“Chintu, wake up, Prachi didi is here,” Chintu’s mom screamed. Her voice penetrated Chintu’s ears even though big headphones covered them entirely. Chintu woke up instantly, excited to see Prachi, his cousin sister who was always willing to chat about his school and play computer games with him.
He dropped the Chemistry book sitting in his lap and hopped to the bedroom door at once. “Didi, kaisi ho?” He smiled as he saw her.
Prachi had come with a box of sweets. She was getting married to a local businessman who she had known for several years now. She showed his photo to Chintu’s mother, whose eyes widened looking at the handsome face.
Chintu was sitting but was not able to join the discussion revolving around the wedding preparation. “Chintu, go make tea?” Chintu’s mother ordered.
As he prepared tea, the women started discussing all the different aspects of a wedding. The venue, the food, who was going to be invited, what Prachi should wear, what was trending these days with weddings, getting a wedding planner. Things Chintu didn’t care about. All he cared about was getting to play computer games with Prachi.
He made tea the exact way his mother had taught him. Adding in some chopped ginger to the tea leaves, he let it simmer for a while before letting it boil. The tea took a long time to boil, but when Chintu brought it to the living room, the aroma from the three cups stimulated a vacuum in the core of Prachi’s belly.
“Arre waah!” Prachi commented, “The tea is really good. You could earn a lot of money making tea,” she chuckled.
Chintu’s mother smiled.
“Want to play video games?” Chintu asked, looking at his mother as if asking for permission. She showed hints of resistance on her face but smiled eventually.
“Sorry, Chintu, I need to go to a few more places.” Prachi was on an announcement mode currently, going across the colony to hand over the boxes of sweets lying in the large white bag sitting beside her. Chintu was a little saddened but could see what was coming in the future.
Until now, she used to visit their house almost every week to play video games with him. In fact, she had also got Chintu into online gaming leagues. Once she would be married, he would not be able to see her as frequently anymore.
“When are you buying an Xbox?” He had been asking the question for three years now, to the same response- “Soon, Chintu. Arun loves Xbox!” Prachi’s fiancé was a game fanatic too.
Chintu was more excited for the Xbox than her marriage.
Once she had left, Chintu started going back to his room. His face muscles had again relaxed and the narrow smile had subsided. “That tea was really good, Chintu.” His mother commented as he was walking back.
Which made him think. If it was that good, there was a potential to sell it. While Prachi had just joked about it, Chintu’s mind was already picturing himself as a tea vendor. If he did it properly, he could earn a lot of money. Rather than bug his parents for an Xbox endlessly, he could actually buy his own. That would be his dream.
“Yes, I am doing this.”
The exam three days after was the least interesting to him. He knew he had studied enough to pass the exam. Being only a unit test, there was no reason to worry. Class eighth anyways did not matter, neither to him, neither to the world. Somehow, getting an A on the report card mattered only to his parents.
He was sitting on a study table writing down estimations about how much money he needed. He checked the table drawer to check the money people had gifted him during festivals.
“Three thousand,” he announced.
He needed tea leaves, water, milk and ginger to make tea; plastic cups to serve and a stove to boil it. His mother had recently purchased an induction cooktop, which was portable enough to carry around. She was hardly using it. Chintu had put it in one of the kitchen cabinets where his mother’s eyes and hands did not reach.
The plan was simple. He would lay a tea stall right outside the colony wall. The colony was on an exit road from the city, which had thousands of vehicles rumbling over it every hour. While he didn’t have money to provide a seating space for people, he was positive that once the money started flowing in, he could make that happen as well.
But there was a problem.
His parents would not allow this venture.
The solution was to run the shop at night from 11:30 when his parents were asleep to 4:30 am in the morning. His room had a window that opened beside the road, so getting out of the house was easy. The colony was not guarded by anyone, so Chintu was assured that he could run this operation in peace.
“I will earn enough for the Xbox and quit.” He promised.
It was a bright night with twinkling stars when he stepped out for his first business night. It took him around three hours just to find a good place to install his induction cooker. He knew of a plug point on the colony’s wall that was used to illuminate the lights on the wall. The plug-in point, however, was inside the colony. Chintu took an hour to figure out he would need an extension cord to power the stove. His computer’s spike guard would do.
He was quick in hopping back into his room and bring the spike guard out.
He finally boiled three cups of tea. To make sure he had done well, he had a sip from a plastic cup. The one sip helped him to stay a bit longer, so he had another one. It was only after he had two cups did he realize that he was only left with little tea for anyone.
“What if customers come now?” He threw in some tea leaves and water hurriedly in the vessel sitting atop the induction cooktop.
He realized he couldn’t stay awake anymore after 2:30 am, so he threw away the boiling tea and started to wrap up. His small bed felt like the most comforting place in the entire world.
His mom woke him up at 6:45 in the morning to get ready for school. Of course, he slept in one of the classes and heard a good one from the teacher.
When he returned, he saw his mother and father both getting ready to leave. “Chacha had an accident and fractured his leg. We are going to go see him.” She hurried to wear her chappals. “There’s roti and sabzi on the dining table, eat it and study. Don’t spend time watching TV.”
“Okay mom,” Chintu nodded with his eyes red and his head spinning. Right at the moment, his parents stepped out, his eyes charged up, realizing he could operate the Chai stall right now without waiting for the night. “What if someone complains to mom?”
The second thought was scary, but the inclination to earn money was very high.
“But if she doesn’t find out, I will earn a lot more than earning at night.”
Within half an hour, he had connected the induction cooktop and had a litre of water already starting to heat up. Today, he had a cardboard stating the name of his company – ‘Kai Chai Services.’ Coming from watching endless Japanese cartoons, Kai was a word for victory.
An hour had passed when he had his first customer. The first customer that he ever served tea to. The serving cup was small but the taste was so good that the person had another one. Chintu knew very well the art of chopping ginger very finely and adding it while letting the tea simmer without milk.
The stranger left after paying him Rs. 16 for the 2 cups. He had his first taste of earning money.
The number of customers started increasing, with the aroma of brimming tea spreading with the wind. Chintu had realized that he would have to buy a lot of materials to get a formal tea stall in place. But his current focus was only to buy an Xbox.
Customers actually loved the tea he made.
He estimated that at the current rate, he would run out of milk and water in another hour. Full sales for the day! It was clear that if he had to run a business, he would also have to sell tea during the day. Also, sacrificing sleep was not something he would like to do.
“I will tell mom about this tonight. I can convince her for permission. 3-4 hours every evening after school.” He thought. He had almost made his decision for life. He was going to run a tea shop in life.
After a few more people had added notes to his shirt pocket, he saw a familiar face emerging from his left. The red pimple on her right cheek was noticeable when Prachi visited him last evening. Chintu was excited to tell her what her good compliment had led to in his life. She was walking with a stranger, who Chintu guessed was her fiancé.
“Time to get my best tea ready,” he said.
As she reached the stall, Prachi was stunned. Her fiancé was talking to her about buying a new house. He ignored Chintu’s stall completely, while she ignored his dialogue while staring at the stall. Chintu called her to the stall.
She only waved back and kept walking.
Chintu’s heart burned in rage, but with more customers coming to the stall, he had to focus on work. He served another customer, looking at the to-be-married couple walking away.
“I am never going to let her play my Xbox once I buy it.” He announced to himself.
But why would she ignore him? Was it because her husband would not like Chintu? Were they discussing something really important? Was Chintu’s tea not that good after all? Questions emerged from all directions as Prachi disappeared to his right.
“Oh, it was because she doesn’t want to be friends with a Chaiwalla! How did I not realize that?” Chintu thought. He was feeling terrible. He disconnected the induction cooktop and threw the leftover tea in the vessel in the dirt nearby before bringing tearing apart the cardboard. He went home, washed the vessel, kept the induction cooktop back in the kitchen cabinet and went to bed.
“Even if I make good tea, I am not allowed to make it?” He wondered. “Treat everyone as equals, right?” He remembered reading in the Civics book a year ago. “What’s the point of going to school to learn these things, then?”
Not being able to serve tea to Prachi, however, bugged him. What was the point of getting an Xbox if she was not going to play with him? What was the point of selling tea if he was not buying an Xbox? What was the point of earning money if he didn’t need it?
Life had no real purpose if he had no one to play video games with. He decided to quit.
At the same time, a tear dropped from his right eye while he felt culpable for not told his mother about his adventure. When his parents returned later in the night, he explained to them all that happened while shedding tears. As opposed to scolding and thrashing him for the misadventures, his father ordered him to go make tea for them.
“If not for others, make tea for your own people,” he told him. The boy was disheartened but took his time to make a good mixture.
Without saying a word, it was clear that he would have to stop the venture and focus on school. Class 10th was coming up.
“But what is the point of equality if we are not equal ourselves?”
“Things are not as simple as they are stated in books, son.” Chintu’s father replied.
“Then why teach them that way?” Chintu asked.
One reply on “Chai time”
Nice well written! You’ve captured the purity, the innocence of a child quite well.
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