It is that time of the day when authors feel a slight creative lurch. Having been up and at the desk since 6am – an early start of the working day powered by a high-caffeine, no-chicory latte – and with only a 2-hour break around noon for gym and a light lunch, ZAC O’YEAH inevitably begins to feel a bit drowsy by 3pm. However, as a conscientious author he feels compelled to type for another two hours before it is time to don the straw hat and head out for the evening stroll and mandatory sunset cocktails that belong to the author’s lifestyle (at least in popular myths). But it is too early to rumba with the cocktail shaker.
It is at that Hemingway moment in the afternoon that his better half, ANJUM HASAN, as a rule leaves her writing desk and walks into his office with a mug of tea. She has a vast collection of teas bought during her speaking tours around the world and it includes jasmine tea from China, oolong from Taiwan, organic green tea from Korakundah, and a variety of Assam teas. She usually boils some freshly drawn water from the well, rather than the tap, in which a pinch of leaves are soaked. No teabags or fancy strainers, no milk or sugar, no civet shit, just tea leaves and scalding hot water in huge mugs.
They don’t know it, but just to explore if there is any literary drama to tea-drinking, Teabox has bugged ZAC’s laptop to record the conversation today and voice-recognition software converts their chat into a textfile that is uploaded to the Teabox blog in real-time, with grammatical errors and all, as they speak.
ZAC (sounding a little deflated): Missed you baby.
ANJUM (absentmindedly): Rubbish, I was just next-door…
ZAC: I got notice today. One of the publications I write for is folding up. How’s your writing going? Any good news from publishers? Can we live off your royalty cheques, do you think?
ANJUM: Maybe you need to get your agent to get you a new job. Here’s your tea.
ZAC (a little more upbeat): Yummy. Which one is this one?
ANJUM: I thought we’ll have Temi tea from Sikkim today, a good, strong tea for waking up, so you can focus on pitching stories. The only news from publishers is that yet another Bollywood star has learnt how to spell and is therefore the new literary sensation. So we only have the tea for inspiration for the time being.
ZAC (chuckles sadly): I seriously need to stop daydreaming and pull myself together. I could also teach myself how to spell. It doesn’t seem that hard.
Anjum Hasan (courtesy Anjum Hasan)
ANJUM: What’s wrong?
ZAC: All morning I’ve just been staring at this proposal that my agent wants me to send her today by 5pm and she’s breathing heavily down my neck. The proposal is all clear in my mind and all chapters have titles, but the problem is that I know I am also looking at a year of hard work to write the bloody book.
ANJUM: And so, what’s the problem?
ZAC: I am beginning to think that I love procrastinating too much to be a writer; whenever some glossy magazine asks me to review a spa resort I jump at the opportunity to leave my desk. You must have noticed?
ANJUM (giggling): Maybe you should become a tea planter instead.
ZAC (giggles too): Or take up a job ghost-writing for somebody… like that actress you mentioned, though if she knows how to use the spellchecker then even that job won’t be available anymore. Don’t you ever wonder if you’re in the wrong profession as a writer?
ANJUM: I’m writing short stories these days and postponing worries about my next novel.
ZAC: Very good master plan. Procrastination is an integral part of all creative work. Some call it germination. It can also make one feel like a fungus, a poet once told me.
ANJUM: I have so many doubts about being a writer that it’s become part of the job description for me now. And it’s true – the classic writerly response to doubt is to procrastinate. But right now I’m also in limbo because I’m travelling to my hometown soon.
ZAC: Shillong, you mean. We are at home right now.
ANJUM: Whatever. Hard to focus when one is on the verge of travel. But I’m looking forward to getting some inspiration there. And also buying some local teas.
ZAC: There should be some nice teas there. After all it is the erstwhile capital of Assam.
ANJUM: It’s actually quite interesting how when I was growing up in Shillong in the 80s and 90s no tea was really produced and marketed in Meghalaya, it was more of a Brookebond culture in those days. But now there are lots of small local plantations experimenting with organic black, green and white tea – such as Sharawn, Urlong and La Kyrsiew
– all of which I stock up on when I visit.
Zac O’Yeah by Gustaf Gräll
ZAC: Sooper. Maybe you could write something about how those parts are changing too rapidly. There’s hardly anything left of old Shillong, of that quaint hill station it once was. It is a bit like all of India, I suppose, everything is changing, but it becomes more noticeable in small towns. People might forget what life was like even as recently as a couple of years back. Like for example, the tealess days in Shillong.
ANJUM: Tealessness is hardly the problem. Last time I went to Shillong I stopped by in Guwahati, and I got so many teas from all over the region – from friends, from the literary festival I was attending, and even as a parting gift from the hotel I was staying at. For example this Temi tea that you should focus on drinking instead of faffing and procrastinating, I got from a poet friend who’s quite a connoisseur of tea. He considers Temi among the best teas he’s had and got me hooked on it a few years ago. Another poet friend gave me a box of Darjeeling autumn flush
which is excellent. I’ve been drinking it morning and night the last few days.
ZAC: And you haven’t given me any?
ANJUM: You’re so hooked on your Arabica beans and new espresso maker in the mornings, so I didn’t think you’d want any. That way you’re a bit like my parents. They only drink CTC because they’re so used to it. The idea of brewing their tea, rather than boiling it, is quite alien to them. So there have never been tealess days in Meghalaya – it’s a huge tea drinking culture – but definitely boiled milktea with too much sugar was the only option once.
ZAC (self-pityingly): I also want to go to a literary festival and get free tea. Last time I was at the Kolkata Book Fair they gave me at least half a kg of roasted Darjeeling. But this year all the festivals seem to have forgotten about me. Maybe because I didn’t have a new book out last year… I really do have to stop procrastinating and get this next book of mine together. It gives me too much tension. Is there any tea in your collection that can release tension?
ANJUM: Drink your tea now and you’ll feel better.
ZAC (slurps): Yes it is nicely hot. Gives nice feel in tummy too. Can I have some of that chocolate you got in Los Angeles when you gave your lecture there?
ANJUM: No, you’re on a diet.
ZAC: But it might help me de-stress. I heard chocolate has some chemical in it that…
ANJUM (interrupts): All these stresses in a writer’s life – pre-book blues, post book blues, no book blues. George Orwell, who could write a great essay about almost anything, has a wonderful little piece called A Nice Cup of Tea. You should read it. Reading can be a great stress-buster. And it doesn’t make you fat.
ZAC: He really says that?
ANJUM: He lays out his eleven golden rules for tea drinking, the first of which is that one should only drink Indian or Ceylonese tea, not Chinese, because one does not feel “wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it.” And then he says, “Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.” So now that we have many more nice cups of tea to choose from maybe we’ll survive all the many horrors associated with the writing life, don’t you think?
ZAC (sounding inflated): Yes, now that you mention it I think the caffeine level of tea gives just the right boost to end my procrastination… suddenly it is over.
ANJUM (blinks): Thank god for that. My own tea is getting cold at my desk.