I bet there are very few Pakistanis who don’t drink tea. It’s, after all, our national drink. We drink it, celebrate with it, toast with it. In short, Pakistanis worship tea because when the British left they didn’t leave a lot of keepsakes with us. Tea they did. Tea was left behind as a way to ruin us even when the British weren’t around.
The multimillion dollar industry that tea making and drinking is aside, the reverence for tea is an altogether spiritual realm of things. People who drink tea can talk nonstop about it like some huge theological topic at hand. People who have invested in tea companies and tea shops can not only talk about it but also constantly try to rope people into this business which is probably the most thriving business of the subcontinent, particularly Pakistan.
And why wouldn’t we be obsessed with tea? It really is our national beverage. We drink it on all important and mundane occasions. The amount of tea we drink is directly proportional to the amount of free time we have. The more free we are in life, the more leisurely our daily routine is, the higher our consumption of tea is.
We don’t consider any time a bad time to drink tea. Almost all hours except when we are in a deep sleep are considered appropriate for tea-drinking. Almost all occasions, including peeking into the neighbor’s home for a quick “how’s it going” are considered tea-worthy.
Some of us have become creative with it over the years. We have added various spices and herbs to it and I’m sure some people are spiking their tea with much more than innocuous kitchen flavors. Some people’s version of a cup of tea is really tea and a twelve-spice blend. In my opinion, adulterating the flavors like that should be illegal but who cares about my opinion?
You see I’m a consummate non-drinker of tea. I’m to tea like oil is to water. Or like clothes are to a nudist. Or like sex is to an incel. We don’t gel. We don’t mix. We don’t see eye to eye with each other.
I’ve never had a cup of tea in my life. As much as this fact is shocking, it is also a testimony to my absolute aversion to tea. Because believe it or not, most Pakistanis are turned by other Pakistanis during a course of a lifetime to start drinking it. No one can avoid the Pakistani social pressure that they face if they’re not a fan of this self-opined and most revered heavenly concoction. Most people give in and live a life of half-assed feigned interest in this beverage that they consume just to comply with the rest of the Pakistani race.
But I never gave in. I never complied. And like most women who challenge norms, I never showed any subjugation to the stares and polite whispers that came my way when I said at a social gathering “I don’t drink tea”.
Now would you force people to drink alcohol if they said they don’t drink it? If you’re not a bartender or a restaurateur, you’d probably acknowledge their refusal and move on with your life or may be offer Pepsi. But not the tea drinkers! When you tell them that you don’t drink tea, they can’t take that as just another “no” that they’ll hear in their daily interaction with another human.
They question this no. Various sentences of varying emotions get piled on me. Some people express surprise dressed as polite commentary on my mental health and some go as far as to declare me a heretic. I used to try and give my reasons which ranged from “I don’t like tea” to “I just find soda a better alternative” but now I don’t offer up any explanation. I just shrug my shoulders and sit in stony silence.
When I was younger and we would visit my parents’ friends they would automatically assume that I was a tea drinker like their own kids and would bring out a cup for me. When I refused they’d question my parents’ upbringing sometimes. Questions like “What would you do if soda wasn’t available” would be asked. Now why would they assume that I had such a dire need for a flavored beverage at all times? I mean if I was thirsty I would just drink water, people!
But this open resentment and disbelief of my non tea drinking ways became even more problematic for me as I grew up into a young married woman. People started shaming my husband now. They started giving him tips on how to turn me. Some even recommended forcing it down my throat. My husband, being twenty pounds lighter than me at all times in our marriage, knows that that won’t bode well for him. Not only am I strong, I didn’t particularly take the class where patriarchy taught girls to be in constant subjugation of their husbands.
So when I go to see friends and say I don’t drink tea and they start to make a show of what an inconvenience it would be for them to decide on an alternate beverage so I could feel part of the crowd, I brazenly open a flask of soda that I carry with myself and take long swigs from it. Some people stare impolitely when I do this but most are smart to not ask any further questions because I probably look deranged.
I know this got long-winded over tea but if there’s one thing that you’re looking for as a take home, it’s this,
“While you’re a tea-drinking consummate Pakistani, I’m a non tea-drinking consummate Pakistani and there are more like me. Many more. So before you assume that I’m an anomaly let me tell you that my aversion isn’t to the tea you’re making. It’s to all forms of tea. Just like some people don’t like shellfish. It’s nothing personal”.