One Hundred Words A Day
Thursday, October 8, 2009

  For Tea

My mother-in-law was one of those women who thought a trip to the grocery store a pleasurable outing, similar to a visit to the mall. It would be simpler for me to ignore her longing. It would be much less trouble to swing by the store after work for a quick replenishment -five types of vegetable, including a bag of yellow onions, sometimes red, sometimes white; and fruits covering at least five colors, just to obtain the right amount and combination of the needed antioxidants - to reverse the damage caused by our smoke-inhaling, microwave-cooking, car-moving lifestyle.

It would save me some time, if I could bear to meet the old lady at the door, with the evidence of my escapade without her. Locked up inside the quiet house, she has been skillfully shuffling her time between the kitchen, the TV, the toddler, and the telephone for a whole, long day. The American urban life bored her, who, from the third floor of her apartment, each morning, used to shake her “chudder,” - Gujarati for the individual cotton sleeping mat, to the street market below. My father-in-law considered that street his private dumpster, and never hesitated to empty his half cup of water through it, to save himself a few steps to the kitchen sink. By the time my father in-law stepped down to shop for the day’s grocery, the lady next door had poked her head through the front door and inquired: “What are you cooking today, Ben Amada?”

Below is a world milling, where half a million Bombayans jostling shoulder to shoulder from stall to stall, skipping over open gutters, stepping over debris, dashing across traffic. No one had the time, or the mind, to look up. Trash from above was blamed on a bad day. Misfortune tossed down from Heaven was fated by bad karma. One shared one’s bad day and bad karma above tchai, the Indian tea, sweet, aromatic, blackish. With each hot sip, all bad things were forgotten.

So at the market with my mother in-law, I was not too surprised to hear her satisfactory murmur: “For tea,” while picking up different items,until I saw her fingering a package of cut beef labeled “for stew”, still claiming “for tea”. It was beyond my imagination of Indian culinary arts, so I asked, incredulous: “beef also for tea?” using the simplest English to get her fullest understanding. She smiled broadly, after clacking her loose dentures to snap them back into place: “For tea, today.”

“You’re not kidding.” I gasped.

“For tea. You don’t know?”

I shook my head. Unbelievable. That was the price for entering into a crossed-culture marriage. Your digestive system would, sooner or later, be compromised by strange customs.

“I am not drinking tea with beef, especially on my husband’s fortieth birthday. Please.”

Adjusting her shawl over her polyester Punjabi, my dear momma repeated amusingly, seizing for the first time my incredible misinterpretation of her intention: “Forty. Your husband is forty. Big occasion. I cook good. Not drink beef with tea. Jah, jah.”

Geech Classics

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