Sudha Balagopal

Creative Nonfiction

Tea Memories

The tea we lingered over in our family, embroidered tea cozy from Kashmir keeping the pot on the table warm.

The tea from a road-side stand on a family trip to the rainiest place on earth, Cherrapunji, the Assam-grown beverage dense-rich in flavor.

The tea in the shadow of verdant tea gardens in the Nilgiris, milky-rich and soul-satisfying.

The tea my father brought from Darjeeling, fragrance of the Himalayas wafting through our home.

The tea bags I tolerated for their stringed convenience but to which I couldn’t get attached.

The tea that kept me company when I stayed up late during my college years, the mug’s warmth melting exam anxieties.

The tea with which I coaxed my coffee-drinking husband into conversion, for the togetherness, for the matching cups and saucers.

The tea I tasted in Europe for the first time, Earl Grey―citrusy and distinctive with its bergamot oil.

The tea I couldn’t find in the American stores in my neighborhood.

The tea I brewed for a newspaper reporter’s article, traditional chai, half milk, half water, spiced with fresh-minced ginger and cardamom.

The tea to which I must adapt, weaning away from the sugary-sweetness in stages, half-a-teaspoon, a quarter, then none at all.

The tea I indulged in whilst pregnant, a single cup, sip by delicious sip, to make it stretch.

The tea I craved, for its warm hug, right after my children were born: milky, sugary, strong.

The tea as a celebration and ceremony when I got together with my sisters, chai-chatter swirling over steamy cups.

The tea that I tried switching to―chamomile, turmeric, valerian root, lemon, ginger, decaf―for help with insomnia.

The tea leaves in the always-stocked container on my counter―the ceramic jar a gift from my daughter.

Contributor Note

Crafting in my Kitchen

I write in my kitchen.

It’s where I assess my pantry ingredients, where I think about how I can put together what I have to create something not just delicious but satisfying.

It’s also where I sip endless cups of tea, where I plumb my mind, where I connect to the ideas that call to me, where I connect disparate thoughts until they come together into a soul-satisfying story.

To me, both cooking and writing are creative endeavors. I’m not a disciplined cook, I don’t plan meals, I don’t measure, or even have all the right tools. But I do cook. A lot. I improvise, I approximate, I fashion what I already have into something that’s, hopefully, delicious.

That’s also how I write. I don’t begin with an outline, I don’t know how long the story is going to be, nor do I know how my niggling ideas, my ingredients―in writing, it’s my life experiences―are going to reveal themselves into a full-fledged story.

But just as I coax a dish into the best it can be, I cajole those niggling ideas into words, into paragraphs and into a story. For both cooking and for writing, I start with the ingredients I have at hand.

I’m amazed by what manifests.

Sudha Balagopal creates dishes and writes stories in her kitchen. She is the author of a novel,  A New Dawn and two short story collections. Her novella in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021. Her recent nonfiction pieces appear in CRAFT Literary and Native Skin. Her work will be published in Best Microfiction 2022.