On a bright and lazy Sunday morning, my daughter and son-in-law proudly and equally coyly announced what is popularly known as ‘good news’. The announcement was over a video call but that did nothing to mitigate the joy I felt. I hadn’t retired at the time the announcement was made but I knew I would be by the time my grandchild arrived. This also meant I could accompany my wife to America to assist my daughter before and after the child birth. I spent the next few months obtaining all kinds of documents in place, from retirement and pension to visa and air tickets. My wife took care of mundane but more meaningful and fulfilling chores. All kinds of delicacies were prepared and packed with much effort. My wife discovers an endless source of energy as far as cooking for our children is concerned.
We had a smooth, slightly tiring and what felt like a very brisk flight. Must have been the trepidation of meeting my daughter and the prospect of being there to welcome the new generation. We were received with equal frenzy at the airport. The car ride was nothing like I had experienced in India. All the vehicles on the road seemed to be playing to some kind of musical note, so synchronised. Everything seemed perfect; it was till we got home and I requested for a cup of coffee. It arrived in a big ceramic mug. While I liked its size and colour, I enjoy my coffee in a small stainless steel glass, just the way it is served in most South Indian homes. The steel glass, though small, fits in just the right amount of coffee to invigorate you. You can see the steam disappearing into the air as the coffee arrives. You can also see the froth on top, the froth that comes from carefully pouring coffee from a height just about enough to make it. Too high and you risk spilling the coffee, and very little of it, you don’t get the much-needed froth for the finishing touch. As far as my memory goes, this is how I knew coffee. My mother brought it from the kitchen with much love and warmth during the early part of my life. My wife only continued that tradition.
This coffee that my daughter brought to me seemed nothing like the coffee I had known for 60 years of my life. I casually asked where the coffee powder came from. “Must be Columbia”, my daughter said with a nonchalant shrug. It is instant coffee, I was told. Instant messaging and mailing, I get. But what is this instant coffee? I woke up early next morning, more from the jet lag but also from the desperate need to find some not so instant coffee. Most boxes in the kitchen were transparent but they were a lot of them for a novice in the kitchen like me to go through. My wife woke up from the noise and reminded me rather sternly to behave myself. That morning, coffee arrived in the same big mug. I timidly joked that American coffee is not as frothy. My daughter got an electric froth maker. It instantly, much to my dismay, swirled the coffee in my mug and brought out some froth. I concealed my disappointment and pretended to be joyed by the machine. I complained about my coffee to my wife in while we were alone. She dismissed my concerns with raised eyebrows and a reminder of our purpose there. I grimly resigned to having coffee in a mug, frothed by a machine; my wife still bringing me the coffee was my only solace.
When my grandson arrived, everyone was elated. I spent hours analysing his nose or eyes or mouth or forehead. I got excited every time he woke up and felt the peacefulness of a monk when he slept in my arms. That something so small would engage so many people was fascinating. But my quandary over coffee remained unsolved. I even walked to the nearest popular coffee houses. My son-in-law had patiently explained how I could have full milk or non-fat, tall coffee or a Grande one, with sugar or without, black or otherwise. I overcame my initial inhibition with the accent by practising what to order. ‘One tall wet cappuccino with non-fat milk, please,’ I would say. I tried them all: Lattes, Espressos, Cappuccino, while painfully converting the dollars to rupees. As my grandson grew older, I would take him along in the evenings.
The day of boarding our return flight arrived much faster than I had anticipated. Suddenly, my daughter seemed grown up and I was convinced my grandson needed me more. I had never felt my heart heavier. But, as aliens in another country, our time was restricted and limited. We landed early morning in India, much before sunrise.
Once home, I got around to put the bags inside and check the post-box for mails. I had a quick bath to get rid of the tiredness. And as I settled down to read that morning’s paper, I smelt something only too familiar. While I didn’t completely put the paper down, I folded it enough to be able to see across. And there it was. My wife’s American manicured hands bringing me my coffee.
Not Instant. Not in a mug. Not frothed by a machine. Simple, hot filter ‘Kapi’.