Terms of Tea Tasting from
The East India Company
Book of Tea
Tippy: indicates the presence of the golden
or silver coloured leaves
from the tip of the budding tea leaf
Tip of the tea-tongue Mowgli
Budding Mughal prince swathed in silver
When you see your reflection
you see an unclothed jungle boy
Wiry: when a leaf is tightly twisted
it resembles a piece of wire
those Enfield cartridge ends
with the teeth?
Your sepoy blood boiling over paper
greased with beef tallow and pork lard
Taste of sacrilege
in your brown mouth
wired to orders in your ears
Bright: after infusion the leaf has a good, pronounced colour,
usually orange or coppery
The one in the copper-bordered sari
and marigolds in her hair
is the groom’s mother
It is their last photo together
Tomorrow she will lose him in the first
of many massacres
Liquor Body: the sensation of weight
of the liquor on the palate
or of a verse in Urdu
(sudden gravity, sudden flight)
Ghazal couplet midstream
stops a yekka carriage in the street
for an empire to alight
Plain: lacking in desirable characteristics
It is 1912, you must get into your khakis
Khak is dust:
camouflage for the sons of this soil
Point: a pronounced favourable sharpness of flavour
The trader who folds his legs on the velvet divan
for a royal portrait
on his host’s empire
Tyrannies will, in the end, be punished
But what of your glass-bangled Dalit wrists?
Your untouchable hands?
The sharpness of your slap across empire’s face?
Simla Club dining-room is built,
as all the world knows, in two sections
with an arch-arrangement dividing them.
Arches all the world knows
dogs and Indians don’t.
They eat rubies, they eat bones,
rub their fancies in boot blacking
in yearly Simla snow.
Come in, turn to your own left,
take the table under the window,
and you cannot see anyone who has come in
(though the window is wild abandon
and a golden sparrow flew
straight in from the lime tree
bit the dust in the soup
just this morning)
turn to the right, and take a seat
on the right side of the arch.
where the banana leaves graze the bricks,
the clock reflects the castor oil
plant in the pretty poison garden
Curiously enough, every word that you say can be heard,
not only by the other diner, but by the servants
beyond the screen through which they bring dinner.
Chain of command
This is worth knowing. An echoing room is a trap to be forewarned against.
(Note: The italicised text is from Kipling)
Proust’s Cup of Tea: A Concussion Study
The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony;
Pinch of memory
from the canister with tea for an answer,
whir of plaza pigeon, ghost of child pidgin
hopping mad in the mouth like masala jaggery,
cup after cup
of receding birdsong
by the same window
I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment.
Pool of turpentine, wick
of unsurpassed flame,
(same room in the old house lit up by the same lantern),
dear brain cell,
foot-bridge to tomorrow,
bring back my earliest China,
settee with monarch design, condensed
milk, burnt lip, dawn and lawn and primal lizard,
sorcery of sameness I drank again and again
I put down my cup and examine my own mind.
I say: curator of exquisite ruin, why
did you bite me like that?
And, where do you hide that morsel? And, who will I plot
my revenge with? And, let the rest of me go too.
What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders?
I’ve outgrown your delicacy
like the catgut that took to my hand at two,
something fattens, glows neon with stolen thoughts
island in the night of Spinal storm where a quiet thought
meets a cold shoulder,
be the one room with switches that turn on light and fan,
be the lasso of lost time.
(Note: The italicised lines are from In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust)