Hot outside, cold inside. Hopeful on the outside, forlorn on the inside. Or was it the other way around?
Tamu, Burma, May 1942.
This is a no ingredient recipe. It is a gesture and it is a hope. Rest on your haunches. Go on now, do it. Rest on your haunches as it would be when you were home, where you are most common. If you would so like, conjure a beedi, for a good smoke and a cup of tea provide an inner warmth unparalleled.
Tea cups? No need, hands will do. Festoon the fingers, cupped with dainty flowers, something impractical but precious. It always helps to have tea in a container of the right heft, but also anointed as such to bring pleasure to the eyes as well as the tongue.
Let us pretend there is a warm fire here. You sit there with your cup. Warm it there in your hands. Ludicrous, I know, because your hands and the cup are one. And you are miserably cold. Nevertheless, warm the cup. Warm your hands.
I’ll brew it, I said. Cardamom and ginger like the northerners do.
You laughed. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Austerity! You cried. After all we are at war.
But do tell me, we’re allowed to have sugar, I said as I secured a rock cum sugar bowl, snapped a twig cum teaspoon.
I’ll allow you jaggery, you said. I tossed the rock and spoon.
Bloody jaggery it is then, I said.
It will need to be strong. That’s what’s most important. The first tea upon reaching home, will have that wicked brew, the kind that seeps into your bones.
It will have to be hot, you said. That’s what’s most important.
And I put my arms around you for you were unable to hunch on haunches, let alone sit up. You struck a blistering fever but shivered with such fright. Such opposite sensations. Hot outside, cold inside. Hopeful on the outside, forlorn on the inside. Or was it the other way around? At that moment I could not quite tell with you.
For me, you fashioned your hands, a cup. The wet and damp that settled around us needed an imagination to will it away.
I will give it a long pour, froth it up a bit.
Back and forth you go, you said. The proper way to froth it, my chai wallah, from cup to teapot, from teapot to cup.
Like school children we sat there, except we were two grown men, I hovering on haunches, clutching you, my ailing friend. We pretended we were home, enjoying our afternoon tea, except that we weren’t at all and except that it was raining, there was no fire, no boiled water. Except that there was no bloody tea.
We laughed then. We did, didn’t we?
We laughed at our own preposterousness. It was all so ridiculous, sitting and feigning comfort, that we had to laugh.
Brother, I said to you, I so look forward to a hot cup of tea with you soon.
You didn’t say yes or that you looked forward to it too. You didn’t say anything that could perhaps be contradicted or refuted down the line. You merely said, “Victory tea. You relish that when you get home, ok?”