The British regard it as the ultimate remedy in the face of any disaster and are of course famous for establishing the afternoon routine for it. But ‘Tea-time’ was quite different in my mother’s world since it was a habit that endured the passage of time and continued to provide her that little break in the afternoon that we all cherish.
If the habit of having Tea in the afternoon was an anachronism in a typical Tamil Brahmin home, I was far too young to be aware of it. It was a sacred routine that could not be missed as it would upset my mother not to have her Tea on time. Never a day went by before she had satisfied her favourite comforter. And even the time never quite varied. It will around 4 in the noon that she would have wound up her small household chores including the clothes that had been hung in the verandah for drying in the Sun.
It had to be a strong blend and my mother preferred to have Brooke Bond Red Label rather than anything else. My father used to get the provisions from his Office canteen and they were rather arbitrary in stocking brands. My mother would ensure that she had enough stock of the Tea and her favourite Marie biscuits to live with the vagaries of the canteen’s inventory management.
And plain simple Tea with plenty of Milk and Sugar too would not do. She need to spice it up – the variations would include Ginger (Adrak), Cinnamon (Elaichi or Elakai) or even the Everest pack of Chai Masala. In the monsoons and colder seasons, it would take she would make even more herbal concoctions to ensure we avoid catching cough and cold.
The Tea would be accompanied with Marie Biscuits that I never liked even if I was allowed to dunk it in the hot Tea. To coax me, my mother would add a single Nice biscuit ( Coconut biscuit with a sprinkling of sugar on it) to ensure I did eat my Marie biscuit as well. And the Tea was accompanied by a light tiffin and it would be wide variety from Kanda Pohe, Sabudana Wade, Sabudana Khichdi, Bhajji, Samosa, Rava Upma, Dhokla – you never knew what would catch her fancy.
She was not one to read newspapers but my mother would enjoy reading her Tamil magazines like Kumudam, Ananda Vikatan,Kalki, Mangayamalar to name a few. Quite often our neighbourly aunt will drop in to have a chat. It was the lazy part of the day, the siesta hour – my father would not be back till 7 in the evening, I would be reading my books, it would still be rather hot to step our and so the two ladies would sit exchanging notes. It could be compared to the guys meeting at the Katta – the topics would range from family to politics to entertainment to food. The exchange would pep up my mother’s mood and she will again busy herself with preparation of the evening dinner and attending to other small chores at home.
And the habit had stayed with me as well as I usually have my cup of Tea in the afternoon as well. Particularly on holidays and now that I am staying on my own, I try to repeat my mother’s Tea variants as well. It can truly be a great restorative as the British seem to have rightly discovered.