A small shack with a gas stove. A vessel with oil inside. A few large bottles that hold sweets and snacks. A wooden bench. A thatched protrusion into the frontage. A picture of Bharat Mata that stares at you. ‘Tiger’ biscuit. There are a few other articles which are of lesser significance that escape my eyes.
We don’t see any of these. The drive has been long and we decide to break for tea. We park on the side and cross the road to the tea stall to be presented with the description above. We ask for tea. She smiles. And asks us to wait.
Four ceramic cups & saucers, that seem to have popped in from nowhere, get washed. The milk is boiled, the ginger is cut with a, ‘i’ll get it fresh for you‘ comment. Our tired legs smile at our luck. My wife spots the vessel with oil. A pleasant exchange between Ms.Vanita and my wife enuses in Marathi. Cut. Vada Pav is cooking !
The tea gets served. Four cups. We say we ordered only for three. She pours the tea into the fourth cup, and passes it on to the next store vendor. ‘Special Tea for you’. Matter of fact ! My stare stays static, focused on her. She has moved on.
I get curious and pop a few questions. My wife translates in Marathi. It gets Mrs. Kandekar talking.
“I have three sons. One of them passed away. The other is mental. The other does farming”.
No whining. No sad under tone. Just matter of fact. The by-the-side conversation seems to be her way of keeping us engaged as she focuses on the worn down stove.
‘We are brahmins. We don’t get jobs. My son didn’t get either. So he does farming’. No whining. ‘He is ok‘. Just matter-of-fact.
‘I make Rs.25/- every day. On a good day, i make Rs.40/-‘. Matter-of-fact. I look away into the undergrowth. ‘Rs. 25’ continues to ring in my ear. That wont get me half a litre of petrol, i think. She attends to the Vada thats cooking.
Soon, Vada Pav is ready. She serves it with green chillies.
We clean the plate like animals in a zoo who have been unfed for long.
We take it further. The incurable southerners that we are, we ask, if she can make us Bhajjis with the green chillies.
‘Sure‘. She says.
In 5 minutes, the bhajjis with green chillies are ready. Delicious. We munch on. She chats on. About Ratnagiri. About the weather. And so on. She asks us to take care while driving through. We thank her.
Its time to pay. She quotes a low figure. A ridiculously low figure. We think she has made a mistake and help her count ‘unit’ wise. ‘
Ah she says. Dont include the Chilli Bhajjis’. Thats on me.’
Did i hear that right ? My ‘disbelief’ stare returns. If the Rs.25/- per day income rattled me, the spirit to give ( in a matter of fact way) , sows a new seed.
I look away. Into the sky. I want to hug her. I suddenly want to talk to her more. To unravel the spirit to give. To focus on the present. To just be. I want to tell her that she left a mark.
A word clot and an emotion hemorrhage engulf me. I just stand and stare.
And today, i write. We moved from her road side tea stall a few weeks ago. The memory could be old. Her shade of ‘share ware’ seem to take new roots in me !