Its January, and its cold. The sun hasn’t shown up for work in a long time. The fog is intense, and it is hard to see anything beyond fifty feet. With great effort, I leave the comfort of my blanket.
I keep water on the stove. My fingers go numb, as I wash a piece of ginger. I quickly pound it, and toss it into the water. I let my hands soften over the warm air on top of the stove. It feels familiar. As I wait for my tea to boil, I remember the tea I used to buy from the road-side chai-wallah.
He sat on a foot path behind a prominent building. Arguably, the most popular chai-wallah. I used to enjoy the tea he made, and was a regular customer. His helpers would recognize me, and even before I would reach, a cup of tea would be ordered on my behalf!
Tea wasn’t the only thing he had in store. Cream rolls, plain salted rolls, mathris and buns were stacked up all around him. I generally had my tea with mathri.
Once, while I was waiting for my tea, I saw one of the helpers prepare a simple snack for a customer. Before I knew it, the helper sliced the fruit bun, applied butter, toasted it on open flame, cut it in four parts, and served it hot. I watched with delight as the bun developed a life of its own – the skin burnt, just the right amount, the melted butter making it glow… On a chilly winter day, it was enough to make my mouth water. I made a mental note of it, and a few days later, I decided to buy one for myself.
More than the taste, I looked forward to the butter melting. I didn’t have to wait long. The helper reached out for the big box where blocks of butter had been stored. Each block must have been two inches thick. He picked one up, and promptly applied the whole block!
I was shocked. I forgot all about the open fire, and the glowing bun.
It took me a while to regain my composure. And for a little while I just stared wide-eyed at my meal.
Eventually, I did sink my teeth into it. It tasted wonderful, of course. It had to be! Though beyond that… I’d rather not think about it!
For the next few months, I was quite content with just tea!