Sunday, November 10, 2013

Out of the brew

Somehow, much like a cartoon character, I had zombie-like followed a nearly visible spiral of aroma that lassoed my nose and pulled me into the tiny coffee shop lurking in a corner of the massive airport. The hype around this international brand was still dying down, and many customers were curious walk-ins - eager to recreate a memory from a trip abroad, or to just see what the fuss was all about.

A coffee-drinker for the past 10 years, I stood in queue, a slave to the intoxication stirred into the oxygen of the confined space. Pipes and tubes and spouts frothed and sizzled and gushed all around me. As I expertly sized up the many options on the chalkboard menu, I remembered my humble beginnings.

Was it in the basement canteen at JNU's School of Languages, where eager Literature post-grad students like me sat and complained about term papers and SFI tyranny over aloo parathas and piping hot coffee? Having grown up in a house where tea and coffee would surely stunt your growth, coffee was an assertion of adulthood. Tea was three rupees, coffee four. The drink gurgled out of a tap attached to a steel canister, and it smelt divine. On cold winter mornings and afternoon it was a hand-warmer, and we preferred to cup the cup rather than use the handle, constantly torn between drinking it hot and drawing out the pleasure.

Or was it in my years as an eager-beaver editor at a small but memorable publishing house? Twice a day (10 am and 2 pm), Prem Singh would stand in the tiny kitchen of the house that was also our office, making magic and fuelling productivity. Two near overflowing pans bubbled furiously before him - in one the tea leaves turning the liquid into a bitter and toxic beverage that would do unspeakable things to your system. In another, coffee simmered and brewed, darkening as he scooped in more instant coffee powder. He would lavish milk and sugar into both pans as if to offset the acidity these would cause weaker constitutions than ours. And then he would surely and steadily pour the tea and coffee into cups set out on two separate trays.

Pretending to work at our desks, we could hear the clattering of the empty pans as he set them down, and his footsteps coming closer once he picked up the tray - first he would serve out the tea, while coffee drinkers waited impatiently - unable to quite get started on the morning's or afternoon's work until we had chased that first sip down our eager throats. There would invariable be coffee drops on the outside and the base of the flower-patterned cup from the tray, and it would leave incredibly sticky rings on the desk (or on an unfortunate unwanted manuscript coaster). Cups in hand, we would swivel from our desks to debate the charms, in varying order of importance, of the semi-colon, of book covers, or of Johnny Depp. The cups would empty all too soon and, having got sloth/sleep/gossip out of our systems, we would begin our work in earnest.

I would never drink that coffee today. It's what they sell on Carter Road in tiny plastic cups and it's not really coffee as I now know. My office has a swanky Lavazza machine where I can choose from Espresso, Ristretto, Cappuccino and Latte. And I'm a snob. But let it never be said that I don't remember where I came from.


dipali said...

What a lovely coffee pot of memories!!!!
Good to have a post from you after so long!

OrangeJammies said...

So glad to see you writing again, Anamika! I still carry that lightbulb keychain story with me.

Thinking Cramps said...

Thanks, ladies. This one was "brewing" for a while, I need to sit down and just write more often.