THE TEA SHOP
A journey is not always to be started at point A and end in point B. It may also start in point A and end in the same point A. Just like a travel in time. Like a sprouting seed budding into a plant and finally become a fully grown tree. This journey of tree through the time occurs in the same point A. This transition of tree may take years together and finally end up forming these roots, trunk, branches, twigs and leaves. And the tree never stops this journey.
During these progression, the tree might encounter n number of parasites, which sometimes may be beneficial and other times not. Similar to the life journey of a tree, it takes years together for a city to grow. It starts from a small dwelling of an isolated being to a full fledged city with millions of beings with numerous streets. And akin to the parasites in the trees, the “tea shops” thrust and squeeze their roofs through which ever breaches they find in the streets. But these parasites or tea shops observe the rule of “mutualism”. The street and the tea shop benefit from one another, here the street in the sense, ‘the people’ in the street. The people charge their deprived energy from these tea shops. It may not be apparent, but tea shops are a quick recharging center for people, physically and psychically.
Nagarajan’s tea shop is one such ‘re-charging’ spot, stationed 80 yards from the vasu street signal. The shop brooked to all tests of time, and is living there for more than three decades. The shop befitted itself with the street so finely like a freckle on the face of an acquaintance, without which he would appear a stranger. Nagarajan is working there in the shop for about a little less than three decades. His residence is located not far from there. But he has spent better half of his life time in the shop. Every fragment of his mind and soul is dispersed throughout every inch of that 8 x 6 x 10 ft cuboid. He is the teashop and the teashop is he. At any given time it can be assumed that he will be in the tea shop – a Schrodinger’s Nagarajan. He was introduced to the teakettle when he was eleven years old. He brewed his debut tea when he was qualified enough. The only qualification for one to brew tea in that shop is to comfortably reach the handle of the teakettle above the primus stove with both his / her feet firmly placed on the ground. Nagarajan attained the qualification at fourteen.
Nagarajan became so acclimated to the tea making technique in his shop such that he can execute it to perfection even in the case of being a typhlotic. Though it looks as simple as just adding a few ingredients and blending into a drink, an imprecise mixture could spoil the mood of a patron. But when the potion is brewed to perfection, which is usual in Nagarajan’s field of expertise, will outset the enlivening action from the taste buds till the receptors of brain and will keep the adenosines off them. When Nagarajan executes his craftsmanship of brewing a tea or coffee, it occurs as if he defies the laws of gravity. In which ever bearing he throws the coffee crumbs, they find their course into the coffee cups. In whatever angle he pours the milk, the trajectory always ends in the tea cups.
Guru was Nagarajan’s mentor. Guru edified him with the art of tea making. He started that tea shop from scratch. Guru believed one thing firmly in his lifetime. That is “Work is Worship”. Their conventional day starts before the dawn. By the twilight, they reach the tea shop. Just when the sun rays bleeds out the horizon, a match stick kills itself in livening up a camphor. Then both of them offer their praying and open the door. Similarly when they call it a day, they close the doors, offer their thanks and light up a camphor. Sometimes it occurred that they had to keep the tea shop open throughout. But then put down the curtains for a short while prior the sun rise, offer their prayer and begin a brand new day. They just followed the good old “Teakettle Principle”. Nagarajan’s routine was then to wash the floors, while Guru goes to fetch milk. Thus their day come into existance.
They always cared about their customers. They knew very well the demands of any regular patron there. Sudhakar was one such regular there. He will usually be there by three in the noon. He always takes the masala-tea and the coconut buns. Sudhakar was a supervisor in a nearby construction site. He appears there in his typical dhoti and kurta with a hand bag tucked under his arms. At times when the supplies of bun have not arrived to the shop, the moment a man appears in the end of the street with bag tucked under his arms, Nagarajan runs to get the buns from the bakery which is located two streets away from there.
Guru was left handed. He kept the tea making console on the left side of shop, so that he can access all the tea making accessories from the cabinet on left side with ease. But one day Guru said that he wanted the cabinet on the right side of the shop. So they laboriously shifted the console and cabinet to the right. Since then Guru worked with a little less comfort. It was then, Nagarajan took over the lead role in the tea shop. Gradually Guru became detached from the proceedings of the tea shop. Nagarajan often saw him distracted and sometimes he sits in shop staring at the road aimlessly for hours. One day he left for his village saying that he was going to meet his ailing mother and never returned. The last thing Nagarajan heard about Guru was that, after the demise of his mother, he vanished in a festival crowd of the village and was never seen again.
Guru was a first hand example of a second hand smoker. During business hours, a mist of smoke from the cigarettes forms in the tea shop’s atmosphere. Slowly Guru became a victim of passive smoking. Little by little his hearing ability in the right ear diminished. Guru really didn’t care. But Guru felt the true problem when he gave the tea to a customer with a decoction ratio different from the one that was demanded. That was the reason why he shifted the cabinet to the other side. But the ailment gradually caught up his left ear too. Like Helen Keller said, blindness cuts one off from things, but deafness cuts one off from people. Problems faced by deaf are complex and deeper. Even though the surrounding showed no difference towards him prior or after the ailment, he felt isolated and finally left the place which he created and which was his identity.
KATHIR AND THE MEDHU-VADAI
A few months after Guru left, Nagarajan found it arduous to run the shop alone. But still he managed. During these days, Nagarajan was introduced to two new beings. One was Kathir and the other medhu-vadai. Once he visited his village for a feast. There he met a childhood friend suffering from an ailment. Recognizing his condition that he cannot take care of his lone son named Kathir, he decided to bring him to the city. And he did so. Kathir started helping out Nagarajan in the daily routines of the tea shop. Nagarajan found his own lost childhood in Kathir. The other being to which Nagarajan was introduced was the crips, tasty and doughnut shaped medhu-vadai. He realized the rising demands for the snack in that part of the city and started making the medhu-vadai.
THE INCIDENT – AS NARRATED BY NAGARAJAN
“I have never been to school and illiterate to know about all these things. But I am not that bad in small calculations and adding up something. I am doing this for years together now. I know how much lentils used make how much vadai. About half the medhu-vadai I make I keep in the shop and the rest Kathir takes it to Net park office gate at three in the noon. That is about fifty medhu-vadai. I know that how much hard it is for a 12 year old boy to carry a bag of those, walk about a mile in the scorching sun and sell all those vadai. So I said him that he can take a medhu-vadai or two for himself if he is feeling hungry. I thought that he was eating one or two daily. That was the reason for shortage in the money he brings from that office every evening. But that little brat lied to me. I consider him as my own boy and teaching him the job. But he was lying to me all these days. Today he brings some fancy lighting stuff and showing that to me. I believe in respecting the job, being true and never lie. But this kid lied to me. That’s why I lost my temper and whacked him today. Little lying brat”.
THE INCIDENT – AS NARRATED BY KATHIR
“I really miss my friends from the village. We daily play in the farm till evening and swim in the pond before going home. Sometimes we also catch fish there. But my poor dad got sick and cannot work anymore. I want to help him out. So I came here to tea shop with Nagaraj mama. Mama said that he will take me to the village for the festival next year. Mama is very good with me. Last month he bought me a new shirt and a pair of new slippers. No, not this slipper. This one my father bought me the other day. The new slipper I kept in mama’s home. I will wear that when I go to the village for festival. When I came here, mama and I came in train. I never slept in the train at all. I was awake whole night. It was so fast. Faster than all the bus. I saw it.
All my friends are in the village. Ahh.. here I have two friends. Arun and mani. Arun goes to that big school behind the park. And mani. Arun and I named him mani. He is the dog sitting in the park. Poor mani, a car hit him last month. One of his legs is broken. Now he always sits in the park. Do you know? Mama said that I can eat one vadai daily. I give my vadai to mani. Poor mani, he cannot walk like before. When I become big, I want to keep a big mustache like mama. And I will buy a cell phone like mama’s phone. But mama is very angry today. He today hit me. He never hit me before. I don’t know why he is angry. Yesterday I dropped mama’s phone. May be because of that he hit me. Next time I’ll be careful when I’m using his phone.”
CONFFESSIONS OF A MEDHU-VADAI
“To begin with, I am called ‘medhu-vadai’. To the perception of any living being, I am just an Indian delicacy who got a frame similar to my distant folk doughnut. I may be just a matter that cannot breathe or respire, cannot move or navigate, cannot respond to the changes in the environment and have no longevity. But by power of the originator of the universe vested in me, I am capable of perceiving everything occurring around me. Likewise Nagarajan and Kathir said there was a ‘whack’ or a ‘hit’ occurred between them. The fallacy in this episode was caused by a fancy colorful light emitting toy ‘crayon glow marker’. The toy was borrowed by Kathir from Arun, the one among his only two friends. The whole turbulence will be settled shortly when Nagarajan starts to contemplate why he did so. But the point to be appraised here is that only one question would have averted the whole episode. That is ‘how do you got that?’ ”.