For someone like me who completely lacks any sense of style, the complete lack of sophistication of a dhaba is very comforting.
I, once, happened to see a small shed-like structure on the side of the expressway. It was not built at the level of the road but rather a meter and a half below it. Parking my car on the side, I walked down the gentle slope towards it. It was a quaint structure. Three walls of badly cemented bricks and a corrugated tinned roof completed the tea stall. Only two tables with four chairs each constituted the furnishing. An old man was sitting on a stool behind the counter, listening to old Hindi songs on the radio.
“Namaste”, I wished him.
He smiled and nodded in return.
I asked him if I could get some fresh “chai”. I wasn’t sure if he would take the trouble for just one glass of tea.
He smiled and said, “I have been wanting to have my evening tea but I didn’t want to make it just for myself. I am glad you’ve come. Now I can have my tea. Please have a seat.”
No one else was around and I eased myself into one of the chairs. I felt my fatigue dissolve and my muscles relax. As I rested my head against the back of the chair, my gaze moved up to a huge Tamarind tree standing just by the shop. The long green pods hung delicately from the branches and swayed with the leaves in the gentle breeze. It seemed to stand in guard at the place.
I shifted my gaze to ground level and noticed that the periphery of the place was planted with rose bushes that were heavily laden with the crimson blossoms. They were so healthy and bright and so many in number, it was obvious that someone was tending to them with love.
”Madam chai,” the old man put down a steaming glass of tea in front of me.
”Thank you,” I replied.
I was hoping he wouldn’t start a conversation with me. He didn’t. He went back to his stool, picked up a newspaper and his tea. I relaxed even more. The tranquillity of the place began to have a soothing effect on me. So much so that even the sound of a passing truck did not disturb me. All my restlessness seemed to ebb. It was me and my chai.
I continued sitting even after I had finished my tea and did not notice when the old man quietly removed the glass from the table.
Soon the sky started changing colour and it was time for me to leave. I paid the man and thanked him once again. “Come again,” he said. We smiled and nodded to each other. I walked back up to my car and started for the chaotic city.
Surprisingly, that evening nothing seemed to bother me, not even the crazy traffic.
The calm that had descended upon me at the teashop lasted for quite sometime.
Once a month I made it a point to visit that tea stall. But I only went down to it if there was no one else. I could always go back another day. The old man and I developed a silent understanding.
As soon as he would see me descend to his shop, he would start making preparations for our tea which we always had together but never at the same table. We would acknowledge each other with a nod and a smile. When I was done, I would pay him and we would nod to each other again. He never asked me any questions and I never asked him any.
A few months later, on a pleasant September afternoon I drove down to my teashop (I had begun to feel that way) and when I walked down the slope, I did not see the old man. Instead there was a young man with an overhanging belly watering the rose bushes and a teenage boy at the counter.
They both looked at me in surprise, which increased further when I asked if I could have some tea. They couldn’t understand what a woman was doing there by herself. Even I wanted to leave but I desisted. I did not ask about the old man. His absence had changed things for me. It was as if I had lost a valuable relationship.
The boy made the tea and brought it to me. It was horrible. I took another sip but it remained horrible. I looked at the Tamarind tree; it was still; there was no breeze. The roses were there but again the magic was missing. I thought it was probably my frame of mind. I paid the money and walked up to my car.
I knew I was not coming back there again. But why? Everything was the same. I looked down at the fat man and the teenage boy. They both had a completely bored look on their faces as if some stroke of bad luck had forced them to be there.
Then it struck me: It is not a peaceful place that makes people peaceful, it is peaceful people who make a place peaceful.
Jyoti Jadwani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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