My sister, brother and I grew up on chai. It’s said kids mustn’t be given chai, that the caffeine in it isn’t good for them, that it causes blackening of gums and lips and darkening of teeth. Well, my mom did and I’m grateful to her (and our gums are pink, btw)! 

Earliest proper recollection that I have of the early morning hours at our house is when I was in 2nd grade, my sister in 4th and brother in 1st grade. Mom would wake us all up with a cup of chai. We would join our parents in their bedroom, on their bed- sit around and have chai with biscuits (cookie) and bread-namkeen (trail mix?). That is how our mornings always started. There was no chaos, no rush rush, no screaming and yelling! And I said I’m grateful to my mom for hooking us to chai in our early years precisely for that reason. I have beautiful memories of leisure mornings with my family talking, planning, discussing. Dad called it “Pancho-ki-rai” (opinion of the five).

Evenings and weekends were no different- it was family chai time on the bed again!

My father had a transferrable job that essentially required us to move to another city every three years. Hard though it was, it gave us an opportunity to get exposure to various different culture. Varius different culture of chai time, in fact. Because as we moved from one city to another, pretty much the only thing we imbibed was what chai time meant to the locals. For example, from Hyderabad we acquired the taste of the South Indian tea, that we relish even today. We had sweet five little steel cups there, one for each one of us. While Gujarat really enriched our tea time experience! With their hot freshly made ‘farsan’ to accompany the chai, beautiful memories were made! Still remember the serene saturdays we had in Rajkot. Dad had half days at the bank, so he was home by three. We would then promtly set off to the neighborhood shop where they would be in the middle of frying ‘fafras’ or ‘sev’ along with hot green chillies. I can still feel the taste of those hot and fresh accompaniments even today. ‘Don’t forget to bring the fried chillies’, my parents never forgot to remind us :). Another unique thing about having chai in Gujarat, as we soon found out, is that ‘No’ is not an acceptable answer. ‘Aardhi chale’ (half will do), would be the standard response. And half had to do!

We finally returned back to Delhi (city of many bank branches) and settled there as dad either got tranferred from one branch to another or he travelled by himslef, allowing us to have our high school education in Delhi. Delhi gave me one of the most cherished chai time memories. College in Delhi was mostly about bunking classes and having morning chai with bun & omellette at the chai shop right outside our college gates and then again bunking classes and having afternoon chai-samosa from the run-down college cafetaria. College was also about bunking classes & hitch-hiking in large groups all the way to Priya to watch Hollywood movies and having chai-samosa. Those were the days of crazy abandonment. And yes, chai was involved!

End of each day, when I returned home from college, my mom and I would have the evening cup of chai together! That is one of my most beautiful memories with my mom. By now, my sister had left for medical school, my brother was out of the house working on getting an engineering degree and dad would generally be back late – thanks to work and Delhi traffic.

So it was mom and I.

We always had that evening cup of chai together.

My mom made the best chai ever.

And I looked forward to it.

Yes, that was our bonding time.

I felt robbed of it if some days mom would have it sooner, before I returned home.

When my friends visited me, mom would always bring her cup of chai and join us in my room. I remember a friend even commenting that I don’t mind my mom joining. I remember feeling surprised in my head. Why would I? 

Growing up in India, we can’t talk of Chai time and not talk of exam time! Another prized memory of growing up on chai relates to my dad. Throughout the school years and college years, while we studied, dad would be the one to make us a cup of chai during the night. My sister and brother where night people, they got their chai at night to help them keep awake. I was a morning person, I got mine in the morning to help me wake up! That was my dad! Whether it was 1:00 am or 2:00 or 3:00, we got our chai dose during exam times! In fact, I remember there were times, if for some reason my dad was asleep, my brother, who would study until 2:00, would make me chai, wake me up and then go to bed. We were a good bunch of siblings! We weren’t the types to hug and shower affections a whole lot, but we looked out for each other.

The memories go on and on, as it does for most of us. Friends dropped by? Chai time it is. Visiting friends? That too is associated with nice chai with their mom-made-matri that I often had at friends’ homes. Even today, when my parents and in-laws visit us in America, tea time is almost a ritual! With friends too, dinner outs and parties are never complete without that steaming hot cup.

I grew up seeing my parents share the best quiet and quality time over tea. When I got married, I saw the same thing living with my in-laws for a month, before joining my husband here in America. So imagine my utter disappointment when I came here and my husband tells me, ‘I’m more of a coffee person’! My world was shatterred!!!! Okay, I’m exaggerating, but to me, coffee is ‘nuclear’, while chai is ‘joint’.  I told him exactly what I thought about it! That in India, half the bonding between husband and wife occurs over tea! I wasn’t okay with losing out on that bonding time. So I did what I had to! I made him a ‘chai-person’!!!

Did I say growing up on chai was special? Yes, it helped us weave our most treasured memories and cultivated a culture of share and care!