Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Forest Cha

Last evening, I spent a very surreal evening in Kala Ghoda. It was only 6 p.m. when I reached there, but there was a sort of European grey and blue tone in the sky, and in the tips of spires that seemed to reach it. The sky, that looked like an oxidized sheath of silk, seemed to be folded around old terraces. Portions of it were tangled in the sharp, witchy branches decorated with saffron lights and ribbons. The wind carried the breaths of a million cubes of dry ice. People huddled and walked slowly, like warmth snaking along a blanket.

I was browsing through some stalls doing my favorite thing – pinching fabric with my thumb and forefinger. Cotton saris with shells woven in silver, printed silk stoles with moti sewn at the hems, tussar patches in magenta and yellow, and wide, rich brocade strips. One stall had very pretty handicrafts made of paper. There were some interesting pieces of paper jewellery. Most of them had layered flower designs in bright, lacquered colours encased in black wood. There were pendants in shades of yolk or antique almond and earrings in bisque and English red.

I picked up a set of earrings and pendant in forest green. The color was so deep and rich that the pieces actually looked lavish, and not like some commonplace specimens of novelty. In the ascetic setting tinted with grey and blue, each of these green spiral paper-designs shone. Some kind of gleam shimmered along its curves under the light of the lanterns – carrying life and music of the forest –after the color it was painted, maybe. They looked so alive, so vital.

After I paid for the set, I was making my way to another stall that had an interesting variety of slippers. A man beckoned. He had a huge kettle and really tiny cups. “Cha”, he asked me. Not ‘chai’ – not the term I hear and use around 20 times a day…when swarms of us move to the office canteen for breakfast; when I have a quick one waiting for the train at Chembur; when I ask for a leisurely sip just before going to bed. “Cha” is what I’d heard my grandfather ask for in my ancestral home in Cuttack; what my aunt’s favorite tailor offered me in a silver glass on a cloudy afternoon; what gaggles of women sip as they pound rice and store away the flour in heavy cases; what is instantly brewed when the first croaks are heard on a summer afternoon.

I had to have “cha”, even though I’d had six cups of “chai” already. “Cha” is forest green.

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