Chiya, nepali word for tea. Nepali chiya to me never before meant like a different label of its own until I came here to the US. Here whenever I go to a Nepali’s place, I am offered as choice, along with tea, coffee – Nepali chiya. My heart leaps up with joy when I hear that pleasent sound of “Nepali chiya” when I enter somebody’s home. I categorize myself as non drinker of – among many things – tea as well but after coming here I have not missed any cup of tea that came my way. Generally it isn’t much, but how often do you get to feel closer to home drinking something sweet, and hot; or an aroma so familiar that it takes you back.
Somebody from belayat mocked Nepali chiya for being just sugar and water. And though I refuted that it is not just so, I also did not go to the extent of thinking Nepali tea to be a variety by itself. Come on, back in Nepal I always saw tea in terms of their brand, “Tokla chiya”, “tin patey chiya”, “Red Label tea” along with “green tea”, or “Earl Grey” tea, but never – a “Nepali tea”. The colour of the tea mattered, black tea or milk tea, black tea with lemon in it or without? Well, sugar and water are always there unless, somebody you are serving the tea is a diabetic.
Even though the tea is not like the Chinese or Japanese or Belayati tea, the “Nepali tea” is nevertheless American. When I do get offers of Nepali tea, it is the milk tea – the most common tea that is commonly offered. It is exotic. Perhaps its scarcity also makes it so valuable. But never once has anyone asked me of the details of the tea over here – black or with milk. People just presume that the Nepali tea ought to be the milk tea. Of course, no doubt it is the most dominant form of tea. As for the brand, here we do not care much as long as it is from Nepal. I think “Tokala” tea is most used here. I’m not sure though.
When one of my friends first told me that I ought to bring “tea” when I come here, that seemed odd. The fact that among the list of important things like my “transcript”, she also cared to mention tea seemed awkward. But now after staying here a semester I know that I would be an absolute must. Tea there, when I was there, I took it for granted. Visit any person and she/he offers you tea. “Chiya ta khayera janus”, “hoina hatar cha”, even then you still get to sit for the next 15 minutes finishing that cup of tea, doing some guff with your host, you intended to visit only for 5 min, just to get that photocopy or a book.
“Chiya” also brings memories of loktantra movement. I was an undergraduate when and after that happened. Once during our field work we were in Putalisadak, sipping tea in this cringed corner near the overhead bridge near Ratnapark, marveling at the historic importance of the place. We had called it “Loktantra chiya pasal”. No it wasn’t much of a shop if you would call it a shop, just out there, with no place to sit, not even a room, it was in the open, but during the movement people had come there, drank tea as they discussed important matters.
We drank tea, also during the “Occupy Baluwatar” days. After chanting slogans between 9-11 am, there were also days when we would gather in a local nearby tea shop, order chiya and discuss what our plan is next. Well, I should point out that what kind of chiya mattered. We would count heads for who wants chiya, but even there, black tea or white tea mattered. We would count how many wanted what tea, and only then would we start our discussion. In the middle of the discussion, the sauni would pass on the tea tray and somebody would try to remember who said which tea and passed it around. Sometimes, one person or the other would have been missed. But, then, this didn’t disturb our discussion. It was as if chiya was a part of our conversation, perhaps even an essential matter – everybody was a bit tired after standing and chanting, and perhaps needed some refreshements or to stretch their legs. Chiya made that possible.
But this isn’t just an extraordinary revolutionary moment that tea has accompanied. This is a regular affair. Like you, I have my own memory of how when walking on the road with my friends, we would decide to have tea, and just drop in at one of the chiya pasals, sit there do guff and drink tea – black, white, or black with lemon, may be some people had their own special request of how the tea ought to be, but those are rare, and nevertheless would increase the variety of Nepali tea. Once, one of my friends even churned out an article out of a guff he had with his group at a chiya pasal.
So what is my point? I really don’t have one at the moment. I am sitting in a cafe (american chiya pasal) when the university students haven’t yet all made it back for the classes next week, but the library in which the cafe is, is open, and so the cafe is open yet closed for its services. I am a bit thirsty and I can smell the coffee, read the chaye on the board as list of beverages served but cannot have it. Right now there are three of us here, all in different corners of the room, unaware of eachothers presence, immersed in our laptops. To my closer surrounding are chairs, empty ones. May be the ambience present, missing and the possibilities I see triggered this tea/chiya idea.