udeep Sen, the editor of The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry, begins his Foreword with a quote referencing ingestion:
Ink runs from the corners of
There is no happiness like
I have been eating poetry.
(Mark Strand, 'Eating Poetry')
Though it's left untreated in the rest of what Sen calls the 'Con/Text' of this anthology, the trope makes its appearance in the first poem itself: Aditi Machado's "Learning a Foreign Language". These words, from the concluding line of the poem, come italicised:
You're stuck in vocal paralysis till you're shot with drugs:
a new word falling like a log
so you can cross over, learn
to say I love you/ have some tea?
The word – and the drink – is most often served with cookies ('Cha-biscuit' is an idiom unto itself) and a question mark with its stichomythic character of communication (Will you?-I will). Like in Machado, where the poem ends with the seemingly inevitable polite question, a section in Bhanu Kapil's prose poem, "Schizophrene", begins with it:
'Tea?' And when the chessboard appears, diamond-shaped from where she's sitting, and copper-edged in the Russian fashion, the girl drifts. I don't see her, I feel her.
Then, as if he, too, can feel the mountains pulsing through the walls of the house, her grandfather gets up. She gets up. They go.
It's the character of tea to begin and conclude social movements: "sitting", "gets up", "They go". One leaves the poem, goaded as we are by the title, with the thought that schizophrenia sufferers drink tea. That, and also the obverse: the reader of poetry, a tea-drinker, could be a possible schizophrenic. Tea, then, becomes a bit like poetry: "Ink runs from the corners of my mouth", to go back to Sen's invocation of Strand's 'eating poetry'.
From that suspicion to its status as "curio", a living fossil that can turn a room "into a museum of moods" in C.P. Surendran's poem "Curios".
It's three in the morning.
The house rings with
There's someone leaning
On the doorbell. It's her
After three years.
He lets her in,
Puts on some tea.
She lights a cigarette
With a match that might set
The house on fire.
She unpacks the weather
Which is New York.
They sit in silence.
The room turns into a museum of moods.
The "tea" and the "cigarette" – both "curios" "on fire" – construct the geometry of a night's relationship. What is being consumed here, as a stroll through many of the affectionate poems in this anthology tells us, is an indolence that is necessary for brewing relationships; and hence the tea. This poem, I cannot resist noting, comes after Surendran's poem "Renunciation", where life, like the poem, breaks itself up into eating stanzas: "Breakfast for one" in the first stanza, "Lunch is a conceit of three" in the second, and "Dinner is a feat/ In rectitude" in the third. Tea – and two – is company. "Garam chai ki piyali ho/ Aur usko pilaneywali ho ...,' sang Salman Khan in the film Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega. Its tribute to the national chai index is recorded in a recent Reuters photo-essay titled "Chai Time", a series of photographs documenting India's tea drinking moments that include the Dalai Lama and Mamata Banerjee and Amartya Sen, the old and young, army men and monks, sipping and drinking, alone and together, from cups and saucers, on street corners and in fancy restaurants.
What is being consumed here, as a stroll through many of the affectionate poems in this anthology tells us, is an indolence that is necessary for brewing relationships;