tato chai

I roll out of my 0 degree sleeping bag and, quite like Taco Bell’s 7-layer burrito, wrap myself in multiple levels of warm and soft synthetic stuff.

“Embrace the cold,” I whisper to myself through chattering teeth.

Having tossed my stone always in the tropical weather squares of the travel-history-hopscotch I have mapped in a chalk path over the world, I suddenly find myself, for the first time in 10 years, COLD.

So all of you who, with frostbitten fingers, sent me green emails with attached white pictures and warm wishes to my already tropical tropics can now slap each other woolen high fives and snicker over my chances of survival in a place where you don’t need higher consciousness to be aware of your breathe.

Ah! But do you know what else exhales its steamy existence bringing awareness to the precious and piping hot moment of Now?


Originally discovered in my first travels through Northern India as “chai garam” (Hindi) and recently re-discovered in the Nepali speaking Darjeeling as, “tato chai,” this hot, milky, leaf nectar of the Gods is, unlike my blood, the only substance that circulates and gives warmth and life to my system.

A bow to chai for bringing to existence this very blog for whom (Chai being deserving of personification) without, my frozen fingers may have, like my I-book’s cold-fatigued battery, completely crapped out.

Chai means, “tea.” Garam and tato mean, “hot.” But even I put my un-English nose up at even the idea of using these watered-down words to capture perhaps one of the most powerful and core “essences” of India. If you made me choose three words to describe India, “chai” would be one of them. (The other two, by the way, would be of the sol-sort that include lots of hyphens and in a train-track-kind-of-attempt-and-crash-against-all-MLA-guidelines would play pattycake with the English language.)

So chai.
Warmer of my soul.
Bearer of this blog.
Essence of India.
In all your versions and family-kept secret recipes,
And as Royalty in the vast Kingdom of Tea,
I roll out my red carpet to thee.

(And if you were wondering, despite all their mass-marking, block-conquering and bucket-size-serving attempts, Starbuck’s version doesn’t even come close. The East and West certainly sit on opposite sides of the quality vs. quantity teeter-totter, with, as I imagine it, the US sitting squatly and fatly on the ground, 3rd worlds quizzically and hungrily looking down. And until we start to totter an equilibrium, you’ll find me hanging out on the monkey-bars.)

Chai, served in shot-sized, delicate and decorated tea cups, is presented on every and all occasions. For sunrise, before breakfast, after breakfast, with biscuits, at break, before lunch, in the afternoon, with neighbors, upon visits, before dinner, for dessert, and at bedtime.

Step into the hardware shop to buy a tin of paint, and have a cup of chai. Drop by the tailor to pick up your shirt and sip on a cup of chai. Pay visit to the cousin of your uncle’s nephew and sit down to share a pot of chai. Inquire as the price of a piece of jewelry, but not without first a cup of chai!

Here, human beings are not faceless, nameless creatures making empty and emotionless exchanges of goods, services and courtesies; We are warm, unique and recognized individuals who, if nothing else, share one thing in common; A pot of chai! And before any transaction is allowed to proceed, an understanding of this brother, sister and human-hood must first be assured.

On the streets of India, as an obvious guest in this country, any visitor will numerous times be beckoned to the dark door of a cushioned room where the steam of chai wafts his/her way. And to those that answer to that invite and dare to venture forth to seek within these depths of shared humanity, I encourage you (as I do all), to always, ALWAYS…

Stop and sip the chai.


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