It was abrupt that things had come to such an end , they were all collected right outside his home , a group of people dressed in black and some dressed in white , it was the way people dressed to a house which had just seen the passing away of one of its members . Mr. M was a nice guy , but it was a ritual that once he began to drink there was no night or day for him
Mr M also had been a round the clock smoker ,his lungs had given up on him and he was getting his Oxygen through a cylinder, which stood next to his bed , his wife fed up would sit all day outside their home talking to her neighbors , about the sad condition of her husband , and how it had emotionally torn her up ‘’I don’t know what I would do without him ” she would say hiding her eyes behind her thick cotton scarf pretending to weep, at times her brother would turn up supervising all the work at home due to Mr M’s sick condition , though nobody said anything , but it was easy to point out the hypocricy behind it all
It was an abrupt ending to the poor guy Mr M had lived in Dubai for more than 10 years , but had suddenly returned , earning Lakhs with his hard work , he brought back to Delhi all of it , Mr M would stand at the balcony all day long stumbling on his feet , and waving out to all those who passed by the road , and when P sometimes met him at the departmental store he would hug him , and tell the departmental store owner with a smell of whisky from his mouth “ this is my son “ meaning that P was like a son who was not born to him
“ I had been telling you for the last few days please go and meet the poor guy’’ P’s father said while driving the car “ but see now he is no more , you could have spared an evening for him “
“ I am sorry dad’’
Mr. M’s wife was standing outside while a group of men went in to perform the final rites , they took his body away to be burned at the Faridabad crematorium , P’s father had to skip a business trip to Chandigarh for him , after all he was the only guy who had been so useful to P’s father when P’s grandmother had passed away.
A few days passed , when suddenly one day there was a car parked outside P’s home , it was Mr. M’s son Junior M he was shifting to this house along with his wife , a woman who was unbearably beautiful and a childhood friend of Junior M’S Sister , She began to weep as soon as she saw Mrs. M , all up in arms about how she missed Mr. M , All the neighbors were out by then looking at the scenery playing out and some evenly sympathized with the family’s loss it was clear that what was about to happen had something really bad for Mrs M , after a few weeks Each Day there would loud noises of shouting coming out of the house .
Mrs M And her daughter in law had not been keeping well with each other , it began with small things like dinner – was Mrs M to Cook it or her educated daughter In law who protested she wouldn’t , and her son stood like a slave always in support of his wife , Mrs. M would protest to this and would go on without food for hours , when suddenly one Wednesday evening they threw her out of her own house together her son and the daughter in law , she sat crying loudly right on the middle of the road ,shouting out her husbands name intermittently and how he would have took it all to see his own son throw her out of her house , the whole neighborhood had collected itself outside by then , but nobody came to Mrs. M’S help some even said that it was good what had happened to her , and that her husband’s ghost was out for revenge, a husband who had given her all the luxuries she needed, only to be left neglected by her on his deathbed .
P came out and stood wondering how things had changed , when Mr M was alive he had always wished to visit him , and sit and chat with him just to listen to whatever would come out his good humored intoxicated tongue , and now after Mr M had passed away the whole house looked like a shadow of death, Things had come to such an abrupt end .
Mrs M couldn’t figure out what to do or who to call , she was all alone in the darkness of the night she called out to a few passerby’s who were her old neighbors but no one responded , they all looked at her said something or laughed , some old men admired her ripe figure,
“oh what a misery “ she held her head in a state of agitation wishing to die and not having the strength she lay down on the curbside , a few cars sped by the road in the middle of the night , the strong light disturbed her pitiful sleep , but waking would be more terrifying as it jolted her out of something, something in which she felt secure .
When the morning came she was woken up by a vigorous shaking of her leg “ oh leave me please , I beg you “
It was the sweeper he looked at her and ,sat down by her side , they both looked at each other for a while , Mrs M confused collected herself and then hid her face from him looking towards her right , but when she looked at her right there were more known faces , they all looked at her but nobody came as close to her as the sweeper .
“ don’t sit so close please “ she begged him “ people are looking “
“ so what ? are you ashamed ? , at least I came and sat next to you these people look at them they wont even come near you , aren’t these the same people who used to sit with you all through the day , drink your tea and eat the biscuits served right from your kitchen , and now look at them “ he paused for a while , while he took out a five rupee coin from his pocket and gave it to Mrs M “ Take it It’s a token of thanks for all the cups of tea you served me “ he opened her tightly closed hand and placed the 5 rupee coin right onto it
She felt that as life had brought her to such a pity she should as well accept the things which were happening to her , she opened her hands and there right in the middle of it was the 5 Rupee coin , what was she to do with it , keep it or throw it .
The sweeper was sitting right next to her , his proximity brought back to her the solemn confidence of shelter of a home which she had a day back before being thrown out of it by her own son , the scavenger was getting up to leave
“ please don’t go “ she pleaded “ please don’t leave me I don’t have anyone else and I am hungry too what will I buy with this five rupee coin ?” she seemed so helpless that the sweeper again sat next to her “ it gets so dark at night “
“ madam , what can I do , see this pocket it is empty with the money the municipality pays me , I am unable to feed myself even once a day , it was sometimes your tea or sometimes Yes I remember , yes I remember” he paused for a while and a beauty filled his thickly bearded face ” yes it was Mr M, i wish we had more people like him alive ” he paused again and with a sudden impulse grabbed Mrs M’s hand and snatched the 5 rupee coin from her , he ran towards the chaiwala who was selling tea nearby , and gave him the 5 rupee coin taking a cup of tea from him and ran back to Mrs M who was all this time wondering what he was upto .
He came and stood next to her and gave her the cup of tea and reverentially added ” If I can do anything else for you Madam ” Mrs M sipped the cup of tea ” How could I have been so blind , your husband was a god , he was such a good man , oh i wish i wish more men like him …….” and he stopped short ,out of words and energy , she got up and gulped down the whole tea in a go “I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday she said and walked to the chaiwala ” The chaiwala seeing her come and most of all the shabby clothes in which she was dressed waved at her angrily , telling her not to come near , hesitatingly she took small small steps towards the teashop , and seeing that he was no more noticing her , she sat on a low and expansive stool which was placed to the left of the teashop, looking at the person who sat next to her and the samosa in his small paper plate her mouth began to water , she waited for a while and again looked at the samosa it was half eaten and the customer contented got up and threw it into the wastebasket , she went to the wastebasket, she waited a moment and then bending down she picked up the half eaten samosa and ate it quickly before anyone could notice .
It was afternoon , and the sun was shining down fiercely on the road , it was so hot that anyone who was outdoors would have cursed that they were alive , Mrs M was lying down calmly on the roadside , she got up and looked all around she was hungry and penniless and she thought that it was time for her finally to beg , but what if she were to be allowed to work at the teashop , she sat and thought and as the sun was calming down her thoughts too assembled themselves before her , she finally got up , and walked towards the chaiwala ( he was sitting and looking at her ) all confident and suddenly as the chaiwala saw her walk towards him , he got up and took a cylindrical piece of wood a Belan with which he rolled the triangular shelves of samosas ,
” what do you want ” he shouted ” stay away from my shop you beggar ”
He waited , until her face slowly and slowly revealed to him , he noticed something similar , he kept the Belan from where he had picked it up and calming down tried to scratch his memory , he thought he remembered the face as if it was similiar to some other face ” oh memsahib ” he said to himself ” it Is Mr M’s wife and look in what shabby state she is ” as she came near to him , he recognized by the look of her face that she was very hungry , he took the cover off a plate in which were kept two to three pieces of samosas and offered it to her, she took it and relieved her hunger ” I am sorry but i have no money to give to you right now ” she said ” but I can work for you , clean the area , or even the plates please help me ”
Stuck between an overexcited and hopeless situation he listened to her story and just for the respect he had for Mr M , offered her the job to help him with the cleaning of the dishes .
The afternoon passed into evening and the evening into night and the night with its darkness beckoned many more customers to the tea shop it was the passing group of labourers from the nearby factories who on their way home , stopped at the tea shop to have a cup of tea and something to eat , Mrs M all bent on washing the glasses , did not stop for a second she kept washing them as they came to her , sitting on a low stool next to the counter , the chaiwala looked at her now and then and pitied her for the state in which she was .
In the morning Mrs M Woke up and walked towards the teashop and Saw the chaiwala hurry towards her , he suddenly looked up at her and struck his forehead , Mrs M Worried asked him what was the problem, he told her that it was impossible now for him to treat her the way he has been “ I cant let you clean the cups anymore I am sorry”
struck at what he had just said and the thought of again losing a roof above her head ,she in all anger and disillusionment shouted at him “ what do you mean , are you going to throw me out and where am I going to go , I have no place’’ she looked at him and began to cry
“I wont throw you out “ he said and seeing her inconsolable , he looked all around worried that people would doubt that he had harassed her in some way “please stop crying”
He took her into the teashop and told her all his plans of letting her run the teashop and letting him do the washing of the glasses. Surprised at such a turn of events Mrs M went near to the chaiwala and hugged him , this act utterly ashamed him and he freed himself of her “ what are you doing Memsahib , how can you hug me ?”
Days went by and customers at the tea shop kept growing and even the income , The naive Chaiwala gave her all the freedom even to handle the accounts and keep all the money with her after all it was now she who ran the teashop and he her employee , even known faces flocked around the shop , her old neighbor the fat lady who rarely ate anything from outside now came to her everyday and ate three to four pieces of free samosas , she kept talking on and on about her own worries and her son and daughter in law whom she suspected were now planning to throw her too out of her home “ Oh what will I do Mrs M , what will I do ? “
To this Mrs M added hypocritically “ Oh nothing like that will happen believe in god and don’t worry ? “
Mrs M was a diligent businesswoman , she gave no free hand and the prices went up after a few days tea was now 7 rupees where before it was 5 rupees, samosas were extra crispy and they were 8 rupees a piece where before they were 5 rupees , the people who walked by every day in the evening stopping at the tea shop now barely even looked at it, only a few people stopped by those who could have afforded it . And the samosas which were not sold continued to be kept at the counter staling each day under the hot sun
“ Memsahib , I think we should keep the old rates , see there are no customers’’ the chaiwala said “ and we should not be selling these stale samosas, I don’t think its right ‘’
Mrs M turned towards him and said “ I run this shop now , and this shop is only for those who have money in their pockets” just as she said this two young boys came to the shop, she turned towards them and put the water to boil , in the next few seconds the water came flaring up and she added a handful of tea leaves into it , and began to stir , next she added half a glass of milk to it , she stirred it all up and added two teaspoons of sugar into it , the boys looked at all this and the art with which she made tea delighted them
“ this tea is really tasty “ they said “ you surely know how to make tea are you his wife’’ they asked
“ No, no he is just my servant’’ she repied “I run this shop’’she declared with full confidence , after the boys had left she turned towards S and said “ now you see , these are the type of customers I want at my shop those who have money in their pockets , not those smelly laborers’’
That evening no one came to the shop , the laborers had chosen some other tea shop a mile away to have their tea , and the samosas which were four days old began to rot the smell it gave off was so unbearable that Mrs M had to throw them to the stray dogs , and even they ran away from it , hardly anyone came , and those who came had three to four cups of tea , but they were people with money in their pockets and there were very less people from this group who would prefer to have their tea at a rundown teashop.
After a few days with no money in his pocket the chaiwala decided that he would have to speak to Mrs M about this , “ Mrs M we need to bring down the prices , this shop as it is was meant for people like me, not for the rich , why Mrs M Don’t you see that no one comes , “ Mrs M looked at him and felt that he was right “ Yes lets sell at the old price “ , the old price board was hung up from the tree that stood right next to the tea stall , And slowly in a few days people began to come to the tea shop , there was huge demand for Mrs M’s samosa but her behavior was intolerable she shouted at the laborers who came to the shop in the evening , for she demanded money before serving them , all this didn’t go well and after a few days again the laborers stopped coming, Mrs M was unmoved she said that it served them right and they stunk like hell which was intolerable to her “ oh those smelly bastards it served them right they have no standards , they were meant to eat those half cooked samosa from that shabby tea shop it really serves them right , those rotten dogs can only eat rotten food not my crispy and well made samosas “
The chaiwala disturbed looked at Mrs M and reckoned that it was obviously his own mistake , that she was not at all Like Mr M and has indeed become a curse for him now , he would have to look for some other alternative , after a few days with no one to come to their shop The Chiwala made his escape at night , and ran to the other tea shop where the laborers were now stopping for their evening tea he pleaded the owner to give him some job whatever he could
Mrs M woke up the next day and found the chaiwala gone she waited with only two or three customers to come till the afternoon , and finally began to swear at the top of her voice , she thought for a while and then when the evening came she followed the herd of laborers to the other teashop which was just a few paces away , and there she saw him sitting on a low stool and cleaning glasses , she hid from him at first and then slowly and slowly sneaked behind him prodding him on the shoulders ,he turned to look at who it was and was shocked to find Mrs M Standing , he didn’t utter a word at first but giving her a scared look followed her back to his tea shop , where getting back to the old stool he began to clean the glasses that were left by the customers in the morning , it was inevitable he thought all evening to rid himself of her , she loomed like a shadow over him , even at nights she was woken up by slight noises which were not made by him, but that inevitable fear that he would again run away was always at the back of her mind, he would wake up at nights and sit up thinking there was no money , how would he send money to his mother back home at the village , he would look at her appallingly “ Oh what a misery this women is’’ , but slowly and slowly there came much more transformations in him , he began to go mad with hunger whatever money was earned was not enough , and Only Mrs M could quench her hunger from it, The chaiwala felt misery and anger punching at him all around his body , he wanted to wipe her out kill her somehow , but he was afraid , he was afraid that she would somehow overpower him and kill him instead in such thoughts the chaiwala sat on the low stool the whole day cleaning glasses and thinking intermittently , but instead of performing his duties , he would at times turn back and look at Mrs M and at times feeling that now she was in a vulnerable position , he would move towards her , with an intention to finish her off , but her sharp ears would sense his presence even a few feets away and she would turn back with an ugly look all over her face
“ Are you mad get back and don’t you come near me what’s gone into your head I can sense it now your dirty intentions “
He would get back to the stool and sit there without any work , at least if he had some work he would focus on it , so that he could submerge the growling hunger which kept tearing him from inside , on that night while trying to sleep , the chaiwala felt something wrong as , if it was not sleep that was making him feel so dull , even his hands and feet began to go cold , and he felt as if the earth underneath was pulling him in he tried to sleep but now even his head felt heavy and finally when he was asleep it was like freedom , in the morning Mrs M was early for work, she had served three to four cups of tea , the most she had in the past few months , the customers paid her double for the delicious tea , but The Chaiwala had still not turned up for work , she went to the place where he slept and standing right upon his mattress shouted at the dead man , she again shouted at the top of her voice now more despotic but despite several attempts he kept lying on it like a dead man
“ So you are really annoyed aren’t you “ she surmised the dead man and laid her hand over his forearm “ get up now “ but he wouldn’t no matter how hard she tried at last she touched his forehead again and felt that he was absolutely cold , even on such a hot day his forehead hadn’t a bead of sweat on it , and he wasn’t even breathing , she ran up to her tea stall and saw the sweeper standing there waiting for a cup of tea , he smiled as soon as he saw her , and leaned the long broom on of the cane beams that supported the metallic roof of the teastall
“ Are you all right Memsahib’’ she was lost in her thoughts looking at some point on the floor as if her second husband , had passed away , he went up to her and crouched on the floor
“ are you alright Memsahib’’
woken up by the smell of strong paan mixed with tea that he had recently drank
she replied “oh he is dead, I don’t know how but he is dead’’
“ who is dead ?’’
“the chaiwala his forehead is cold and he is not breathing ”
The sweeper raised himself from the ground and taking his broom which skidded along the dust filled road went to the place where the chaiwala slept and observe the dead body , the strong heat pinched him all around , but the chaiwala was cold and dead, his eyes closed seemed as if they were looking up at the sky for some answer for which he will be waiting forever , the sweeper walked back to the teashop and asked for something to eat
“ How did he die’’ he asked her eating a biscuit , when two or three more customers came to the shop
“ I do not know , he was alright yesterday , but in the morning he was dead”
“ Must have been a heart attack” the sweeper declared with all the experiences he had all these years , it felt to him that heart attack was the only way people passed away at night in their sleep, but there was no feeling of alarm
The same day in the evening Mrs M’ s son came to the shop and sat next to another group of men who were slowly sipping their cup of tea , he looked at them and asked Mrs M for a cup of tea , though she was busy with preparation for another group of labourers who would land up at her shop anytime now , but aghasted to see her own son in such a state she rushed up to him “ what wrong with you son ? , how did you come to such a state “ , he looked up at her and asked her again for a cup of tea without any real response from her “ a cup of tea “ his darkly stubbled face moved while his cheeks shallowed and his eyes which looked lifeless , there was an overall look of a madman about him , which tortured the motherly impulses of Mrs M , she quickly gave in and began to cry , a group of men rushed up to her and began to enquire , the matter was not to be blown out of proportion so her son told her again to get him a cup of tea , she went inside the shop and poured tea into a fresh paper cup , and quickly rushed to her son , he snatched the fully filled cup from her spilling some on the ground and gulped down its whole contents in a go ,but after a while he still looked Dissatisfied and began to scratch his beard in A disillusioned way , she sat next to him and again asked
“ Oh son what happened to you “ ? but having finished his tea he got up from where he sat and without any replies just walked away towards the opposite direction crossing the street entering the colony where Mrs M’s house was , a house from where she was thrown away a few months back , she went and sat back at the counter withdrawn from all her activities , she had no heart to prepare tea for the remainder of the evening but the thought of her son in such a state had shook her lifeless , now she thought of going back to her house in the morning , but to her own surprise her son returned to the shop in the morning , a look of total disaster waved about him as if all grace had left him , he looked like a real madman , the shirt he wore had no top buttons and it was too tight around his stomach which fell like a mound over his nickers which too was too short for him , he came and sat next to the tea shop on the ground , a thick breeze was blowing, and he looked as if he enjoyed the breeze which waved like a happy declaration of something really good to come , he got up from where he sat and asked his mother for a cup of tea , she served him hot tea and gave him something to eat too from a glass jar , she looked at him as he ate and then closing his eyes and dozed off his head was heavy with all the misery he had gone through for the past few weeks
When he woke up after two hours , there were no customers at the shop his mother sitting all alone at the counter was looking at him , she went up to him , and in a worried voice asked him , “ what is wrong with you son ? why you look like a beggar , look at your eyes she felt his eyes which had dark circles around them and from inside you could look at the horror of his mind “ I don’t have any home mother , my wife threw me out after I lost my work ,and now here I am coming to you every evening and morning for a cup of tea , you know I just roam around the colony sometimes sleeping under a tree or sometimes right outside the opposite departmental store, after father died nothing has been alright , nothing”
The horror in his eyes revealed the reality in which they lived , yes nothing had been alright since Mr M had left , a whole house crumbled down , and someone new had occupied it , this new women , with her new husband , would create another reality ,another day , which too will be full of worthlessness .