Does a humble beverage have the power to create divisive lines along class, caste and gender? Documentary filmmaker Shweta Ghosh attempts to find answers to this confounding question in her 50 minute presentation, ‘Steeped and Stirred’.
Sipped daintily from fine china, slurped noisily from saucers or drunk simply from sturdy steel tumblers, tea has long served as the brew over which people meet to talk to their heart’s content. The film begins with an idyllic shot of a tea garden carpeted in green, but quickly moves to shed light on a dark, grim subtext.
Take for instance, the practice of segregating utensils according to caste: in Bawla village of Gujarat, an orthodox ritual of placing Ram Patra (a saucer) outside non-Dalit homes is followed to date. Visiting Dalits can drink tea only from the Ram Patra, which after being washed by them is placed back on the designated spot. Could there be a more severe reminder of their place in society? Ghosh observes that similar treatment is meted out to women at roadside tea shacks. There may be no sign, but entry into these dimly lit shacks is strictly prohibited! Evidently, even tea stalls are bastions of male reserve.
Another interesting dimension the film explores is how our palettes have become class sensitive over time. The genteel prefer an aromatic, lightly brewed cup and they’ve also mastered the etiquette of serving tea down pat; labourers and factory workers on the other hand, make their chai with cheap tea dust, a concoction that’s strong, thick and so sweet, you could stick a spoon in it.
There may be political nuances to tea drinking, but our national beverage unifies more than it divides. Irani cafes, highway dhabas, five star hotels – everyone has their version of the perfect cuppa. Interspersed with song and scenes from films, ‘Steeped and Stirred’ does manage to raise a small storm in a teacup. For that alone it’s worth watching.
Featured image source: Mid-Day
Written by Ritu Mathur