My dad was born in pre-partition India. His family had to run overnight with virtually no belongings, leaving their thriving life behind. He was two. And although my mother was born in free India, the loss of land and life her family had to go through was still palpable.
Having to rebuild from nothing, there were little resources and almost nothing left for luxuries. And coffee was a luxury. Like gold. To be taken out only on that rare special occasion. Which was laughable because when kept for long periods, it almost never survived the humidity. The powder turned into a hard rock that wouldn’t budge no matter how much you scrapped. I think my family spent more money wasting coffee than actually consuming it.
The first time I tasted coffee was in college. I was trying to be cool. A colleague of mine got me hooked on to black coffee. A strong concoction that looked like fresh tar and tasted like sugary bitterness — like a drug, it made me miserable and yet I found myself reaching for it several times a day.
Out of college and on my first job, I worked for an American company. They tried everything in their power to make the culture as American as possible. I was young and wide eyed and duly impressed. I dreamt of a better world, a freer world and accepted that coffee was a part of it. Except it was a low grade, extremely sweet vending machine coffee. It was bad but yet again, the strong aroma drew me into the cafeteria more than a few times a day.
My first year on the job, the company took us, all 60 of us, on an offsite trip to Coorg. A beautiful district in the state of Karnataka, it is known for its coffee plantations. It was the first time I had seen coffee beans being freshly ground. I finally understood. It was magnificent. We started our days with beautiful beautiful cups of frothy coffee and I was so happy. Until one day, when all of us boarded buses to travel a sizable distance to see a Buddhist monastery. And while the ride was worth its while (my God! The monastery was beautiful! From the grounds to the floor to ceiling Buddha statues!), I doubt anyone knew how much of a diuretic coffee can actually be. Any one who knows India knows there is no easy access to restrooms so on the way back to the resort, we had many, many screaming bladders ready to collectively burst. If that wasn’t enough, our bus broke down leaving us stranded in the dark and in the middle of nowhere in a new place with barely any cell signal. Such a pisser!
I think it is safe to say that was the end of my tryst with coffee, that magical drink that the world runs on. It figures because I am not likely to take up running any time soon. I am more of a walker. I like to take my time. Brew that perfect cup of chai with a beautiful, aromatic blend that combines the coolness of cardamom perfectly offset by the heat of ginger. Then there’s black pepper, cloves and cinnamon. It is a delicious, heady drink that makes me grateful every single time it touches my lips.
It takes me back to my roots. To something that kept my grandparents and my parents sane in a tumultuous time and probably gave them the strength to rebuild life. I have to accept that drinking coffee is just not in my DNA. It has never been my friend and I am happier surrendering to the practice of making my chai. It’s a bright new day!