Updated: Aug 15, 2020
On most evenings I make tea. The process of making tea is simple – boil water, add the tea leaves, and let it sit before straining into a flask or mug. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? In theory yes, but as every tea brewing novice would confess – the ratio of chaipati (tea leaves) and water makes us doubt our capabilities. I remember the first time I initiated this process of brewing tea. It was an evening when my mother was at home. I stood by the stove and watched as three mugs of water came to a boil. Then, confidently, I reached out for the dabba (bottle) with the chaipati and opened it. I stared at it for a while, looked at the water that was boiling with a lot more vigour, looked at the chaipati, and looked at the water again. Unable to calculate how much of chaipati to put in and wanting to prove I can make a decent cup, I walked across the hall to my mother. She was engrossed in work on her laptop. In a timid voice I asked, “Ma, how much chaipati to put in for three mugs?” She looked at me over her glasses, took the dabba from my hand, then fixed her eyes on the laptop screen, took out some chaipati, and gave the dabba back to me saying, “This much”. I was a bit amazed watching her do this without so much as checking the amount she had taken out, so I asked “Ma, how do you know it’s so much?” Unperturbed by my question she said “I have an andaaz”.
For those of you not acquainted with the word andaaz, its meaning, apart from style can also be likened to making a ‘rough’ approximate or an ‘informed’ guess as in the case of the anecdote described above. This andaaz comes from the experience of having repeated a task often. The word andaaz has stayed with me since that evening. It prompted me to sit with andaaze, made not only of things but people too. It did not take very long for the mirror to turn inwards and the reflection draw up a silhouette of myself. Like you, I have heard andaaze of my identity – made by people who found it easier to take a guess at the obvious, for an ice-breaker, a pick-up line, a joke, or friendly banter, instead of being genuinely interested to ask about it without the accompaniment of swellhead humour. I will admit that initially I had trouble in defending who I am, not because I didn’t know but because these questions became consistent, repetitive and oblivious to changing time and space.
Initially I thought their andaaz of me would gradually change with my attempts of trying to speak their language more often, ensuring the contents of my lunch box was something they could also eat, incorporating their fashion so I stood out less, watching their kind of movies so I could offer something to the conversation the next day, and listening to their kinds of songs so I would be comfortable at their parties. These are only a few of my mere attempts to feel like I belonged with them too. As I write this, I tell myself this was me seeking out their validation, yet this is also me having the courage to call out my own justified compliance. I don’t say this just because they thought I was a ‘foreigner’ on account of my name and idiolect as a result of my cultural identity but because I think this is also what most of us unknowingly do to feel accepted. We comprise our own andaaz, (here meaning style) to suit their andaaz (meaning guess) – how ironical!
Like making tea, I feel there is a process for everything and in order to be a decent cup you need to be made from the correct ratio of water and chaipati. But, a decent cup means different things to different people. Some like it strong, some light, some without sugar, some with more sugar, some prefer more milk, some take it without milk, and some even prefer it flavoured. So, there is a possibility that you could have even got the ratio right but it isn’t a decent cup according to someone else’s taste. What do you do? Pour it down the drain and make another cup for them according to their preference or tell them to try what you have served up? I decided to make them try what I served up – Anglo-Indian, Malayali, or even better, both together. I watched them drink my cup of tea; they told me it tasted unusual so I pitched in a plate of their favourite biscuits on the side for their comfort as I felt content making my tea.
In observing them drink my cup of tea, I’ve learnt that a decent cup is subjective to taste. Taste is acquired, developed, given a preference to, and then promoted according to that preference. Therefore, it is not fixed but can be adjusted if one allows for that adjustment by trying something new and different. So, unlike before, I’ve stopped making tea according to their preference, I serve them their favourite biscuits for comfort but the tea is from my andaaz of being as they say ‘all mixed up’.