A cup of tea

I love short stories and it is my preferred form of fiction. So, its not surprising that the very first post I wrote for “The Sunday Book Club’s Blog” in July 2013 was on short stories. Actually, it was on one short story and one of my favourites, in particular. I reproduce that post here with some minor modifications.

A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield was first published in 1992, and it remains one of Mansfield’s best known stories today. The plot is fairly simple:

It is a cold and wet day in London. After a visit to the shops, Rosemary Fell is about to get into her chauffeur-driven car, when she is approached by a penniless young girl, Miss Smith, for money that would buy her a cup of tea.

‘… It’s a cup of tea I want, madam.’ And she burst into tears.

Rosemary is intrigued as she cannot believe that a person cannot have money to buy a cup of tea. Inspired to do more — she persuades the young Ms. Smith to come home with her  — she visualises transforming the poor girl’s life, and becoming the talk of the high society she moves in. When she reaches home, Philip, Rosemary’s husband, is surprised to see Ms. Smith and also hear about Rosemary’s plans for the girl’s future. He leaves Rosemary and Ms. Smith, but not before mentioning to Rosemary that the girl was

‘…so astonishingly pretty.’

Sometime later, Rosemary goes and tells Philip that Ms. Smith has insisted on leaving, and that she had no choice but to let her go but only after she accepted a little ‘present of money’. Rosemary then asks:

‘Philip,’ she whispered, and she pressed his head against her bosom, ‘am I pretty?’

I was about 13 years old when I read A Cup of Tea and it had quite an impact on me. I had not tasted tea till then and Miss Smith’s desperation for a cup of tea was something that mystified and intrigued me. I also understood feminine insecurity for the first time, as I did the shallowness of the human nature. The anonymity of the poor shook me — what sort of a name was Ms. Smith? I even wrote a rather impassioned critique of the story and shared it in class, much to the amusement of my classmates, who thought I was making too much of a chapter in my English textbook ! After all it was just a story !

But what a story it was !

A Cup of Tea was the beginning of a lifelong love for the genre of short stories. Over the years, I have read short stories from all over the world as translations, or in the original English or Hindi, discovered writers and explored whole new worlds with them. From O’Henry, Saki, Premchand, Oscar Wilde, Gitanjali Shree, Jhumpa Lahiri, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Rabindranath Tagore, Ramanujam, Ismat Chugtai, Manto, Kalpana Swaminathan, Edith Perlman, Parashuram …

For me, a short story is a cup of tea and a cup of tea, a short story; they are synonymous with each other. Each cup of tea or a short story retains within it a complexity and freshness that is invigorating. There are so many cups of tea to be had / writers and short stories to be discover and read 🙂

Do you like short stories? Tell me about the short stories you like and the writers you admire.

12 thoughts on “A cup of tea

  1. lovely post, Sudha! I dont think I read this one on the TSBC blog, but then, havent read anything much regularly this year 😦 but getting back to the post, i dont remember having this one in school… or else would surely have remembered it, but then we would have had different textbooks no? but on another note, it is interesting what we remember from our school days, isnt it? for example, the story i still remember vividly is one called ‘packing’, taken from Jerome K Jerome’s 3 men in a boat. I had so much fun reading it that i borrowed the book from our library ( under the disapproving glance of our librarian, who didnt think it was for my age group ) and read it over and over again! I still enjoy reading the book, and read it every now and then!!! besides, packing is actually one of my fav activities!!!! which i am doing right now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “A Cup of Tea” was the coming of age story for me, personally. Looking back, it is not really an extraordinary story, but for a 13 year old who was at that rather critical stage of discovering herself, her femininity, her sexuality, it was a milestone. It affected me far more deeply than it did my classmates

      3 men in a boat is a great piece of work, a classic indeed, and anybody who’s read it loves it. And yes, packing is very apt for you 😉 Just one thought though: why don’t we get to hear more of 3 men in a boat on #TSBC?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In the last couple of years, I have read a lot of short-stories. I love most of these writers you have mentioned here. Apart from them I have enjoyed reading short stories by Nathan Englander, George Saunders, Haruki Murakami, Flannery O’ Connor. . .these are the only names that come to my mind right now. You must read the series of The Best American Short Stories. It comes out annually, I had read the stories of 2013 – they were beautiful! I didn’t get a chance to read 2014.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome here, S and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I love the Best American short Stories series and have the Kindle versions for the last 3 years. Is the 2014 collection out yet?


  3. Personally I enjoy reading novels rather than short stories as they leave a mark the readers knowledge, values or simple thoughts. However, short stories can sometimes leave a deep impression as well. Being a bengali, I had read stories by scores of bangali authors. But then Rabindranath Tagore, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay and Narayan Gangopadhyay leaves impressions that are long lasting.The short stories of the Satyajit Ray are good for easy reading and do not stress the mind. Ruskin Bond, Rudyard Kipling and Jim Corbett are my personal favourites in English, as they portray simple stories set in background I like most – the hills and forests of north India. After going through your inspiring post I thought I should share the name of authors I like most. It is difficult to point out why I like them. Perhaps they pull the chords of our naive mind when we least expect it, or soothes the deepest wounds that we don’t even know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like reading. Period. It doesn’t matter whether it is a novel or a short story or any other form – it has to make me think and when I finish it it should leave me with something gained, something to ponder about, a new insight perhaps.

      A short story writer that I particularly like and whose English translations I have read is Parshuram or Rajshekhar Basu. Satyajit Ray is another writer I like.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a combination — tea and short story! Loved your reasoning behind it too 🙂 I like short stories, but can’t say that it is my favourite genre. Having said that, I love the short stories of O.Henry, Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond and several Tamil writers. Dahl is a particular favourite not just for his short stories but also children’s books. Wondering like Anu, how I missed this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But tell me, isn’t tea and short stories an apt combination? 🙂

      I like all the authors you have mentioned. I have read the English translations of the short stories of many Indian authors. Parashuram is a personal favourite as I find his irreverence refreshing and delightful.

      This was the first post on the #TSBC blog, written sometime in mid 2013. I guess it just got missed somehow.


  5. Lovely! Just lovely!

    I am more of a reader of novels. (warning: Judgement follows) I find the short story form sometimes becomes an excuse for lazy and pointless writing.

    But I simply can never forget Dahl’s Leg of Lamb. I LOVED it and still do for the sheer cheekiness and surprise of it all.

    Also, a friend once shared a book with me – Sudden Fiction – 60 short short stories. I’d recommend it – very very nice, very very short stories 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have this kinda weird association with food and reading. I like novels too and they are kind of like elaborate thalis, especially Gujju thalis. 😉 Coffee and magazines go hand in hand. And as for snacky food, they could be anything depending on the snack. Pakoras for short stories, batata poha for sunday supplements of newspapers, idlis for poetry, etc.

      Dahl is the king of the short story genre and his twists in the tale are incomparable. I like O’Henry and Saki too, and Parshuram among Indian writers for the sheer irreverence to all and sundry in this writing.

      Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll definitely look it up. 🙂


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