Trapped!


The roads are jammed, and most drivers have switched off their engines. I stare absently at the scene outside. An old lady is standing under a bus shelter. As I watch, she pulls out something from the waistband of her saree. It is a small cloth bag of the drawstring variety. She rummages inside and pulls out a few betel leaves and pieces of broken areca nut. She patiently tears the leaves and folds them, places the areca nut in the center, and puts it into her mouth. Her eyes have a faraway look, as her hands tighten the drawstring pouch and tuck it back into her waistband. She chews the leaves, and is deep in thought.

I watch in fascination.

A young girl soon joins the old lady. She is in her teens. As I watch, she stretches her arm into her bag, and pulls out her smartphone. She is soon completely absorbed in her own world!

I laugh at this contrast.

The old lady has stopped pondering. She looks around now, and looks at the young lady, who is completely oblivious to the goings-on around her; her neck bent at an awkward angle.

This makes me think. When did we become this way? When did we stop looking out at the world? When did we trap the world into a smartscreen and start looking for all solutions in that small screen. Instead of looking out and going out into the world, we have brought the world into our palms, to the point where we don’t need anyone or anything else to keep us occupied.

Image courtesy – http://www.dreamstime.com

As I watch, the old lady chews her leaves and watches the world curiously. Her eyes fall on me. She smiles – a toothless smile, her mouth stained by the red of the betel leaves.

I smile back. There is still hope!

So many stories in a cup of tea!


Tea stalls in India are ubiquitous. You will find them on busy roads, sometimes more than one on a road; outside theatres, outside office complexes, near the vegetable market, everywhere.

Most of them serve coffee, tea, hot milk and a limited menu of yummy snacks that vary depending on the time of day.

The beverages are served in small cups made of thick glass. I am yet to see a tea stall that is not doing brisk business throughout the day.

Some of them play the latest Bollywood hit numbers. The owners of all these tea stalls know their regular customers and their unique preferences – less sugar, black coffee etc.

They laugh and joke, their hands boiling, sieving and serving, without missing a beat. Nerve centres in people’s days, where they come to recharge or unwind.

I remember one such tea stall near my parents’ home. Every evening, my Dad and I would stop by to have a cup of tea, laced with fresh ginger and cardamom, when my kids and I stayed with them during the holidays.

And when we sipped our teas and chit-chatted, many regulars would also be there. A man, whose wife was in hospital, who would come there, with a thermos to buy coffee to take with him to the hospital, after work. There was a group of sales executives, with their ties loosened, discussing their sales calls over a cuppa. They joked with the tea stall owner and went on their way. There were two nurses who stopped by to buy snacks for their children on their way home.

There was an old woman, who would also visit the tea stall at the same time. Her wizened face bore the grooves of many wrinkles, wrinkles that had witnessed her hard life. She did odd jobs in the area and from what we knew, she lived alone. Making ends meet would have been a challenge. But, every evening, she would come to the stall, neatly dressed, with a string of jasmine adorning her loosely tied chignon, and a big red bindi on her forehead. She had bright eyes and a mouth that looked like it had smiled a lot despite the difficult journey.

On one such day, as we sipped our tea, the old woman walked to the stall and placed her coins on the counter, asking for her usual tea and bajji. She proceeded to enjoy this with relish, slurping the tea in an almost musical way. She would nibble into the bajji and then sip. We watched her, enthralled. This was probably an important part of her day. Her eyes stared into the distance, as we wondered what thoughts visited her mind.

And after she finished her tea, the stall owner called out to her, “Amma (Mom), do you want another cup?”

She replied, “Don’t have change.”

The owner said, “There’s an offer today, buy one get one free.”

Her eyes appreciated his generosity and kindness, but her shoulders stiffened proudly, as she smiled and walked away, nodding her head to say no.

The tea stall was a world unto itself. People dropping in to unwind, stopping to catch up with friends, sometimes relaxed, sometimes in a hurry to get to their next appointment, sometimes happy, sometimes sad.

So many stories in a cup of tea!