I got up today. It was a colder day than yesterday. I decided not to visit the sea today. I brewed my coffee and toasted my bread and topped it with my favourite peanut butter. The couch was not far away and nor were my thoughts.
While I saw the bubbles in my coffee fading away, I remembered the Bombay chaiwalas ( men who make tea ). It was 7 years ago that I had a chance to stay in Bombay for a very brief period. The city is an abode to anyone and everyone. My partner was a post graduate student in the med school. We stayed in a hostel then. I had just shifted from my city to Bombay , now called “Mumbai”.
Mumbai was an unforgettable experience in many ways. One such experience was the cutting. The cutting is an experience that every single soul on that land would have tasted. A half cup of tea with loads of gingery flavour , for rupees three then.
Mumbai is known for its sea shores, vada pav, local trains, fast life style, Bollywood, chauls,stardom, and a lot more. But the most important memory for me in those 6 months were the Chaiwalas.
The hostel was behind a small medical centre. I was studying for my post graduate examinations. My partner was working hard those days and often stayed tied up with his jobs. It was majorly a men hostel and I barely knew anyone. I was just tasting Mumbai then. I would get up in the mornings and seek some fresh air from a small wooden window which had a cracked frame. I was lazy and it did not feel like home. All I knew then was I had to place myself in the national merit exam. Having brushed my teeth and dressing up , I pushed myself down four floors every morning. The birds were more active than me, the sunshine had spun its web by then. I walked through the green passage ways making my way through the streets of what Radio Mirchi called Good morning Mumbai.
I carried a white Milton kettle in my hand. Before I could turn to right on the exit, I was tempted to get the ‘Poha ‘ ( rice flakes savoury). A huge iron pot, with multispoons of oil,crackling groundnuts,green chillies, fried onions , Indian spices ,rice flakes, sprinkles of lemon,sugar and coriander.
It was packed in an old newspaper, guess Mumbai matinee!! I always asked for a little extra until my dabbawala came. A U – turn and I was walking back towards the entrance of the hostel building. The traffic was heavy by then and Mumbai was ready to roll.
I would walk past the entrance and hold the poha in my right hand, take out rupees three from my pocket, sometimes it was a crumpled fiver, open the lid of the White Milton jug and tell the chaiwala ,” one cutting please.” There were 15 odd people standing in the queue by then . This was the start of my day which moved on to monotonous dental MCQs.
I overthink. One night I thought thousands of cups , same ingredients, same aroma,same people,same 3 feet by 3 feet square ,same me and same my jug. How did Gorang( the chaiwala) felt about it? I knew I had to find out this one the very next day .
It was the sunshine, the trees, the poha vendor, my Milton jug ,me and my curiosity the next day. Before I could say one cutting please, I said,” don’t you get bored standing all day , meeting us and brewing the same leaves ?”. He was quiet , the queue was building up, he added ginger, separated the cups and said,” 10 years and 18 hours each day for those ten years , I have been doing the same thing. After standing 18 hours a day and making sure my customers are happy with the flavour and relaxed in their day, I sleep calmly on my rug in this 3 by 3 feet.”
I was quiet now. He poured the cutting. I came to the room and looked out at the sun. My brain was not overthinking. But I knew there was a line,a thin line. The hostel appeared to be a better place ,a few hours with my partner were the happiest hours of the day, the poha tasted better and the cutting refreshed me even more. Less was more then and less is more still!!
I still sit with my coffee (60:40 coffee :chicory) thinking about the cutting and missing 3 feet by 3 feet.