It was as usual a hot and humid day in the city. I threw myself out of the highly comforting AC room (which should reduce the punishment I am about to get for my sins after my death as it was equally painful) of an equally disturbing guest house. It was a surprise that the people living here find it so easy to obey their daily routines. The buses were loaded with people and the roads were flooded with the yellow taxis. The owners of numerous temporary shops (made on the pavements) were busy in arranging their shops to attract customers. It was their daily routine. The shopkeepers or the vendors make and break these pseudo-shops on daily basis. For me it was difficult and full of anxiety, but for them it was just life.
I stood by the tea-stall and asked him for a cup of tea, which he was already preparing. He put the tea and sugar in the milk with his hand, no spoon was required, his hand could judge and measure the right amount of tea and sugar better than a spoon.
“Pani nahi milate ho chai me?” (Don’t you use water in making tea?)
“Doodh me bahut jol hai,jol kyo dega? Log khayega nahi.” (The milk already has enough water)
He finally answered me with his rusty and rowdy Hindi. By that time his little chai-place was swarmed by people. He arranged little tea-glasses in a perfect straight line and poured tea in all of them without stopping while jumping from glass to glass. The first hand, which picked up the glass, was covered by an expensive watch; it was a hand of a police-wala. He was speaking to someone on his SAMSUNG ACE mobile.
The Chai-wala raised a glass to me. The outside wall of the glass was covered by tea. And my Delhi mind started to calculate the number of bacteria and viruses in that several times used glass. I asked him for a disposable glass. He quickly took out an ultra-small disposable cup and poured the tea in that, without looking at me. His action and reaction-less face clearly indicated that I was not the first example of that Hygiene-Breed for him. The cup was small but beautiful. It was almost like the cups used for Tequila shots in pubs and bars. I took the first sip of the tea, it was the first good tea I had in Kolkata.
The Policeman finished his tea and slammed the glass on the ground. He was finished with the phone-conversation as well. He looked at the screen of his mobile like a lunatic. His face clearly indicated that he was struggling to find the disconnect button. After abusing the manufacture of this mobile, who were eventually not able to hear it, he finally disconnected the call. The Chai-wala looked at him with lots of hope and expectation. The policeman put his hand in his pants pocket and asked the poor chai-wala,
“ Daam koto re?”
“Boddo goram!! Kobe je brishti hobe?”
He pulled out an off-color handkerchief from his pocket and wiped out the sweat from his entire face. He looked at his expensive watch and started crossing the road. The chai-wala’s gaze chased him until he disappeared in the crowd. The policeman was his first customer of the day, who went without paying. It was not a good omen.
I don’t know that how his earning for the day was affected by not getting those 5 rupees, but he really looked sad. His eyes looked full of anger and it had a hint of saline water in it. He drowned his right hand in a mug filled with water. An expression of relief came on his face for a minute but from the next, he was busy in collecting the money from his customers including me.
While wandering on the pavements I saw several stalls. It was almost 10 am when I felt that my stomach needs more than tea. I moved briskly while searching for an appropriate place to eat.
‘Panna’s Kitchen’, a red board read. My stomach roared in excitement as soon as the board was visualized. I checked quickly whether anybody was noticing, and I found only me, everybody else had better things to do. I rushed towards the restaurant but my consideration was grabbed by a pleasant smell of Pratha.
A few benches were arranged on the pavement, which was the sitting arrangement. Few people were already busy filling their belly. I took a glimpse of offerings on the plate. Two beautiful Prathe with vegetable (I could recognize only potato in that) and pickle were served. I looked greedily towards the satisfied face of a middle aged man, who had just finished eating. He stood up and washed his hands on the roadside. His musical burp while washing his hands made me forget about the long lessons on hygiene, which I took in my schooldays.
“Kitane ka hai?”
I asked the lady serving a plate to the customer. She looked at my rather expensive dress and shoes.
Soon, the big pieces of a Paratha (drowned in an unknown potato vegetable) were sliding into my stomach. I am not sure whether it was tasty, but it was enough to make me remember some conventional food with no sugar in vegetable. Surprisingly, I found the taste which I wanted in my food in a place which was not even a complete Dhaba. I felt the joy of eating and concluded my eating in 5 parathe.
I continued my quest of finding joy on the roadsides, pavements, mini shops, little tea-stalls, big buildings, bars, roads and monuments till the sun started to set in the west and shade of night started to gobble-up some street light-less places. I started walking towards my obnoxious guest house crossing the streets of Kolkata…city of joy.