Back in India, everybody drops by for tea. And “everybody” means neighbors, friends, the trash collector, the postman, the drivers who have driven your visitors over and even the second cousin of your maid. Tea-making is a full-time job. The doorbell rings, the kettle sings and tea cups tinkle all day long. This cheeriness is aptly described by Victorian novelist George Gissing who wrote “the mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose”.
There was no happy repose when I first came to America. I was unnerved by the silence of our big house. Every small noise got amplified: the hum of the air-conditioner, the plaintive beep of the microwave warming my lunch plate and the swish of a car driving past. To kill time, I watched men and women with missing teeth claw one another on Jerry Springer. When I flipped channels it was either somebody talking about how they lost weight or a man with an English accent trying to sell you knives. Nobody rang the doorbell. No neighbors dropped by for tea. I offered tea to the UPS man but he said “no thanks” and rushed off. I made a cup of tea and put out two Marie biscuits for carpet cleaning guy but he left without touching it.
Once I walked all the way to the Fry’s grocery story just to marvel at the ginormous red onions (I spent plenty of time to admiring onions and potatoes in grocery stores back then) when a pretty girl in a sunflower dress complimented me on my smile. She was surprised when I invited her home for tea. She showed up a few days later with a fat docket full of pie-charts and told me told I could go on a Caribbean cruise and even drive a pink Cadillac just by talking to people and giving away free lipstick.
Another day I was watching Judge Wapner of People’s Court chew out a sleazy car dealer for selling a fat lady a bum Oldsmobile when I heard a knock on the door. Outside stood three very well dressed people. The men wore suits and the lady’s hair was all nicely curled. Thinking they were neighbors I invited them in for tea. They asked me how I liked America. I said I liked it just fine and added, a little wistfully perhaps, that it sure got lonely sometimes. They perked up when they heard that and said I would make the most wonderful friends if I visited their church. When I told my hubby that he said they were trying to recruit me and suggested I not invite strangers into the house in the future.
“The first time you share tea you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…” (Balti saying: Three Cups of Tea)
But soon a stranger invited me…
I was taking a little walk down my street when this pretty Indian girl with a baby on her hip called out to me in a sing-song voice ”Hi! Want to have some tea?” This was music to my ears and I was once again reminded of our warm Indian hospitality. The girl’s name was Jyotsna. She made masala chai and we chatted. And here we are seventeen years later, still the best of friends.
I have no misgivings inviting people home for tea. I learned not all folks are out to sell you something or recruit you. There are kindred spirits who, like me, just want an old-fashioned gab and a bit of soul-connect over a cuppa. I have vowed never to sully that sacredness by having a hidden agenda. I can meet people at a Starbucks to talk about business, or colleagues to catch up over lunch but when I invite someone home for tea I am attentive and honored. All I want to do is bat the breeze and enjoy a little downtime. So let’s share a cuppa, shall we? And cheers to you my dear friends!OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST Ah morning tea! How to make a perfect cuppa Lorna’s Blog about Scottish Tearooms _______________________________________________________________ Shona Patel’s debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a love story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about it HERE. She is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.