22 November, 2008

Cheer & Cutting Chai

His smile was huge and warm beneath his moustache. Sparkling white teeth were flashed as he greeted everybody who passed by with a huge “Jai Shri Krishna”. Narayan Chauhan was his name. He was our friendly neighborhood chai wallah (Tea vendor). His outfit was a box of 3 feet by 3 feet on which blazed away a huge pot of tea. No purist though would ever call what he dished out as tea. His brew was strong, sometimes over sweet and spiced up with ginger crushed in a small pestle that he kept.

A large slate, with dirt & grime and tea marks of many years embedded in its frame, hung over the wall, which bordered one end of his shop. On it was scribbled a rough menu. Full- Rs.6/- , Cutting Chai – Rs.3 , Coffee- Rs.8 , Ukala – Rs.8 and many other concoctions like gulabi ( pink ) that have now become common street parlance in Mumbai. Standardization is not the name of the game here ever. When one went in the morning, the leaves would be relatively new & the tea tasted different from the one you ordered around 10-11am. By then leaves would be cooked beyond their normal life and ginger and spices would add to the flavor. “Ek peshal bina shakkar” Narayan shouted and an old taxi driver came over to claim his glass. "Kaisan ho Narayanwa.. Sub Kushal mangal?"(How are you Narayan and how is everything he asked). The trademark smile flashed and he said "Maalik ki krupa se sub kuch theek hi hai "(God looks after all of us and takes care of everything). This stock answer cheerfully conveyed an implicit faith in the maker.

I would stop at his stall two or three times in a day, for a break. It was the warmth & cheer that he brought to surrounding that kept me going, as I am sure was true of most of the others there. It was an eclectic customer base from all classes. Traders from nearby shops whom he kept supplied all day long with his brother carrying the tea in mini steel containers and glasses, taxi and rickshaw drivers, municipal workers and government employees from nearby offices formed his regular custom. They came along, he chatted and they went away with smiles. Those fortunate to get good tea too would return and later the memory of that tea would sustain their trade with Narayan.

As long as I stayed in Chembur his face had been a fixture. Once on a lighter day when the city was closed on account of some political burn-out, I had stopped by. He was there smiling boiling his brew for which there were few takers today. Shops had closed in fear, Municipal workers were on strike and the rickshaw taxis were not plying. He was in his shorts and beige shirt spotlessly clean and asked me “Kya saab aaj bhi kaam?” (Are you working even today? ) When I mentioned that yes, he told me that you newspaper guys are like me. We are needed by everyone, both of us collect and relay news only you get to publish it and laughed at his own joke. I was curious and asked him the secret of his cheerful self. I envied him, I asked him doesn’t he ever worry?

He looked at me solemnly stopping his laugh and told me his thought. He told me “I came to Mumbai city 36 years ago and all I did then was work at a tea stall as a helper washing glasses. My ambition was to have my own tea stall. God looks after everybody and he is great. He helped me achieve my ambition, so I help him achieve his, which is to make the world a happier place. But even he gets tired and I asked myself how do I help him while he rests and recharges his battery. Because when God rests, the suffering in the world increases. I am not a doctor, engineer or an actor that I can heal, mend or entertain people. I am not educated in the words of any book. Angootha chhaap hoon saab, pur apne Bhagwan pe bharosa hai. To mainey thaan li ki khush rahoonga aur doosre ko khush karunga. Khudaa ka hi kaam hai (Am illiterate but I trust my God, so I decided to remain happy and keep others happy. After all that’s Gods work too). When I started doing this I realized that no problem ever bothered me. What I could solve, I did and what I could not I left it to him, he said looking upwards. Takleef ko Takleef ka naam jub aadmi deta hai, tub usey dard hota hai. Main to haskar jo sahi hai who karta hoon, to jub mushkiley aati bhi hai, to who apney aap hi alag mod lekar mujhse door jaati hai. (When people label their troubles as troubles then they have problems, I laugh it off and do what is to be done and trouble takes a turn away from me).

It was such a simple and amazing philosophy. Reflecting on this I realized, it is so true when it is said that laugh and the world laughs with you. One should only observe Narayan in action to see this philosophy practiced to perfection.People flock to him to absorb the happiness he emits more than the chai that he constantly keeps brewing. With Narayan what you get served is one cutting chai and one full glass of cheer.


Soul Images said...

Quiet a tribute to a the chaiwallah! Reminded me of the concept of "Vyaktichitra" that we used to write in Marathi essay-writing in school. If I were to mark you on this I would surely give you a 8 on 10 and remark "Uttam!" (Very good indeed!)

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Isnt it? It was not tough this one, you have met him too in my office.

It is a "Vyaktichitra", have so many interesting people around me in this market that each one can fill a chapter separately ;-)