As much as I love having chai by myself, I am equally fond of watching people sipping their chai. I like to guess what kind of person they would be based on how they prefer their chai and how they smell, sip or slurp it. I know, I am wrong with my guesses, but it does not stop me, and nor does it stop the memories from getting stirred.
I remember, once upon a time, I fell for a girl who fell for ilaichi (cardamom) chai and I followed the course. While adding sugar to chai, I am reminded of my parents – one likes excess sugar, other none. And while sipping, I almost always think of an old man who took forever to finish his chai; on the other hand, my three-year-old niece gulps down the cup in one go.
There is a cultural element too. In India, hardly any interaction – pleasant or otherwise – goes without a cup or two of chai playing the role of a witness. Come over for chai, no? Is it time for chai? Let’s have some chai. Make some chai, will you please? These are some of the expressions commonly used. And nobody ever says: do you drink chai? That would be blasphemous, for heaven’s sake.
However, it was not always ours. We got it from the British, twisted it in our way by adding milk and spices (a bizarre combination, if you think about it), and made it our own. Chai is not alone in that regard. We did the same thing with Cricket. And with English language. But, it doesn’t really matter, does it? After all, they started the loot first along with the word itself.
Chai means different things to different people. To me, it just means countless stories, and each one is as unique as the person I have shared my chai with.