Saffron mingled with lavender birthed the beautiful hue of the evening sky. Birds, mostly pigeons, made their way through the crowd, flying not so high, until they found a cable, loose from the summer’s heat, protruding from the electricity poles. They perched on thin copper wires of the cables; their tiny feet almost invisible underneath their well-fed body. They looked quite similar to the people beneath them, especially the group of people that had gathered around the chai stall. They all wore the same white shirts, with the skinny, tight black pants and the suitcase which was as crucial to them as their family. These men were born for only one sole reason – to support their family, that could have fallen into the putrid hole of poverty, but had not, thanks to their average job.
The chaiwallah always wore a furrowed brow. He wore the same, mundane clothes, woke up at the same hour, served around the same amount of tea with the help of his child. His years of experience had helped run his business efficiently, as he made tea in accordance with the demand. The supply was neither less nor more. However, poverty has crushed him so hard that he could not even afford a sign that probably would have read out “Raju’s Chai Stall”. He used huge white buckets which previously had served the purpose of a paint buckets as seats for his customers. You could tell by the way they sat, who was new and who was not, for the new customers always struggled, whereas the old ones sat on the paint buckets as if it were a divan.
The chaiwallah used a stainless-steel spatula and had been using it since he started his business. It had rusted on the ends and looked fragile. Bustling crowds went past him during the summer evening. Especially the crowds of the middle-aged women who were called the aunties, a word commonly used by the young in the society, to address women their mom’s age.
Aunties often came out for a walk. Their eyes glistened, and they often giggled as they went on gossiping. Tired from their long walks, they often resided under the huge lush green trees, thriving with their summer spirit. It was an escape for them. Escape from the monotonous household work. During the evening of an Indian Summer, they found time for themselves.
Toddlers and preschoolers often were seen with their mom. They played games like hide and seek as they had not gotten bored of it, yet. Sometimes they went around shouting and screaming, and thus, disturbing the entire neighborhood. Kids who had just entered their teens enjoyed activities like cycling and roller skating. A few of them could be seen on scooters trying to prove their supremacy to their friends. Kids above the age of fifteen were rarely seen. They would spend most of their time studying, so that they could score well to avoid the idea of being rejected by the society. They came out rarely, but knew well, in their mind that their times of childish activities were well beyond over. Most of them, as an evening activity, went for tuitions.
Night now slowly settled over the orange sky, and turned into hues of dark purple, with a few streaks of dark blue. This signaled people to return to their homes. The children stopped playing once their mothers called them home for dinner. Aunties reluctantly got up to return to serving their family. The aunties from Zumba would return huffing and puffing, sweating, but they all wore a very pleasant smile.
The chaiwallah knew well enough that that was his earning for the rest of the day and so he would wrap up his stall, place a big tin sheet over it, pin it on the three edges and tie the last edge onto a thing bare tree. Then he headed for his home, which was just minutes away, downhill from the society he had finished serving to. One could only assume, but perhaps during this walk, he calculated his earnings, his savings and his profits, which were not a lot. His stern face would slowly disappear and he, with his beedi in his mouth, would look up at the glistening moon and the sleeping pigeons.
©Aaira Goswami, 2021. All rights reserved.