This weekend, I made masala chai.
When I was in India last year, it was one of the small revelations that made that trip so special. I remember standing on a Bangalore corner with Kabir and Abishek, exhaust fumes from auto rickshaws perfuming the air, sipping cardamom-spiced sugary milk tea doled out from large metal pots into our small cups. I drank an intensely gingery iteration outside the lush green campus of the National Centre for Biological Sciences while Kabir twirled a cigarette between his elegant fingers. Kabir and I girded ourselves with chai before taking a long overnight bus to the foggy hill station at Kodaikanal; I remember stumbling groggy off the bus, wobbly and disoriented, and warming my hands on the little metal cups of steaming sweet tea sold just near the bus station.
I meant to make this tea when I returned to Istanbul last November, but by the time I left India I was wildly ill with what turned out to be an intestinal parasite. (“That’s such a cliche,” a friend said to me recently. “I know,” I replied.) It took six weeks to figure out what was wrong with me; by January, when the antibiotics kicked in and I could finally enjoy food again, my sense memories of India had been suppressed for a long time. There’s nothing like constant nausea to make you forget things.
It’s only now, nearly a year later, that I’ve been getting these waves of memories, hitting me with an unexpected intensity. Out of nowhere, I remember showering in Kabir’s apartment and hearing the sweet sounds of nuns singing at the neighboring convent. The weird scent of incense and dirt and heat floods my mind. And the taste of masala chai, sticky and fragrant, sipped slowly on busy city corners, fills up my senses.
So I did what I meant to do last November, before I knew that weeks and memories would be derailed by sickness.
I made masala chai. And it was splendid.