The Tea & Coffee Shop
by Gitanjali Maria
(Kochi, Kerala, India)
The coffee shop as usual was crowded and the decibel levels were high. Lal, the server boy was busy serving hot cups of steaming 'chai' and 'Kophi' and hot samosas and kachoris to customers. From people in coats and ties to the local labourers in his blue shirt and red turban, all were customers of Sunil Bhaiya's 'Tea & Coffee Shop'. Located in the heart of the industrial area, both employees and contract labourers and drivers and watchman thronged the 'chai' shop whenever they wanted a boost to their energies and a new dose of gossip. And Sunil Bhaiya's chai and coffee have never failed to give the magic effect.
My office being just a few meters away from the shop, my regular timing of coming here for a drink are at eleven in the morning, three in the afternoon and six in the evening. I have got my own group of friends from the nearby different offices who visit at nearly the same time. We gossip and pull one another's leg and share sorrows and happiness and ups and downs all with a cup of coffee or tea in one hand and the other hand dipping into hot plates of Puri-sabji or vada-sambhar or samosa-chutney. The times spent under that small tiled roof are so memorable and sweet that we never feel like going back to our desks in the plush offices to stare at our computer screens.
I guess the same must be the case with this old 'kaka' sitting at the corner of the shop, sipping his cup of tea slowly, and enjoying every drop of it. I see him nearly every day and at all times that sometimes I feel that he must be an eternal customer of Sunil Bhaiya's, never wanting to return to his work of loading and unloading goods. With bald head and little locks of white hair and a short beard of white hair with patches of black streaks, I put his age at around 70 to 75 years. A man of short stature and a characteristic limp, I often wonder how hard it must be to work at this age and why he should be doing it. The thought of it gives me jitters about old age.
Seeing my glance going in the direction of the old 'kaka', Sudhir, for whose company the 'kaka' works told me, 'Today also he was late in his work; because of that the goods reached the market late again. I guess the manager must have given him a good dose. I'm not sure whether he has been fired or not'. I felt the pity that I sometimes feel for him rise once again in my heart. Poor fellow, having to do so much work at an age when he could have sat back on his armchair and watched his grandchildren grow and the world around him change. I imagined myself with white hair and stooping back, carrying a load of bricks to earn a few currency notes, so that I could go to the medical shop to get a box of medicines for old-age infirmities; it sent a shiver down my spine. I prayed that my children grow up to be capable and willing of taking care of me in old age. The old man looked at my direction for a second, an emotionless plain glance and then went back to sipping his tea.
As I went to pay our group's bill, I pushed an extra five rupees into the cashier's hand and gestured in the old 'kaka's' direction. The cashier boy understood and I hurried off to my office. I wondered as to whether the 'kaka' would be there the next day or not, whether he'll get a new job in case he's fired, does he have sufficient money to carry on his life; all these and a hundred questions passed my mind as I sat before my computer screen.
And the next day at our usual morning 'chai' time, that place in the corner of Sunil Bhaiya's 'Tea & Coffee Shop' as I had feared, was occupied by another person, a young and robust fellow in blue shirt and red turban!