Milk Tea. This is the story of an act of kindness and a cup of doodh chai. Actually, multiple cups of it.
In the city of Sirhind, India, a man wakes up in the middle of a cold November night. Milking the buffalo in his garden, he carries the precious milk cautiously into the mausoleum. Placing the pot of milk on the ground, a copper key appears in his hand as he unlocks the doors of the grand kitchen.
A dark passage leads into an empty room with makeshift ovens on the floor and pots in various sizes scattered to the right. He walks into the little chamber which opens up to a dining hall with assembled wooden floor tables. While everyone is wrapped tightly in their beds, he places an oversized pot on a stove and fires it up. The fresh buffalo milk goes in followed by all the secret ingredients to make the perfect doodh chai.
Nine of my girlfriends and I were fortunate enough to have a sip of that chai. We arrived in Sirhind after a long seven-hour car ride from Delhi, with horn sounds blaring from left and right. Turns out, drivers in India honk every second to inform the neighbouring vehicle about their whereabouts and proximity. I guess side mirrors aren’t a thing in Indian traffic. What’s surprising is that all the trucks have colourful sings attached to the rear in English, ‘Honk Please’! I do not understand how people can drive calmly in such an environment, it was enjoyable to watch it as a passenger for sure!
During our stay in Sirhind, we heard about this man brewing chai during the early hours in the morning and opening the doors of the grand kitchen to the public. Our goal was to be able to wake up early and visit the grand kitchen for a cup of chai, to see if it was really worth it.
With multiple layers on and wrapped in our blankets, we walked out into a foggy morning. The streets were covered with a light grey mist as the sun was slowly appearing behind the mausoleum. The doors of the grand kitchen were left wide open, welcoming everyone who passed by. Like a row of ducklings, my friends and I made our way through the dark passage and into the little chamber. From here, we could see the man brewing doodh chai from the window openings.
Like us, the man was wrapped in a cloak which extended to his feet. His arms appeared on his sides as he held a long wooden stick and stirred the pot slowly. The steam from the pot spread out, creating swirls and reaching the ceiling as it dissolved into the air. He grabbed a teapot, a sieve and a pitcher. The pitcher dove into the pot and came out full of doodh chai. He emptied the pitcher into the teapot as he poured it through the sieve. Spices in various sizes were filtered in this process, as the milky liquid made it into the teapot.
He carried a tray full of white cups towards us and placed it on the window opening. The metallic teapot appeared once again and he filled the cups one by one with a light brown doodh chai. He had nine pairs of curious eyes looking his way, analysing his actions and of course taking photos of everything.
This man sacrificed from his time early mornings to welcome others to a warm start to the day by serving the perfect blend of his hot cup of doodh chai. A selfless act that attracted a crowd of locals to come together, enjoy some freshly brewed chai and then begin their daily errands. What an uplifting start to a day that is.
We picked up the white cups from the tray and took a sip.
Silky, sweet, spicy.