The smell was unmistakable. The surroundings — almost like how it used to be, back in the days. I was sitting in a small restaurant in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The smell, the noise, and the bright white “rangoli”, or “kolam” in the local language — a small white design made from chalk powder in front of every entrance — took me back in time.
Some of the best memories I have from my childhood is the smell. That faint aroma from the kitchen that mixes with the smell of fresh newsprint from the newspaper certainly triggers nostalgia without a fail.
The scene in my head from my childhood is of my mum handing over the hot cup of coffee in a steel cup — popularly called tumbler, to dad.
He is seated next to me on the floor with the newspaper spread in front of him. Soft Carnatic music from the radio plays in the background, occasionally interrupted by the news read out in Sanskrit.
The front door is wide open, and I can see the neighbours go about their business from where I am seated. As the morning breeze hits my face, I can hear dad, slurping his coffee, sip by sip, oblivious of his surroundings. My senses begin to tickle and the coffee smell is making me uneasy. Slowly I get up and move out to watch mum who is busy drawing the rangoli outside.
I replay this scene every time I am in similar surroundings and invariably, I end up with a smile because of my own coffee journey — from uneasiness to divinity — my senses have been transformed.
I felt the heat along the rim of the cup as memories flooded in. I held the cup and without much thought, took in a deep slurp like my dad. I looked up and saw my husband lost in his world. Nobody seemed to have noticed my slurp that much. I smiled and I got lost in my own world with more slurps and some coffee
Coffee drinking is a holy affair in most South Indian households. It is the cuppa everyone wakes up to in the morning. But, back in the days, I hated coffee and everything about it. While the entire household relished the drink, I stuck to the humble white liquid called milk. During my entire childhood, I have withstood tonnes of questions about why I detested coffee and nobody in their right minds could never got their head around my relationship with milk.
I learnt to love coffee from my husband. During the early days of our marriage, he would prod me to try and I would turn him down. Over a period of time, I watched his love for the drink in more ways than I could imagine. He made the drink himself, with the right amount of milk and black coffee — which is popularly called decoction in South India.
I began to join my husband’s coffee drinking ritual at first because, I was too lazy to get my own drink. The smell that I had always detested slowly began to grow on me. And I fell in love — bit by bit.
Now, as I sat in the little restaurant enjoying my morning cuppa with my entire family, a long comforting slurp alerted my ears. My father, who now sports grey hair and wrinkled eyes, seemed lost in his world with his cup. My mother smiled a contended smile as she held her cup when my husband asked, “would you like another cup?” I nodded.
My husband enthusiastically walked up to the man at the counter who made coffee. The man, dressed in white, went about the ritual with utmost care. He clearly took pride in what he did as he held a perfect smile while he poured the drink in two copper cups. I continued to watch as my husband indulged in some small talk before bringing over the cup.
I felt the heat along the rim of the cup as memories flooded in. I held the cup and without much thought, took in a deep slurp like my dad. I looked up and saw my husband lost in his world. Nobody seemed to have noticed my slurp that much. I smiled and I got lost in my own world with more slurps and some coffee.
— Sudha Subramanian is an author and freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman