Sipping the regular morning tea, I decided to take a stroll in the balcony. My apartment " Green Hills" was on Stanley Street , a posh and serene area in Allahabad, that was miles away from the din of the city. So every morning I enjoyed sitting in the balcony, breathing the fresh morning air and feasting my senses on the peaceful surroundings. But since a few days my solitude was being hijacked by the 'Kamal Tea-stall' . It had been a month since the thatched tea-stall at the corner of the street had become a nuisance in my life. The commotion of its customers, the bizarre ,shrill voices placing order for their cups of tea and the smoke coming off the big cauldrons had robbed me off the placid panorama that I once witnessed from my balcony. No words could describe the hatred I bore towards this shabby tea-stall.
But Alas! my abhorrence seemed to have no effect on the tea-stall's popularity. It seemed to attract more visitors with every passing day just like a magnet. Initially I was of the opinion that a tea-stall in a posh area like Stanley Street would be a big flop. After all the people here were the ' hygienic and health-conscious' lot who were contented with their sips of green tea and lemon tea. But ever since Kamal Tea-stall had entered the arena, all I heard were the praises of its 'Masala Chai' and 'Ajwaini cookies'. Some of my neighbours too had become regular customers of Kamal tea-stall which only added to my annoyance. It won't be wrong to say that this tea-stall had become the new ' hang-out hub' of the street.
Lately I had become quite curious about the enigmatic growth of the tea-stall. So, I decided to pay a visit and see for myself as to why this ordinary tea-stall was so popular. As I stepped in ,I was not at all surprised with the view. Six wooden round tables surrounded by three frail chairs each occupied half the space. I pitied on the flimsy furniture which made noise with the slightest motion. As I settled in one of the chairs I had a good look at the walls which were almost covered with soot from the coal burning beneath the several cauldrons. How can I forget the fashionable tinge that had been given to the walls by the worn out portraiture. Anyways I was more interested in the tea that they served. So I tapped my key on the table to draw the attention of the small boy who seemed to be the only person catering to the needs of the customers. "Bring me the menu" , I said with an air of superiority. "Masala tea, Elaichi tea with Ajwaini cookie, Laung tea with almond cookie, tulsi tea, tea with extra milk .....What would you like to have sir?" the kid asked me ,smiling at his ability to recite the menu in a single breath. Astonished by the veteran salesman that resided in the young kid, I ordered the Masala tea remembering how my neighbour Mr.Khurana had praised it. "Sure Sir" , smiled the kid and disappeared in the small room at the corner. After a couple of minutes I was handed a tumbler of the much awaited Masala tea. "Fantastic" , was the word that came in my mind with the first sip. All the fresh flavours of the masala seemed to have recharged my taste buds. Finishing my tea within a fraction of seconds I called on to the small boy. "Here's your reward", I said handing him a five rupee coin for the two rupee tea. But the boy refused to take it, saying that they didn't accept money from their first time customers. This tender and humanistic approach of doing business touched me. The classy restaurants and cafes where I was a regular visitor never failed to charge money including tips yet lacking the divine taste that this small tea-stall served. I shuffled the boy's hair with compassion and asked his name. "Kamal", said the boy and went ahead with attending his other customers.
Over the time, Kamal tea-stall had another regular visitor. Me. I had grown quite fond of the small place and Kamal. The seven year kid had a special table reserved for me daily. The one near the window where the smoke from the burning coal couldn't reach me. Sometimes in the evenings I used to wave at Kamal from the balcony. Once he said to me..."Sir , if you want I can deliver tea at your place so that you can enjoy sipping it in the balcony. Don't worry, I will deliver it hot just like they deliver pizza." I had laughed at the smart little businessman.
"Where are your parents Kamal?" I had asked him one day. " My abba passed away when I was two and my mother works with me in the stall. She used to make delicious tea and so to make a living we decided to run this stall. We have been doing this for a year now."
One afternoon when the crowd had cleared out, I decided to visit Kamal's mother. When I stepped in the small kitchen, I saw her spreading some herbs in the backyard under the sun.When she returned , she had some dried herbs in her hands which she had kept under the sun the previous day. She started pressing the dried herbs in a small tumbler trying to make powder. This powder was the masala that she used to put in her tea. It was the flavour of these fresh herbs that had taken over the Stanley Street public.
I had accepted Kamal tea-stall in my life with joy. It had become a part of my life. My mornings seemed incomplete without it. But one day when I got up and went to my balcony, I was shattered to see Kamal tea -stall in shambles. Its furniture, its paintings all were gone. There was no trace of Kamal and his mother. I hurried to the place. Nothing was left except the crowd that used to visit the place regularly. Some one told me that industrialist Bundela had bought the place for his upcoming restaurant project and so Kamal tea-stall was destroyed the previous night. Anger gushed through me.Unexpected tears clouded my eyes. Broken hearted I was beginning to return, when I found a paper lying on the street with something scribbled on it. I picked it up . It read, " Kamal tea-stall, new venue Churchlane Allahabad"....and I headed towards home with a smile.
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