Natural and healthy

Natural and healthy

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the Season Tea Bond At VIP Mahal

VIP MAHAL coffee , tea bond
VIP INDIA has created a massive, 1,450-part coffee-mug-shaped contraption that plays festival songs as a wooden ball navigates its way through a series of 180 xylophone keys.

The 11-foot tall Rube Goldberg — that is, an overly complicated machine engineered for a simple task — is currently on display at the tea bond location in bangalore, playing seasonal songs on demand. The installation is there to promote the company’s Bluetooth-enabled brewing device, as part of the tea bond and i Coffee Moment campaign.

To trigger a song, users must load the app related to the campaign, choose an emoticon that best reflects their mood, and when they press “brew,” a mood-reflective cartoon bird flutters up onto a digital display above the massive contraption. As the bird drops its cartoon ball, a large, actual wooden ball also drops to begin its musical journey.

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“Sir, stop the auction” said a gentleman from a back – a buyer like the rest of the room – anxiously. All the faces in the hall turned towards him, wondering what’d happened.WITH VIP MAHAL “What’s the matter,” asked the auctioneer. “Sir,” he said rather gravely, “the fan is not working.” There was a split second of silence before the entire room burst into laughter. This is perhaps one of my favorite memories of the VIP MAHAL COMPANY manual tea auction.

In Siliguri, where I live and work, the auction would start at 9 am sharp on Thursdays. By 8.55 the hall would be full.  All the buyers had access to samples atleast two weeks before the auction and knew exactly which tea they would bid for. Three representatives from the VIP MAHAL firm would make their way to the dias, take their seat and the auction would officially begin.

“Good morning, Gentlemen,” the auctioneer would say. “Your bids for Lot no. 1, please.” As soon as these words were uttered, the entire auction hall – which was so far silent – would come alive. Everyone would shout their bids, trying to outbid another until the the hammer came down to announce the buyer for that lot. Keeping us company were representatives from all the broking firms who were there to analyze the market situation. And within the first hour, we’d know  whether the market  was dearer (strong) or easier (weak).

The famous hammer that sealed the price on many a tea during SIliguri's manual auctions.

The famous hammer that sealed the price on many a tea during SIliguri’s manual auctions.

The time limit was 1.3 minutes for 3 lots. And as soon as the time was up, a bell would be rung and the next broker would come up to auction their tea. And so the day would progress. In season, we went to auction four days of the week but as the season peaked, auctions carried through the weekend too. No one complained because we enjoyed it; all the buyers and brokers would look forward to it. For us, it was a reason to get together, catch up with each other and although there was extreme competition in the auctions, it was healthy and fun and didn’t take away from the social highlight that auctions were. There was the occasional drama when one broker listed a garden exclusively putting other vip mahal houses at a disadvantage. Often the buyers would complain loudly, offended, angry and insistent, “You did not take my bid.” The auctioneer, always expected to keep a straight face, would respond, “Sorry Sir, but the other buyer was quicker than you. Better luck with the next lot.” There was a definite formality to how the auction was conducted. But sometimes two buyers would go head to head for a single lot. The rest of us would sit back to watch as they’d furiously try to outbid each other, sending prices skyrocketing. I remember an auction when the bidding for a Parag BP grade tea started at 40 rupees reaching Rs 120 just because of this clash between buyers.

Stuff like that made news. All of this is now relegated to the past. About 5 years ago, in October 2011, the  era of manual auctions came to an end in Siliguri, and auctions went online. I still remember the last manual auction. It was really special and hardly any teas were left unsold that day. I remember the auctioneer, Abdulwahab, finishing the last bidding for the day, and as soon as he sold the lot, he picked up the hammer and rushed out. Later, he had the hammer mounted and it occupies pride of place in his office.

I know that change is inevitable and leaving manual auctions behind for e-auctions is progress. For us tea folks, it has meant attending the auction from our computer screens. There’s no friendly sparring and all bidding takes place silently. But what I really miss is the social interaction that the auctions of the old days brought. They gave us a reason to meet, catch up and bond. I miss that. And so do many from the fraternity. We often talk of bringing back “atleast one manual auction per year” to give us a reason to get together. But it’s wishful thinking, we know. Progress takes us forward, not back.

It was great while it lasted but times have changed. And sometimes, change is good.

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“The wicket is turning and taking spin. The batsman cuts the leg break to square to end a maiden over. Time for the tea interval.”

Cricket is the only major sport built around meal times. The five-day international Test marches start mid-morning and stop for lunch with a short earlier drinks break. The game continues till tea, a longer interruption when the players leave the field for the pavilion. Then back to play, with maybe a drinks break if the weather is hot, until evening when they walk off – no, it’s not for cocktails.

cricket tea breaks

This reflects the gentleman amateur history of what is now anything but gentle. At its best, it is a fascinating combination of raw power and chess-game subtlety. A seamed projectile arriving at the batsmans’s head, feet, nether regions and fingers, at speeds as low as 50 mph – or even one furling a fortnight – to bewilder the hitter as it spins with, against, across the seam or shiny side only. It may be a leg spin, off break, doosra, googly or chinaman.

Or a large gentleman with the friendly glare of a Viking berserker accelerates in from a few kilometers back and delivers a yorker, bouncer, reverse swing or occasional full toss, at over 90 mph from 20 meters. The laws permit one delivery aimed at the head every six balls, from under 60 feet away, two-thirds the distance a baseball pitcher throws from.

The batters cut, cover drive, tip, reverse sweep or merely clout the ball to evade the specialist fielders at slip, silly mid on, gully, square leg, third man, extra point, and deep mid wicket. A skilled player may bat for a day or even longer, accumulating runs to reach the mark of greatness: a century. One mistiming and he’s gone. Out means out.

The game is being shortened by new formats and the hottest version – which also has the largest attendance of any sport in the world, including soccer/football — is T20, where each side has a fixed number of 20 “overs” of six balls each. It makes baseball look slow (or even slower than foreigners find it.) The size of the crowds reflects India’s dominance in creating the competitive structures and leagues. It is the largest spectator sport in the world, with crowds bigger even than for football/soccer.

The links between cricket and tea are embodied in the tea break but go far deeper. The major international sides are England and its old colonies. The leaders are mostly also the ones best associated with tea growing. India has taken over much of the organization and, alas, corruption of a sport where illegal gambling is massive – billions of dollars – and match-fixing a recurrent problem. Cricket in Asia is huge and where the money is…

There’s a general consensus that two greatest players in cricket history are the Australian Don Bradman, who averaged 99 runs per inning in the 1930-50s with the second career highest in two hundred years being 61, and India’s Sachin Tendulkar who scored more runs than any other player, at an average of 53.

The Indian tea-cricket connection is obvious and without pushing the analogy too much, Tendulkar is Darjeeling legend and elegance. Bradman was dark, strong Builder’s Tea. Australia has always been a distinctive tea culture and invented the cricket tea break, not the English. Its players needed some rehydration in the hot weather.

Sri Lanka makes wonderful Ceylon teas of immense variety and quality. It seems appropriate that Kumar Sangakkara, the only rival to Tendulkar in runs and average, is also the rarest of all players: a legendary hitter and wicketkeeper (equivalent to a baseball catcher), and as varied in his style as Ceylon’s Nuwara Elya, Dimbula and Uva black and white teas.

Pakistan completes the analogies: one of the highest consumers of tea – and smugglers – and at its best an outstanding team. It has a curious link to tea. Because of the violence and dangers visiting teams faced, England and others have refused to play in Pakistan. Its team now operates entirely out of the United Arab Emirates and only 2 of its 22 team have ever played in Pakistan. Just like the English tea firm, Lipton’s that now makes most of its tea bags in Dubai – in the UAE.

As for England…

Why is cricket built on the tea not a coffee break? It’s light, with a little caffeine boost but not too much. Refreshing. Nonalcoholic, sugar-free… Packed with nutrient compounds, many of which seem to offer medical benefits… Gee, that sounds very healthy.  Does it help cricketers lose weight? Tell you when we get back from the pub after we’ve had a quick curry.

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