- Ms. Nina Pant
As Aurora touched the mountain peaks birds swung out of their abodes, and heralded dawn with a cacophony of chirping. The small lanes of Kaithu, in Shimla lay silent with everyone trying to snatch a few more winks, cuddling further down in their warm beds. Well not everyone, there were a couple of people who work up early- the Pandit, Kaalu the ‘coolie’ and my grand mother.
The Pandit ji as he was addressed by all was a round, chandan smeared, forever belching man, whose pigtail seemed to have a life of it own. He would get up, mumble umpteen prayers and made his way to the only tap shared by fifty odd houses. Crows would be welcomed by him, but lo behold if a sweeper came his way. The poor man would have to jump aside or face Pandit ji’s wrath for having soiled his prayers.
Kaalu, the lone coolie assigned to the area rose, stretching his forever aching back, tightened a rope around his waist and throwing two old worn out gunny bags on his shoulder stepped out of his shack. He would carry shopkeepers goods from the ganj or suitcases and hold alls of travellers till the station. The only day he wore something bright was when he had to accompany a baraat up the steep road to Kaali Baari.
Last but not the least my grandmother a petite lady with a face lined up with a maze of wrinkles, join the ranks of early risers. We looked askance at her face to see if there was any part which was not covered with fine lines. She had a warm smile. After bathing with cold water she lit the ‘angeethi’ coughing away with the smoke. She would then proceed to make tea for her innumerable Gods lining the kitchen shelf and for ‘lala ji’ her not so perfect husband.
Holding the brass cup in her hands she would offer ‘chai bhog’ to the Gods by sprinkling them with tea. It was difficult to recognise any of the Gods as all the pictures were covered with years of tea droplets. All you could see were frames, covered with a dusty, biscuit coloured hue. God only knows how the divine beings recognised their faithful devotee.
You must be wondering why I mentioned these three. Well the three-the Pandit, the coolie and my grandmother were tied with a common routine which they followed religiously. Pandit ji and the coolie after their morning ablutions made a bee line for my grandmother’s house where she would be waiting for them with a cup of hot tea.
My grandmother did not sell tea but it became a ritual that everyone in the locality came to have a cup of tea with her.
Office goers would step by to partake the tea and then moved on to their jobs. At about eleven all the ladies would sit outside my granny’s house enjoy the tea and sunshine. She would listen to everyones problems, give solutions, look after their children incase they had to go to the market. She never refused anyone.
The ‘angeethi’ would be refreshed the whole day and the old iron pot would keep bubbling with tea. My grandmother never cribbed about the sugar tea leaves or milk, and my grandfather indulged her by providing this by giving her whatever she needed. As dusk fell, tired men from the office would trudge back to their homes but not before having a cup of tea and sharing their days activities with her.
Years passed. My grandfather died and my granny became subdued, but her ritual of providing constant supply of tea and sharing joys and sorrows of the neighborhood never changed.
Kallu, the coolie became old and no longer carried luggage. Pandit ji sat in the sun staring vacantly at the far mountains. New shops came up in the vicinity, mobiles flashed in every ones hands. No one had time to talk to anyone. But people still flocked for the tea at our house. The same old ‘angeethi’ and iron pot kept churning out countless cups of tea.
Then one day my grandmother passed away. The people was shocked. She had seemed to be a permanent fixture like a banyan tree in their lives. A stream of people kept coming to pay their respects to the lady who had been a part of their lives. The next morning I got up and entered the kitchen and then realised that I would not see my granny sitting beside the ‘angeethi’ anymore. Then with a shock I saw that the ‘old angeethi’ was there no more. A shiny gas stove lay there instead. My eyes filled with tears, thinking that an era had indeed passed away. The old order had given way to the new. I looked at the Gods lined up on the shelf. They were squeaky clean with no tea droplets on them. Some one had cleaned them. There were no people stopping by for a morning cuppa. My grandmother who we all took for granted was no longer there with us. With a heavy heart I walked out.