A Sweet Treat During A Pandemic
Like everyone, my plans for 2020 gradually disintegrated. From travel — a highly anticipated trip to Bhutan that has now been rescheduled, to the long-awaited milestone of my daughter’s college graduation that will most likely occur online, all plans for the year are either on hold or abandoned.
Working from home and spending time with family has turned out to be a mixed blessing.
Will anything good come from this tryst with the novel Coronavirus that has us in its grip, I wonder.
As the end of the work day approaches, I take a break for tea. It gives me a chance to get up from the desk or chair or room where I have been attending to calls and followup action items. My kitchen overlooks a nature reserve. It is lush green, with no sign of humans in the vicinity, although, in Singapore, you are never very far from another building. This natural curtain that apparently shields me from urban life is not very different from the act of staying home to avoid encounters with the virus.
I miss my office pantry. It overlooks a large rectangular lawn which has thankfully not been deployed for development into another nondescript rectangular building. The spacious pantry with a refrigerator, microwave, and a Jura coffee machine provided a welcome respite each afternoon. My colleague and I would take our cups, tea bags and assorted snacks and sit on tall chairs facing the fluorescent lawn. For a few minutes each day we would catch up on our life outside of work. Given the current situation, those easy moments seem like a dream, or at best, an unlikely event in the short term.
My home-office teatime coincides with the end of the school day for my teenager who has been locked up in a small but comfortably air-conditioned room that I hope provides her with a conducive learning atmosphere. The older daughter, at a loose end after her semester ended, wanders around with her laptop binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and other shows on Netflix.
They usually prefer to drink Milo with Oreo cookies or make themselves a snack with cheese and crackers. If they are particularly famished, they share a bowl of Maggi noodles.
On an overcast afternoon with thunder rumbling in the background, I ask them if they would like some tea. To my great surprise and delight, they say “yes.”
I add three cups of water into my trusted steel vessel with the heat-proof handle and dimpled edge. When it begins to boil, I add Brooke Bond Red Label Natural Care tea leaves and allow it to boil, letting the aroma and color deepen. I pour enough milk until it merges with the dark decoction and gets to the exact shade of chai that I crave. I strain it into porcelain cups that I had purchased on a trip to Turkey, at a little shop on a high road somewhere in the Atlas mountains.
The girls add sugar to the unfamiliar brew to make it more palatable. As they wait for it to cool, I sip my sugarless strong chai. We sit around the table and talk about our respective boring days even though we have borne witness to it.
In the days ahead, teatime becomes a time for coming together from the various rooms into which we have secluded ourselves. The girls try their hand at making chocolate chip cookies. One afternoon there is an eggless lemon cake. Although there is no life outside of home and therefore nothing new to report, we still have things to share — TikTok videos, Instagram pictures of mouthwatering recipes, and memes that make light of our lockdown blues.
I tell them about my latest fascination with audiobooks. After listening to an essay collection, I began listening to fiction with an English translation of a Korean novel titled “Kim Jiyoung Born 1982”. More recently I finished listening to a fabulous performance by Tom Hanks of Ann Patchett’s novel, The Dutch House.
The family has been creative in their own way. With his trekking plans on hold, hubby decided to explore the kitchen and try his hand at whipping up some delicious Western and Indian, baked and fried desserts. Given his super high metabolic rate, he did not suffer long term consequences of brownies and appams. But the women of the house have to devote themselves to exercise for at least an hour each day. I gravitate towards yoga while the girls pick up high impact cardio workouts.
Our home transforms into a pop-up gym most evenings. Yoga mats are laid out in various locations with laptops set up strategically for zoom sessions. Air pods are in high demand. Towels, yoga blocks, and skipping ropes are scattered on every available surface. Energy levels rise as everyone picks up the pace. The air fills with grunts and sweat and deep breaths; the washing machine fills with discarded workout attire.
Unwittingly we seem to have wandered into a strange parallel universe. Or is it just a phase of life? Everything feels real but also temporary.
The ordinary fleeting passage of life has taken on an urgency, a pungency, an intensity that reminds us of its fragility. This moment. Us. Together.
Even while stuck at home, this enforced seclusion has been a time of learning. Not just the tools we picked up online but the things we learned offline. The most important lessons were located surprisingly close to us. Some were embedded in our family lives, but most were buried deep inside us.
The pandemic did have some redeeming qualities after all. I am looking forward to a lifetime of chaitime with my girls.
Originally published at https://www.ranjanirao.com on June 3, 2020.