This month, mehfil@Prithvi was dedicated to the intriguing Urdu story writer, Quratulain Haider a.k.a. Aniee Apa. It was a wonderful evening of stories and anecdotes that brought Aniee Apa’s vibrant personality to life. More on the mehfil will be covered in a separate post, but here is an intriguing tale about ‘chai’ and the elaborate ritual of making it at Ainee Apa’s home” that was narrated to us by Javed Siddiqui Saab who, along with Shama Zaidi, has had the privilege of spending many evenings with Apa herself.
The story has been rewritten in English by Varsha Naik, an Urduwallahs enthusiast and fellow lover of Urdu, who was present there and was as amused and enthralled by the tale as the rest of us.
The Chai Story
At the Urduwallahs Mehfil on June 10, Javed Siddiqui sahib reminisced about having spent many evenings with Apa:
“At Ainee Apa’s home, usually, chai was a laborious process with a methodology that had to be followed to the T (no pun intended). The successful execution took a good half hour, without fail. Each time, Apa would call out to her maid, Hashmat, a rather slow-moving, large woman. She would saunter in carrying a tray with beautiful bone china cups and saucers, a kettle and a tea cosy and lay it on the table. Occasionally there ould be biscuits or other edibles too, if we were lucky. Hashmat would then go back inside and come back with a second kettle with hot water and pour it into the cups and the kettle. Once the cups were heated, she would empty them and take away the second kettle. Apa would then pull out a box from under her bed, with her favourite and particularly fragrant chai Lopchu tea. She would systematically measure the chai into the kettle and settle the tea cosy on it.
Apa would look up at the clock on that wall, and when exactly three minutes had passed she would pour them into the cups. And dare anyone touch that kettle then, or try to lend a hand, that was her prerogative. Then she would call out to Hashmat, who would come back a third time, with a milk pot with warm milk. Apa would measure milk with a teaspoon and ready the chai with sugar as needed. Then she would hand out the cups and wait with bated breath for you to taste and voice your appreciation with the sound of “Wah”. Aise thi Ainee Apa!