Friday, July 18, 2008

The Last Tea

The early morning dew had not evaporated yet. The sun was shining brightly in the cloudless blue sky. We had merely finished our morning tea with Marie biscuits and were already getting on with the meal, in fact, the tea that could easily be called a meal. The time: 6am, Sunday morning. Place Shillong. Year 1973

The special guest at our home is Swami Premarupananda of the Ramakrishna Mission in Shillong. This is the first time a Sadhu is coming home to have “tea” with us. He is expected to arrive at 4pm.

One by one, we have all had to bathe and wear clean clothes. The kitchen has been washed clean, the gas stoves scrubbed. All the pots and pans which will be used for the preparation, have been doubly washed. My mother has a responsibility – she is going to cut the veggies into precisely same size pieces and she is going to make what she is best at – pithe, the Bengali version of homemade sweetmeat and the payesh.

I am a little girl, visiting home from boarding school. I am overwhelmed with the goings-on but excited too. Perhaps more because of the luchis (puris made from maida), the bringal fry, the payesh, my mother will make. I can’t wait. But I have loads of work too allotted to me as well. And until everything is ready and put away in the specially cleaned mid-safe in the pooja room, we will not be having our lunch, which is being cooked by the women in the house, in between the other chores they have on hand.
On the gas a large black iron kadai is looking rather white, simmering from the bottom with the milk boiling over and over, coming up like a pregnant woman with a bursting belly and then belching forth with the aroma of thickening milk. My mother stirs it now and then and goes back to continue with the other preparations. Until it is half thick and little thin when the rice is let into the milk to cook, just a wee bit, along with bay leaves. Then she stirs till the milk thickens. She takes it off the fire and adds the patali gur. The thickened milk blushes, as it turns brownish, as if it has suddenly developed a pale hue of coffee. The aroma spreads inside the head, hauntingly sweet.

It’s done! And the kadai with the payesh is now poured out into a bowl.

The cooking can now begin. Sweet chhana daal with bits of coconut, rounded brinjals cut to size and left to marinate in turmeric and salt, cauliflower and potato dry masala fry….the air is thick with the smell of a Bengali cuisine… On the far end, you can see the spread of coconut sondesh and the home-made sweetmeat, made of paneer, khoya and maida….dozens of them, brown, white and succulent. But, we must all wait…for the hour of the Goddess and then the Maharaj to first savor this delight….

Normally, he is not allowed to visit homes of devotees. He has pledged sannyas. But, Premarupananda, loves good food and my family will feel blessed that he had come to grace our home. That has been the devotion with which all the women in the house have been engaged since morning to usher in the Swami….

Yellow ocher is the colour of renunciation. When it starts to come down a flight of stairs to reach your home, it is a sight most beautiful, even a glimpse can make your heart overflow with what is best termed as shraddha. The flowing yellow ocher, slowly descending and passing by the magnolia plant and the beds of flowers which lay smiling in the afternoon sun, to reach the open doors with lace curtains of a drawing room. Swami Premarupananda sits on the cane furniture, a man of much serene joy.

A plateful of luchis, white and fluffy nudge shoulders with golden brown brinjal fry and a bowlful of chhana daal. The cauliflower potato fry sit themselves on the table, not far from the payesh and sweetmeat my mother has made for the Sadhu.

A little bit of everything he tastes and blesses! A delicious meal, he says. We wait until he finishes and then, when we are ready to have our share, we find we are not hungry any more.

It was the first lesson learnt about the last “tea” with Swami Premarupananda.

When you apply yourself to the service of a Loved One, the service itself fills your hunger.

Likewise, with God.

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