Both the Congress and BJP, the main contenders in the electoral battle – our quinquennial version of Mahabharata – are getting ready for the forthcoming crucial engagement in a few months. Mysteriously enough, the pre-battle preparations have boiled down to a Battle of Beverages.
Tea vs. Milk
The Modi camp is associated with tea since Narendra Modi tells us he started his life innings from the humble beginning as a tea-vendor. (Lalu Prasad also has staked his claim as the first-tea-vendor-turned-politician. But his time, whether he accepts on not, is over.) Rahul Gandhi can’t opt for his American favorite, coffee because, first, our relations with Uncle Sam (whose favorite it also happens to be) are trifle strained these days and, secondly, his nutrition advisors – he has a team of advisors for everything – told him of its medically-proven harmful effects. He has opted, therefore, for milk – “the whitish nutritious fluid produced and secreted by the mammary glands of mature female mammals and used for feeding their young until weaned.”
The Congress party chose Gorakhpur to launch his ‘Rahul Milk’ campaign. Why Gorakhpur, you may ask? Wasn’t it here that that the vociferous advocate of the Congress-cum-corruption mukt India asked the nation to give him 60 months to test BJP after having been let down by the Congress whom they gave 60 years to mismanage affairs.
In the stalls that have been up, visitors (meaning the prospective voters for the Party) will be offered hot milk to counter the NaMo tea offensive. And the Party workers are telling people coming to these stalls not to visit “NaMO tea stalls” as tea is harmful and milk is healthy. Rahul’s advisers – many of whom are management experts with MBA’s from Harvard and Wharton – have finalized their marketing thrust:
BJP ki zehreeli chai nahin, doodh pilayenge,
desh ke naujawano ko pahalwan banayenge.
We’ll offer you healthy milk instead of BJP’s poisonous tea,
So as to convert the Nation’s youth into wrestlers.
I’m deeply moved by Rahul’s commitment to India and things Indian. Don’t forget even if it is grown in India – in our North-Eastern region which has of late been in news for wrong reasons – tea is quintessentially alien to our society. The English name tea is borrowed from the Chinese pictorial character called cha – lovingly referred to as Ocha in Japanese. It is from these we have our chai or cha. And ignorant Modi is trying to make this harmful liquor as India’s national drink, and his election plank.
Both Coca Cola and Pepsi, I’m told, made exceedingly generous offers to both Rahul and Modi to make their choice. But the real patriots in them spurned the offer of MNC’s. Instead, Rahul went for what Lord Krishna was fond of, namely, milk and everything derived from it – butter, cheese and numerous other preparations. And Modi opted for tea what the common man can afford.
Rahul Gandhi wants us to be a nation of wrestlers – strong, well-built muscular bodies which is possible only by drinking milk and not that harmful stuff called NaMo Cha. Don’t you hear here the echoes of Vivekananda’s memorable message that he sent to his favorite Madras disciple, Alasinga Perumal?
My child, what I want is muscles of iron and nerves of steel, inside which dwells a mind of the same material as that of which the thunderbolt is made.
Mind, we seem to have lost these days. What is left are body and muscles and at least these must receive our full attention.
I had, however, difficulty in convincing my wife who is self-declaredly pro-NaMo. When I tried my hand converting her from a cha supporter to milk supporter, she snapped back: “You’re really a fool. Do you know how much milk costs?”
“Rahul Gandhi is giving it free,” I told her reassuringly.
“What happens after the elections? You know the cost of milk? It’s Rs 38 per litre in Mother Diary booths. How on earth can you afford to become a milk-addict?”
I was shocked. Yes, you can have cha in a khuller (earthen cup) for five/six rupees. I think I can afford that even after the free distribution is over but not that “whitish nutritious fluid” which has, I’m told, good five percent saturated fat to narrow your arteries and make you prone to this trouble and that.
But how on earth did the Bard know all about it? Didn’t he mention that Lady Macbeth wasn’t too sure that her husband had the determination and heartlessness to kill in order to achieve “their” goals of kingship and power? And that was because, as he put it, he was, “too full o’ th’ Milke of humane kindnesse” to adopt the philosophy of going in for the kill to gain power.
Chai as a Drink
All this confusing debate egged me on to learn afresh all about beverages.
Water, indeed, is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. The only exception, I’m told, is France where the gourmet French strictly believe it is meant only for external use, or Finland and Russia where it is wisely substituted by vodka, or even in Scotland (but not England) where they prefer Scotch on the rocks.
After water, tea easily ranks as the second most consumed beverage. Legend has it that tea was first drunk during the reign of the Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung around 2737 B.C. So you can imagine what Narandra Modi had been selling has been in the market for nearly 5000 years – almost as old as the profession of politics that he and Rahul Gandhi are locked in.
Tea is supposed to have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavor that many people enjoy. It is an aromatic beverage easily prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the plant which carries the botanical name camellia sinensis. Even though it originated in China and remained confined there for centuries, the Portuguese priests and merchants introduced it to the outside world.
Drinking tea became popular in Britain during the 17th century. The British with an ever-keen commercial eye, introduced it to India in order to compete with the Chinese monopoly on the product, and, of course, to make money. And thereafter it is, as they say, history.
Tea has long been promoted for having a variety of positive health benefits. That prestigious American broadsheet, famous for having hounded a President out of the White House, Washington Post tells us: “In the latte-obsessed United States, tea is gaining ground as scientists and the public learn more about its benefits.” The daily goes on to tell its readers: “A growing body of research suggests that (tea) … helps prevent cardiovascular disease, burn calories and ward off some types of cancer.”
‘We don’t clearly understand why tea is so beneficial, but we know it is,’ recently said Thomas Sherman, an associate professor in the department of pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown University. ‘There are lots of epidemiological studies, and so of course people see these studies and want to drink tea and gain these benefits.’
The proponents of tea make forbidding claims: it promote oral health, reduce blood pressure, help with weight control, improve antibacterial and anti-virasic activity, provide protection from solar ultraviolet light, and increase bone mineral density.
Green tea, in particular, is said to have anti-fibrotic properties, and neuro-protective power. Consumption of green tea is associated with a lower risk of diseases that cause functional disability, such as “stroke, cognitive impairment, and osteoporosis” in the elderly.
A Connoisseur’s Certification
I ran into a certification of the ecstasy-producing qualities of tea in a most unusual source. And that was in Ghubar-e-Khatir (Sallies of Mind) – the last of Maulana Azad’s writings, and perhaps the most unique. Maulana Azad’s writings whether journalistic or academic, primarily dealt with either religion or politics. But in Ghubar-e-Khatir, he, wisely, took leave of both his life-long preoccupations and used the solitude of comfortable political incarceration (that the wise British rulers used to provide to our leaders) to give expression to his innermost thoughts on various phenomena of life.
When he talks about his tea habit he throws a flood of light on the origin of the weed, its varieties as well as various tastes of tea drinkers. For him tea is not a substitute of wine but itself an intoxicating drink that transports him into the world of imagination where past, present and future merge into eternity. (There is, incidentally, also rich stuff for lovers of plants and flowers and exceedingly rewarding information for those inclined towards music. Maulana should indeed have been indebted to Allah that he wasn’t born during the reign of Aurangzeb.)
Pardon my striking a heretic note. I find the well-diluted single malt whisky taken slowly very early in the morning working the same magical spell that Maulana talked of. Lucky that he found it in special teas! I hope he wasn’t pulling a fast one.
We in India are not the consumers of green tea which is supposedly a better drink than the tea we’re used to. Green tea is a type of tea that is harvested and then quickly preserved. Whereas black tea leaves are allowed to oxidize after they are picked. Green tea leaves are immediately heated to prevent oxidation. (Oxidation is a natural process. It’s the same thing that happens when you slice an apple and it begins to turn brownish and taste sweeter as it is exposed to oxygen.)
Green teas are processed with either steam heat or with dry heat (such as pan firing, which is similar to stir frying in a wok or a quick baking process in an oven). This processing is different from the processing for other tea types, including black tea oolong tea, and white tea.
Many people don’t take to green tea because they think it tastes trifle bitter and grassy. And for some, this is a simple matter of taste. Depending on where they were grown, how they were processed, when they were harvested, etc., good green teas can have a range of tastes. Common descriptors for good quality green tea include: sweet, bittersweet, nutty, vegetal, buttery, floral, fruity and oceanic.
Ours is in indeed a unique culture. It’s extraordinarily assimilative. We take from others whatever we like and then absorb it in our unique way so that is becomes quintessentially ours. This is what happened to tea.
The British introduced tea, to begin with, in upper Assam because the climate was ideally suited to tea cultivation. The same was the case late in the Darjeeling Valley where is grown some of the world’s best tea. Now tea is grown in several other places too and India is both the world’s largest and producer and consumer of tea.
Our tea-making style too is different. We put the water on the boil and before it teaches the boiling point, add tea leaves to it and also sugar and let the mixture continue to boil. For really strong tea – the favorite of long-distance truck-drivers – the dark brew is re-boiled for a while after some extra milk has been added. That’s the tea – or rather several weaker and stronger versions thereof – that’s sold in most dhabas and tea-stalls. The tea sold in small glasses by Modi was the tea conforming to the above concoction.
But that’s not the only style of tea-making. There is more sophisticated version as per which a spoonful or two of tea-leaves are put in dry porcelain tea pot. Boiling water is poured on it. After about five minutes the brew is ready to be poured in cups. You add milk and sugar as per your taste. The British always keen to keep the commercial implications in mind, have, on the basis of studies, established that addition of milk in no way reduces the antioxidant properties of tea.
You buy packaged tea. Open the container, inhale the aroma. That’s the beginning of the romance with tea. I’ve seen in Kolkata tea afficionadi buy tea of different gardens in predetermined proportions and mix them to create a blend of their choice.
The trifle messy business of disposing off the tea leaves after you have had the beverage, led to the invention of tea bags. The first tea bags, I hear, were made from hand-sewn silk muslin bags. The first successful marketing of tea bags was (who else could he be?) by an American merchant by the name Thomas Sullivan of New York . A machine was soon invented to replace the hand sewing of tea bags. Lipton Tea patented a novel four-sided tea bag in 1952 called the flo-thru tea bag.
The Healthy Beverage
Above all, thanks to Verghese Kurien’s pioneering work, Rahul Gandhi doesn’t have to tell you how healthy a drink milk is. He should also be grateful to the makers of Manthan, the 1976 Hindi film made by Shyam Benegal. It’s based on a story written jointly by Verghese Kurien, the author of the White Revolution in India and director Shyam Benegal. The film traces a small set of poor farmers of Kheda district in Gujarat who had the vision and foresight to act in a way that was good for the society and not for the self alone. Under leaders like local social worker Tribhovandas Patel, who took up the cause of the farmers, emerged the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union. Soon the pattern was repeated in each district of Gujarat, which in turn led to the formation of Amul, a dairy cooperative in Anand, Gujarat in 1946, which is today, jointly owned by some 2.6 million milk producers.
Remember the haunting song Mero gaam kathaparey rendered by Preeti Sagar – a song that later was used as the soundtrack for the television commercials for Amul. Manthan was a great movie and, above all, a memorable validation of the Gandhian philosophy that what we need in our society is not mass production of the West but production by masses. It is set amidst the backdrop of the White Revolution of India (Operation Flood) which started in 1970, ushering an era of plenty, from a measly amount of milk production and distribution that obtained before that. Aside from the great measurable success that this project was, it also demonstrated the power of “collective might”.
Has Rahul Gandhi to be reminded that Operation Flood happened in Gujarat – the State that elected Narendra Modi thrice to lead it to greener pastures of prosperity? Modi may venture to remind him: “It’s my State that made India self-sufficient in milk. It is there that the great cooperative movement took root and flourished, doing India proud in the area of milk production.”
To add to the electoral melee Priyanka Vadra has come forward to lend a helping hand to her brother by supplementing Raul Milk with Priyanka Khichdi. Henceforth it’s going to be as per the ubiquitous American marketing techniques going to be a two-in-one salesmanship in the Congress camp.
Earlier they used to say a balanced diet is a Budweiser in each hand! Now onwards it is tea after khichdi and milk. The discriminating voter I’m told have planned to go first to Rahul Stall. Have a plate of moong dal khichdi with a glass of piping hot creamy Amul milk and then head for NaMo stall to down everything with a good cup of tea. Thereafter, head for the voting booth and cast their vote as per the decision arrived at months ago.