fellow car-inmates, but I scoffed on an impressive scale even if I had to swallow some cold-ish air in the process.  I stuck my nose up in the air and said that Starbucks may have gotten a lot of things right, but an Indian tea? No Sir. Epic Fail. I miss the good old cuppa Indian tea more than I can say on trips like these.

A few minutes later, we had washed up ashore inside our rental spot and I was rattling about in the kitchen. The children got their hot cocoa and I made us some impressive Indian tea scented with cardamoms and ginger. Just the right amount of tea, right amount of sugar at the right temperature.

Tea Please
Tea Please

Allow me to enjoy a moment of contentment with the tea. When you visit a place like this, it is but natural to view the hot cuppa tea with a devotion meant for divinity.

Once the tea had made its way in and warmed our innards, I confessed that it had been for the tea that I had dashed into the house at the last minute.  All was forgiven, and I got the indulgent eye from everyone. “You and your tea!”

Yes. Me and My tea and proud of it! Well, even NPR covered the tea:

In the words of George Orwell:

Much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tea leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet.

P.S: This has already become a decent length blog.  I just might follow it up with another tea-blog for, ‘Traveling and Tea’ brings so many memories flooding into the brain.

Is it hot yet?

Given that I live in the Bay area, I have grown used to the fact that waiters at restaurants ask you whether you want ‘Water With No Ice’ a term that is so jarring in its construct, that the first few times I laughed every time I heard it. You ask for ‘water without ice’ or you ask for ‘water-@-room-temp’. How do you make water with no ice. Is ‘no-ice’ a thing that you plop into the water? But ‘no-ice’ is nice and like so many other lovable quirks in the USA, I have embraced this one over the years.

Water-with-no-ice however brings me to a question that I am sure has occupied the mind of every attentive waiter in the Bay area at least once. Why are folks who hail from a hot country like India not going in for a cold drink? I’ve wondered this quite often myself. Why are we this obsessed with hot food, hot tea and hot milk, not to mention the piping hot coffee? 

Given how much we enjoy the hot food, imagine my chagrin then when the microwave danced out on us.

On a side note, I wonder whether you notice a trend here. The dryer showed us what it is capable of, the oven hasn’t been on talking terms with us the past year and now, the microwave. (I don’t wish to offend the dishwasher by not dedicating a few blogs to it. It has been begging me to do so with its recent behavior and I have been holding firm thus far, but I may just have to write it up too) All very wearying and worrying and all that. Sigh! Where was I? Yes. The Microwave.

So, one hot evening I walked into the kitchen to make myself a hot cup of tea. The microwave started humming, rotating slowly and the dull lights inside showed me it was working on it. A full minute later, I picked up the cup gingerly expecting it to exude warmth, but it was stone cold. I mean porcelain-cold. It hadn’t done its duty. I gaped at it, and tried again. (Did you expect different behavior when you try the same thing? I see your censorious question and say, “Yes. “ Maybe the heating coil was taking a breather and the gentle nudge that I gave on the bottom of the microwave may have spurred it to act again) However, gentle nudge or ferocious roar, the microwave had retired. As unobtrusively as it seeped into our lives, it retired.

I have lived without a microwave in a very cold place for two decades and I can assure you it is possible. Yet, it is only when it isn’t there that you realize how kindly and painlessly this device helps you lead your life. You put in a cup of milk and a minute later, there you have it: a cup of hot milk for whatever use you have for it.  Every morning now, there was definite hungama over the coffee:

The milk took its time to boil.

The water took its time to boil

The coffee took it time to drip.

Then the coffee and milk together, was not hot enough.

Ask any proud South Indian coffee drinker and he will tell you that directly heating the coffee dilutes its flavor. (For the record, I see no difference.)


More than any of that, the microwave knew to stop heating the milk in 30 seconds. The stovetop didn’t. The entire three minutes that I  stood watching the milk, nothing happened and the moment I turned to pick a spoon, a loud sizzle told me that the milk had boiled over. Morning coffees were a milk-bath.  They were becoming long-drawn affairs in molly-cuddling the milk, comforting the coffee and  soothing the drinkers. One morning, the mother-in-law, a sturdy lady who has taken life by its horns, could be seen sitting with her hands on her head with the morning coffee routine. Needless to say, the milk boiled over at that very instant and all hands great and small gathered around to help clean the mess.

That was how the husband and I went shopping for a microwave without a penny on us, and still managed to bring a gleaming microwave into the house. (We both forgot our purses at home – coffee-less people do that apparently)

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