In April 2017, our lives were upended when my older son Kabir was diagnosed with leukemia. As we grappled with this daunting challenge, a simple yet deeply meaningful tradition offered us comfort: the ritual of brewing and sharing tea.
This journey, extending beyond the fight against a serious illness, stands as a tribute to the resilience inherent in the human spirit and the strength of our cultural traditions. Carrying a name that signifies “The Great One,” Kabir has continuously strived to live up to its meaning, showing exceptional bravery since that fateful day in April 2017: Kabir, my energetic four-year-old eagerly anticipating Kindergarten, was suddenly faced with a formidable health challenge.
Upon being diagnosed with a rare and high-risk type of Leukemia, known as Philadelphia Chromosome Positive (PH+) Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), our family life underwent a profound transformation. The joy and laughter that once filled our home were abruptly replaced by the stark and sterile atmosphere of hospital corridors.
The moment I learned of Kabir’s cancer diagnosis is etched in my memory — I recall breaking down in tears, discreetly hidden from Kabir’s sight, as images from St. Jude commercials, previously only glimpsed on television, flooded my thoughts and thrust me into an unimaginable new reality. April 20, 2017, marked a significant shift, characterized by the relentless beeping of medical machines, subdued conversations with healthcare professionals, and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty that enveloped us.
During those challenging times, my parents and my husband Mandeep’s parents stood as beacons of support, breathing life into an age-old Indian tradition of brewing tea for nurturing and comfort.
Every evening, they arrived at the hospital with thermoses brimming with homemade Indian chai and warm meals, transforming the sterile hospital atmosphere into a space resonating with the warmth of home. These tea breaks became our sanctuary, offering both Mandeep and me a much-needed respite from our exhausting routines and the overwhelming complexities of hospital life.
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Amidst this, we found rare moments of normalcy, a chance to reconnect over tea, contrasting sharply with the daily reality that often left us feeling like ships passing in the night.
In our Indian culture, tea transcends being a mere beverage; it is a symbol of hospitality, comfort, and kinship.
For Mandeep and me, each cup of tea became a ritual of care, a comforting embrace amidst the harsh realities we faced. This tradition of making Indian chai, a skill we both learned at a young age from our grandparents, became central to our family’s story and later inspired the creation of Birdsong Tea.
During Kabir’s initial treatments at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, our escapes to Palo Alto’s cafes and tea shops offered cherished respites, where we celebrated milestones like Mother’s Day and anniversaries, temporarily stepping away from the chaos of our lives.
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Our family’s journey with tea extended beyond hospital walls, bringing solace and joy in various settings. A memorable trip to Las Vegas, following Kabir’s chemotherapy in 2019 and just before his first relapse, was marked by a special tea experience that uplifted our spirits.
These excursions, alongside tea-themed home celebrations like Christmas tea parties where we shared our favorite blends, became more than mere events; they were poignant affirmations of life, love, and unity amidst adversity.
On the eve of Kabir’s second relapse, after his CAR-T treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a serene high tea hosted by his aunt offered a brief moment of peace before another storm.
Kabir’s journey through leukemia — encompassing initial treatments, two relapses, and continuous challenges — was a journey steeped in hardship. In search of solace at home, I immersed myself in creating a special chai blend.
This concoction, rich with spices and warmth, not only soothed Kabir — particularly when chemotherapy-induced nausea — but also instilled a tranquil atmosphere within our family.
The blend, infused with ginger and cardamom, became a source of comfort on the toughest days, even when Kabir found it hard to eat, providing relief in both steaming hot cups and refreshing cold iced chai lattes. This personally crafted recipe, born out of our family’s experiences and perseverance, eventually inspired the creation of Birdsong’s Peacock Chai, symbolizing the resilience and unity of our family throughout this journey.
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Ayaan, my younger son, and Kabir’s brother, truly lived up to the meaning of his name, “The Gift,” by becoming an actual lifesaver through his selfless bone marrow donation.
This act of profound love and heroism played a crucial role in Kabir’s challenging journey. As we faced the pandemic and the demanding process of the bone marrow transplant, our family experienced a tumult of exhaustion and brief, yet poignant moments of connection. Sharing a warm beverage during these times provided a comforting solace, each sip feeling like a warm embrace.
Ayaan, with his emerging artistic talents, added joy and vibrancy to Kabir’s hospital room with his artwork, lightening our darkest days.
Birdsong Tea, emerging from our shared resilience and unity during Kabir’s courageous battle with leukemia, stands as a symbol of his bravery and our unwavering hope.
Far more than just a brand, this company is a personal legacy, weaving together our family’s journey with the comforting tradition of tea, a reflection of our Indian heritage and the resilience inherent in the human spirit.
In our home in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we live with our cherished dogs, Hachi, a lively 5-year-old Keeshond, and Mochi, an energetic 1-year-old Boston Terrier, life is vibrant, full of love, and often accompanied by the rich aroma of brewing tea. Each blend from Birdsong Tea encapsulates our values and heritage.
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Our commitment goes beyond our immediate family; through our involvement with Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and creating a special blend in memory of children like Alexandra Scott, who tragically lost their battles, we actively work to raise awareness and much-needed funds for pediatric cancer research.
Despite the daunting challenges, including Kabir’s devastating relapse in July 2019, just two months after finishing his treatment, and facing the complexities of a bone marrow transplant at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital amid the pandemic, we remain steadfast in our advocacy for increased pediatric cancer research, an area still critically underfunded despite being the primary cause of disease-related death in U.S. children under 19.
Kabir’s journey through leukemia is not only a narrative of medical struggles but also an inspiring tale of hope, resilience, and the enduring strength of tradition. Birdsong Tea, which emerged from this arduous journey, stands as more than a mere brand; it embodies our family’s deep love, a young boy’s incredible courage, and the timeless traditions that have been our steadfast support in the most challenging times.
The evolution of this journey, along with the inception of Birdsong Tea, powerfully underscores that often, the simplest acts, such as sharing a cup of tea, can transform into profound sources of strength and healing for us all.
Bhavika Vinayak Taunk is the Co-Founder of Birdsong Tea and the proud mother to two boys.