I recently happened to zone out in the middle of the day while sitting in my living room. In that state of mundane trance, I glanced at the crockery cabinet that sits alongside one of the walls in the same room. I could spot whiskey glasses, wine flutes, beer tumblers, chai kulhads and a whole range of dinnerware that were languishing in the subtle spotlight cast on them. But I could not spot a single mug. Weird, right?
I honestly feel that the mug is a sleeper hit of the crockery cabinet. People undervalue it day in and day out, but in difficult times, it is the mug that steps up to the challenge. Funnily enough, the only two places where I've ever seen mugs on display is at a coffee shop or in the house of a person who is a collector, a.k.a my wife. 😋
And the undervaluation of the mug does not stay limited to only the cabinet. My mom and mother-in-law would probably shriek in horror at the thought of serving anyone a cup of chai in a mug. Funny how the general phrasing is also never 'a mug of tea'. Somehow, the mug has been relegated to an informal, minor-league spot in the domestic crockery rankings, and that's just ludicrous!
But, I realize the source of this differentiation. Most people do not travel extensively, and even when they do, the usual point-to-point travel rarely introduces them to the versatility of the mug. And that's the environment where this humble and reliable utensil truly shines.
My most lucid memory of camping as a kid is not the tent, the campfire or the adventures in nature. What I remember most vividly is the post-dinner mug of Bournvita, an unquestionable staple item of the school-time camping experience. The warmth from hugging your mug with both hands almost parallels the warmth from propping your feet up in front of the campfire.
As I grew up, the Bournvita was replaced by different liquids, but the mug never went out of style. Easy to clean, safe for the environment, and ruggedly handsome, it's the ideal utensil for a camping trip. But wait for it; my perspective on the mug reached a new height once someone introduced me to the other use cases of the mug.
Have you ever had a pack of instant noodles, obviously Maggi for me, or a mug full of cornflakes on a road trip to nowhere? It is surreal. I mean, obviously, it is a packaged instant food, so realistically the taste should be exactly the same. But, the mug has a trick up its sleeve that no bowl or dish has. It has a much smaller surface area exposed to the environment, which keeps a bulk of your food piping hot even if you choose to eat at a leisurely pace. And this comes particularly handy when you're out travelling in cold regions or windy locations! Not to mention the secure grip and stability that the mug offers over a dish while eating on the go!
Here's a funny story loosely connected to cornflakes and a mug. On one random journey from Chikamagalur to Madikeri in Karnataka, to make good time, we decided to have some Chocos dipped in milk using the only mug at our disposal - a cocktail mixer. Everything was moving along smoothly until we hit a rough patch of the road and our driver decided to go all Dominic Toretto on us. One deep pothole, a violent flip of the mug and a shaky hand later, my friend was covered with chocolate milk and soggy flakes. 😅
The learning? - mugs are good, but potholes are better, so respect them. 😁
There are other applications where the mug shines in the wild or during a long journey. It is the perfect vessel for soup and toast. It's the ideal weapon to beat those eggs for your morning breakfast. And when push comes to shove, it can double up as a nifty heat-insulated container for your porridge and stew.
But not all mugs are made equal. The ideal mug is a fine piece of creation that isn't difficult to conceive but needs adequate attention. First and foremost, the mug needs a handle that can be grasped with an entire hand. You don't do that extended little-finger nonsense with a mug as you would do with a teacup. That grip is what makes a mug reliable and sturdy. Speaking of sturdy, a mug also needs a broad, flat base to be set down on pretty much any surface, natural or man-made.
Considering its use cases, a mug should be rugged, but this does not mean that it cannot be pretty. There is this gross misconception that beauty and fragility NEED to go hand in hand. Who said that? Lastly, a little heat insulation will never go to waste. But there are rarely any materials that can conduct heat and insulate it at the same time. So this is where you flip a coin. I'd always go for conductor since it doubles up as a cooking vessel for Maggi and soup as well!
The mug was never meant to be flashy and vain. It was meant to serve its many purposes and then recede into the background. And that's why the last quality of an ideal mug is the homely and inconspicuous vibe that characterizes it.
So say hello to the mug, and go make some memories.