Ruth Taylor describes her experiences in India through the countries favourite beverage, a cup of chai.
Why Choose India? Chai.
As I’m offered a small paper cup of chai, I instantly feel at home as the warmth heats my fingers and a gentle smile lights up the face of the small Indian man stood in front of me. This small but welcoming offer of chai is not uncommon, and like chai – India makes you feel warmed and welcomed. Being brought up in England, I’m never too far from a cuppa, a whistling kettle or a brewing teapot. So to me - being at home, is being offered that cup of tea. That cup of chai. Besides it being warm and wet like a monsoon day, it seems to me there are many other ways India can be portrayed in a simple cup of chai.
Maybe it’s the chai that made me feel at home, maybe its India.
There is something about traditions that I think show the strength of a culture. The traditional clothing of saris make the streets of India come alive with colour. Colourful and vibrant – whether you’ve been to India or not, we have all heard India be described in this way. There are also strong traditions in food, music and festivals. These customs, like chai, have been around for centuries and will be for centuries more.
I believe we can all find India to be a humbling place, just like we can all find comfort in this humbling cup. From the modern and empowering business women in Mumbai, to the sari clads ladies of the village Bori, this humbling cup can be enjoyed by all.
Yet India can scald you. Like a drop of steaming chai, it can shock you and make you spring back. Yet it is this that makes you more resilient. And like a small child’s tongue being burnt under a splash of steaming hot chai for the first time – it teaches us to hold back and be patient, being open to learning so as not to be scalded again. And with the spicy tang to tea – you adjust, and settle, eventually becoming used to the spice, and missing it when it’s gone.
And all of this, this contrast of traditions, modernity - that is India, that is Chai. It is held in the architecture of a thousand lives past, as the people and buildings in the streets are just as diverse as the cup my chai is served in. From disposable paper cups to delicate teacups - the homes made of tin to the cloud piercing glass skyscrapers. All of which, each person will favour one over the other whilst you’re nestled between them in a world of contrasts.
So as I stir my Assam tea leaves and masala spices, I think. About India and about chai. Yet for some reason, I just can’t seem to replicate the sweet, warm embrace it gave me when a chai wallah handed me my first cup of chai. And I look around and think, why India? Chai.
Want to experience a cup of authenitic chai? Learn more about the Britsih Council Generation UK India programme, and find out how you could study, work, or intern in India.