‘Tea began our mornings and punctuated long afternoons’
From The Smart Set:
At the studio, along with a box of tea bags and a bag of powdered milk, the cheaply made kettle assumed its place on my vast stone counter. I had a tin for my biscuits, to ward off potential pests, though I had yet to see one of the rats I heard, or thought I heard, at night. I made tea in my newly acquired mug, ignoring the little plastic cups nested inside the kettle. Instead of climbing back into bed, I moved the bedside lamp down to my desk and pored over the photos Auntie had given me. The room was not any warmer. I tacked up a photo of my grandmother bent over her sewing onto the huge white bulletin board on the wall in front of me. Dressed in a pale sari, sitting on the floor, she filled the frame. In another photo, Auntie Nimmi sat at a Singer sewing machine, her white salwar billowing under the table as her feet pressed the foot pedal.
After dinner, I filled the bucket from my bathroom with hot water and soaked my feet while drinking some herbal tea. I poured the extra hot water from my kettle into the bucket. Outside, the resident peacock howled like a cat in heat. Around 11, the beating of the bushes began, tempered by the distant sound of thumping disco music. It was wedding season and around us old farms had been turned over for these events.
That night I slept in my wool cardigan and fleece pants, and when I woke, I wrote in my journal this morning, I feel okay. At 11, I made some tea and shared it with my neighbor, who had moved her table out to the back, where she worked in the morning sun. After she left, I remained outside and read and wrote, finally warm, finally comfortable.
I can’t describe the mug I drank from nor can I tell you how many cups of tea I consumed. I do remember the kettle clearly — thin metal, black plastic base — and the brown plastic cups that came inside it. My journal confirms that it was after this kettle entered my life that I was finally able to settle into a work routine that made sense to me. The photos of my ancestors watched over me as I dunked biscuits into my tea, something I’d done countless times at my grandparents’ dining table, at my parents’ table, and then, when they’d all departed, at my sister’s table. Social and intimate, tea began our mornings and punctuated long afternoons that drifted until dinner. Tea was part of the fabric of family life, woven into our daily routine, and without it, I had been adrift.