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

and gold

When you see your reflection

you see an unclothed jungle boy

Wiry: when a leaf is tightly twisted

it resembles a piece of wire

Remember twisting

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


and everything

Point: a pronounced favourable sharpness of flavour

The trader who folds his legs on the velvet divan

for a royal portrait 

has designs 

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. 

Gossip jigsaw 

Spy boomerang

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)

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