In America, a morning without coffee was the beginning of an incomplete day for me. In India, I’ve learned to deal. So over the weekend, when I got to drink real, European coffee at Ramu-Ji’s house, it meant something
Ramu-Ji is a musician in Varinassi who used to run a study abroad program out of the University of Wisconsin (from what I can tell, in India you never have to settle on one job). I spent the weekend with a friend at his house because I when I went to Varinassi last time, I ordered a Harmonium from him, and I had to go back to pick it up.
I woke up in the morning and came downstairs to find the TV on and Ramu-Ji in the kitchen. Such a strange way to get up in the morning compared to the usual 5 a.m. wake-up for meditation followed by silent breakfast. I sat on the large, rectangular cushion on the floor (the Indian version of a couch), and watched the TV, where a woman was reading out horoscopes in Hindi.
“Good morning,” said Ramu-Ji. “Now we will have fresh-brewed cinnamon coffee. Sound good?”
I nodded wordlessly.
In between sips, I listened to Ramu-Ji as he explained my horoscope to me. He also explained that real astrology didn’t mean that my twin sister and I would have exactly the same fate. Since we weren’t born at the exact same time, the position of the moon and the planets would have changed a lot between our births. He told me about a set of twins he knew. One committed suicide and the other was unable to have
children. This difference in misfortune was due to the changing movements of the planets.
I was interested in what he had to say, but whenever I took a sip of coffee, I didn’t hear. I was transported by that coffee. The sharp warmth of the flavor that really good coffee has, followed by the different kind of warmth in the cinnamon aftertaste. It made me think of coffee at home, although I’d never had coffee quite like that before. Nice coffee has been a consistent presence throughout my “adult” life that has given a sense of completeness to the day. I don’t think I can remember any one specific cup in America. It was almost more of a state of being than a beverage. But the coffee at Ramu-Ji’s was different. It was memorable. I knew that I didn’t have endless days of endless delicious coffee ahead of me. And I wondered what this coffee would be like if I hadn’t had all those gallons of coffee before, in America.
That night, we were sitting on a wall in Asi Ghat by the Ganges, and Lowell told us how he’d finally seen Orion. He’d been out until five in the morning the night before, and in the wee hours he found the constellation in a corner of the sky. It made him happy, because at home he’d always looked for Orion. Suddenly, the sky looked familiar again. He knew which way he was facing.
I told him about the coffee and how I wondered what my experience of it would have been if I didn’t miss good coffee from home. How would Orion have been if Lowell didn’t remember always spotting him in America? He thought it over, and told me that Graham had shown him Casiopia earlier, and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as seeing Orion, because he’d never cared about Casiopia. And I thought that really, if I didn’t drink so much coffee at home, I’d probably have forgotten that one cup at Ramu-Ji’s by now.
So I guess it’s not so bad the way we miss things. I don’t think anyone goes to India to drink coffee. I’ve had plenty of daal and chai here, and when I think of India I will think of these things because they’ve become part of my daily life. But while I am here, I cannot love a cup of chai the way I loved that coffee, and although when I get home I’ll happily return to my addictive habits, no coffee will be as good as the coffee I had at Ramu- Ji’s.