Despite his age, the grizzled gentleman –sporting a long, white, stylish tache– was making tea at a small stall.
A stove was burning and vapour covered the space above the sauce pan with boiling water. He pestled something on a small mortar and spiced up the already ready tea.
There was a big crowd of morning walkers as well as bikers, busy chitchatting with a sip of tea or waiting for a cuppa, near his stall. Some had hogged the porch of other adjoining businesses that were yet to open in the foggy morning, while others were standing on the road.
Not very far was a giant stray bull — chewing the cuds– and making an impression that the road was his dominion. With a dingy, cotton-bandaged leg, a haggard horse –probably deserted by his master after meeting with an accident while pulling cart– was limping down an alley.
I don’t remember the name of the locality but it was close to Ghadiarwa Pokhari. We had just made a round of the famous pond that lies at the heart of Birgunj. That morning we were exploring the city on foot.
Tea was being served, more often than not, on clay cups. But there were some people who were holding white, disposable “plastic glasses” too.
I abstained from tea for almost two decades. It’s hardly been a couple of months that I decided to (at least try to) quit coffee. I’ve started drinking black tea these days, though sparingly, and forcing me not to dislike its aroma.
When my buddy Girish Giri, who knows the nooks and crannies and inside-out of Birgunj, revealed that the tea at the stall is ‘very famous’ and people come there from far, faraway also, I decided to taste a cuppa. “Euta black tea, euta dudh chiyaa,” Girish jee ordered.
We occupied a bench in front of the Bablu Tea Stall. I took out my camera hesitatingly, and focused on him. Pouring down vapoury tea to orangish clay cups from the pan, he wore a smile and gazed at me. He was not uncomfortable at all; I could see his sparkling eyes and brightness on his face instead. Then, I took some photographs.
A boy served us. When I was handed a plastic cup, Girish jee ,in no time, said, “Plastik maa? Maato ko kap maa khanus na! Ye bhai, eutaa maato ko kap lyaaideu!”
I was provided with a clay cup also. I poured half of the tea into it. Swaaaaaiiin! I could hear the sound as clay pores absorbed water due to capillary action. The level of tea decreased before I could take a sip.
First sip, second sip… Wow!
The drink was awesome. What condiments he added? Cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper… and what else? I did not dare to ask his business secret.
Later in the evening, I happened upon him once again. At a party that I crashed.
Lo! he could recognise me and smiled again. Maybe that was because both of us liked each other’s appearance.
Was it moustache chemistry by any chance?
“Hadn’t we met in the morning?” I broke the ice.
He nodded in affirmation.
Gestures were what we resorted to, to communicate, as loud music — popular numbers inside and traditional shahnai and drums outside — was being played in the party. It was a pre-marriage party from bride’s side.
Strangers we were but we got along in the second encounter. I greeted him Namaste before parting our ways; he greeted back and forwarded his hand to shake.
What an amiable person with elegant composure he was!
I hesitated to ask the graceful teaman his name and age.
Given his age and nature that impressed me in a few minutes of ethereal communication, I believe he has many interesting stories. I believe he owns the Bablu Tea Stall.
On the other hand, I don’t want to assume whether his name is Bablu. Maybe it’s the business that his father started. Maybe Bablu is his grandson….
I won’t forget him. He has something. It’d be a futile effort trying to find an answer to “what exactly?”, however.
Maybe I would catch up with him if I go to Birgunj again…