“I dunno… It’s still not right.”
“I did it exactly as you said this time.”
“Even so, there’s something missing…”
My son has once again asked me to do the impossible. It is, you might think, just a small thing. Something that I should be able to do without the slightest trouble. He wants me to make him a cup of tea.
The problem is that the tea in question is the exotically spiced chai masala with which he fell in love in India and which I have never tasted. For him it is the stuff of memory, conjuring visions of people and places, scents and sounds…if we brew it even close to right.
For me, it is a mystery. I have never been to India. The ‘chai’ I have encountered here is a pallid imitation of the aromatic brew he remembers, redolent with cardamom, cloves and pepper. I do not know what I am supposed to be brewing.
Research online is no help. So far it has yielded a hundred different versions of how best to brew the chai, from starting with the spices and blending your own, to the use of tea bags…which simply do not come close. The proportion of milk to water, the cream content, the time to simmer the spices…every possible variant is available…and we have tried a good many of them. The tea we finally settled upon comes close… but has only yielded a few cups that have held the magic to carry memory across continents.
My son, meanwhile, in his search for the perfect cup of chai, has developed a passion for the stuff. There is what looks suspiciously like an altar to tea in his home, where arcane potions are brewed that fill the air with fragrance. Turmeric, ginger, rose petals and oranges… teas that are green, black and white… a far cry from the classic mahogany brew I grew up with in Yorkshire. There are spices in there that I would never have associated with the tea caddy.
“I know what’s missing,” said my son after another abortive attempt. I was all ears…we have tried just about everything, turning his kitchen into an alchemist’s den and me into a frazzled, frustrated hobbit. “The secret ingredient….”
“Love.” And there it was.
He was absolutely right. Chai is a chore… while for my son, it is a magic carpet back to joy. The best cups of chai are the ones he has made. The chai holds no emotional connection for me, except that I would like to get it right for him. I cook for him every day, and love is part of that process, both my love of my son and my love of real and exotic cookery and that emotion finds its way into the food… and affects how I work.
It is easy enough to understand why we enjoy doing the things we love and how hard it can be to do the things we dislike doing, but it is also easy to forget or overlook the simple fact that to render a service or perform a chore with love means that it is no longer a chore.
Throughout our lives we are asked to do things we would normally avoid, tackle jobs we do not wish to do or at which we would normally cringe. When we do them for love, there is little thought of how it makes us feel… we just get on with it. Whether it is cleaning up after a sick child, burning the midnight oil to get something finished or going out of our way for a friend, love takes the sting out of most things.
We can do the same thing for ourselves too, if we believe that we too are worthy of the efforts of our love…and many of us don’t. We do not even think about it, but if we lavished the same care on ourselves as we do on those we love, life might feel a little different.
Long ago I read of the Path of the Hearthfire…an approach to life that takes the little things of every day and turns them into acts of love that go beyond the earthly emotion. It is a truly magical path, perfectly suited to the hectic lifestyles we lead, with the responsibilities of work, the running of a home and the raising of children. The smallest thing, from dusting the furniture, to walking the dog, can become a sacred act if approached with love and, in doing so, we bring ourselves closer to the Source, the fountain of being from which we draw our lives.
Love adds something to whatever it is we are doing… an indefinable quality, that ‘secret ingredient’ that makes us take that little extra time, a little extra care… and that can make all the difference, even to a cup of tea.
Photos: Nick Verron