Posted tagged ‘Tea Dust’

Shapes of Clothes, Spice, Tea

April 16, 2013





There is something so reassuring about walking into the sight of one’s clothes stretched out on a line. Sleeves seem to wave, even without much of a breeze, to greet with a “hello there; here we are–your size and shape all relatively clean and fresh again.”

Well-worn clothes are the friendliest, clothes that even wrung out and pulled flat still bear some remnants of your imprint. That stretched edge of hip or breast that lets you know that yes, you do have a place in the universe, even if only in the stitched confines of cotton, even if just hanging up by a drainspout.

The fact is that we’ve been feeling sort of out of place today, reeling with the news about Boston, which in an age pre-mobile device, we would likely not have seen or heard about for days, (There is a TV in our guesthouse for the host family, but, to the degree that it’s been on, it’s shown either soap operas or something that looks like “who wants to be a millionaire?” ) (Only with questions about things like Indian dance.) (Shades of Danny Boyle?)

So, in an earlier age, we would not have known about the bomb blasts, the terror, the lost lives and limbs. But in this age, we do know. And when I read these things, I find myself to especially miss home, if only to be with people who will be on the same grief cycle, people who are mourning the same slice of sadness.

The fact is there are so many different slices of sadness in the world; it comes in so many different varieties, shapes, colors. (On this front, we went through a dark bazaar today, tinged with the smell of gas from little generators, tailors and seamstresses working in such tight dark places, heavy smells of rot.)

But, of course, sweetness comes in a lot of shapes too, and aside from the news, we’ve had a rather sweet day.

Our host gave us a tour of his amazing garden–flowers, fruit, but he also grows spices – true pepper! Which he picked for us, rolling away the outer orange shell between his finger tips, to let us taste. (Holy Moly!) Also, Holy Basil! Cardamom (with beautiful little white and purple flowers by the seed pods). (These are not quite ready for harvesting, but he found a couple.) Cinnamon and cloves, whose leaves alone taste of their savors. Vanilla, coffee, cocoa!

And speaking of leaves, we went to the Tata Tea Museum – which, as the Indian family who gave us a lift in their car (after we just missed the bus) told us, is not really that much of a museum. (It displays, for example, an electric typewriter from the 1970-80’s.) However, it also has fascinating photos of colonial life–things like British officers with their tea workers, and the All Indian Rugger Team. (My pics of the pics here.)

More importantly, the museum has a mini-tea factory that shows how tea is processed. There, a super nice staff member kept sticking his hands in the machinery (as it operated) to bring us out handfuls of tea in its interim states.

The tea itself starts out green, of course, and moves in stages from a wet=smelling olive mulch to something that feels like soil. (This factory specializes in “tea dust,” finely chopped tea for chai.)

One of our rickshaw drivers — that was another aspect of the day – we went around by rickshaw rather than car–explained that there were 53,000 acres under cultivation in this area.

He also called the main, and only real road, a “dance road,” meaning, I think, that complicated maneuvers were constantly required to avoid webs of potholes; these were felt especially in the rickety open seats of the rickshaw.

My daughter found the bumping less bothersome than car swerves. My rear end seemed able to take the non-stop concussions but I am less sure about my brain pan. (It was like one of those old-fashioned reverberating belts for weight loss.)

And my hands, honestly, did not stop tingling (from holding on so tightly–remember the road is on the side of a mountain) until some time after we stepped out onto the asphalt drive of our guest house, right next to one one freshly washed red kurta (tunic top) stretched out upon the gravel.

“Don’t worry, it’s not one of yours,” I told my scowling daughter.

Sure enough, her embroidered red-stitched shape waved from a further line.

P.S. I’m having a hard time loading pictures in a planned order so don’t quite know what will come up, but above are photos of our host’s garden, including pepper, vanilla, crazy jackfruit, and flowers, and below of the Tata Tea Museum. There is one photo I like especially of a slightly broken (unhinged) window in the museum, looking out onto the tea plantation just beyond. As a historical note, this area was first colonized by the British when they were looking for good climate for convalescent soldiers. Then later came the Kanan Devan Tea Company, which now produces “Ripple Tea.”)