19 November 2011

#Fiction : Chai Garam, Chai, Chai...

Before I opened my eyes, I could smell the fragrance of chai in the air. My auditory sensors slowly started functioning. I could hear a slight hub-ub over the usual sounds of the train. How early was it? Definitely past six. The chai-walas do not bother with sales until half past six usually. At times I envy them. Of course this jealousy is a product of my frame of mind in their style of life. But since it could be no other way, I have every right to envy them! Imagine what it would feel like to live their life. Oh how carefree I would be! No manager to report to, no deadlines to adhere to. If I managed extra sales on a particular day, I could simple spend the next in siesta without bothering to file a leave. I have curious fascination for simple life that bypasses the usual "grass is greener on the other side" psyche. I do not envy the higher society as much I do the lower echelons... Wait, how did I come to it? Ah... The time.

I could not hear much else. The train was surely still. A station most probably. But it was impossible to tell these days. The winters always bring a sense of lethargy in northern India. The foggy plains of the Ganges seem to induce a helplessness that the denizens welcome with gratitude. The day starts late and ends early. Blissfully short days spent wrapped in shawls and warming oneself at intervals in front of flaming bits of wood. Turning around to warm your freezing hind when you feel your front has had enough. Sipping steaming hot tea ...

Tea. The chai-walas are here. Must be half past six at least. What else could I hear? It is awfully peaceful in the upper berth of trains. Feels like a nook of your own if you are a regular of Indian Railways. But by nine, the passengers make sure that everyone is up, or at least irked enough to give up on any erstwhile held ambitions of peaceful sleep, no matter what nook of the train they found asylum in. So it was between six and nine. Hmmm... I opened an eye and looked at my watch. My grossly unspecific prediction held true. It was a quarter past seven. I turned over and wrapped my blanket tighter. I could sleep some more. Dream a bit of the fanciful impossibilities I usually did. Enjoy the coziness of the blanket I had warmed overnight with such dedication. I could sleep some more still.

But the power of an individual is grossly underestimated in this world. It has been individuals who have shaped the world. Individuals who have given humanity the most pleasant of memories. Individuals who have given it the most awful of scars. An individual holds such an unforeseen control over your life, your ambitions, your plans for the next thirty minutes. Specially if the individual happens to be selling masala lemon tea. In such a situation you disregard the fact that there will be more of the kind who will come by. More who will offer the same elixir as he. You just peep down, clear your throat, and in a voice heavy with the past night's inactivity, call out "Bhaiya, ek cup dena". The governor  of your will stops disinterestedly, pulls out a plastic cup from the stack that is hanging from his waist, and squeezes a quarter of a lemon into it. He then tilts a jar of masala. And then, he pours a dark red (almost black from afar) liquid into it. The lemon chai is ready, steaming hot. You pay the man from your pockets and bless him with your heart. And that is exactly what I did a couple of minutes after I had turned over in the blanket.

I sat up and held by tea with both hands as I shrunk into myself. It was cold outside the blanket and the cup felt delightfully warm in my hands. I looked at the steaming liquid for a while, blowing into it and enjoying the steam that hit my face in return. And then I took a sip. Suddenly it became very obvious that my blessings would never compare with the favour the chai-wala had done me. Seven in the cold morning of the north Indian winter, it is nothing short of altruism that would drive a man to providing his fellow men with a rejuvenating drink. Either that or poverty.

I looked around. Most people were still asleep. Now I could even distinguish a faint sound of snores which somehow had been lost in the background noise till now. The entire compartment was lit by a misty white glow pouring through the glass paned windows. I smiled within. But then, to understand my smug happiness one needs to be an ardent tea lover.

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