Writing Over a Hundred Cups of Tea

First published as a Pad.ma Essay, (http://pad.ma) in February 2011.

They visited the toy stores in Ginza and were accorded the privilege of dancing barefoot at a Noh theatre. In 1986, at her home in Tokyo, Kumkum Lal hosted Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra (Guruji) and a group of musicians including the renowned composer Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra, for a month. During his stay there, Guruji taught Kumkum and held workshops for her students. Kumkum and Guruji also travelled across Japan, performing at venues as wildly apart as a Nohgakodu in Tokyo and a studio in a popular department store. Twenty-five years later, Kumkum Lal revisits the Japan tour through recordings made by her husband Ashok with his first video camera, then a novel purchase he was tremendously excited about. While watching Kelucharan Mohapatra outside the performance space makes everything about the footage seem out of the ordinary, Kumkum makes her way through days and nights spent choreographing, cooking, teaching, drinking tea, dancing, stopping, to take in the ephemeral, scattered moments that are windows into other lives and other stories.

I like to think of the Lal household in Delhi as an eclectic caravan serai. There is life in every corner, be it in the unexpected guests whom you suddenly encounter in the living room, in the profusion of greenery that fills their verandah, or the dog who might be an inch away from your face when you suddenly awake at midnight. Food is a passion, and tea is an art. All your idiosyncrasies are welcome here, as long as you add ghee to your dal, for that is one household rule no one breaks.

Read the rest of the essay and view related videos at Pad.ma.

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