It had become a routine. I would leave 10 mins early to stop at chaiwale chacha’s shack to have a hot, piping cup of adrak chai with ek rupye ki matthi. It was good, refreshing but more than that I liked to see that teeth-less smile on the beautifully wrinkled and freckled face. Chacha wouldn’t say anything. In the beginning, he would signal me to ask the number of cups but soon he got used to me being alone. I would buy matthi to add another rupee to the bill.Chacha was very old. He looked like he was born centuries ago. He would wear same cream colored short-length kurta and brown pyjama with tattered black shoes everyday. He would make tea himself. He had no helper even to serve it or wash utensils. He was slow but I never got late because of him.
On one Monday, I left home at the usual-by-then time to catch my cup of chai on way to office. I reached the chacha-wala turn and like everyday my eyes started looking for his shack. As I took the turn I realized he was not there. Chacha had become a habit. I felt confused and slightly worried too. I thought about stopping and asking someone but then there were no shops around. I kept moving and reached office. It was a terribly busy day and hoping to see him the next day, I forgot about it by the time I reached home late in the evening.
Tuesday morning began as usual but as I took chacha-wala turn, my heart stopped. He was not there again. Humans are designed to start thinking negative when things don’t go their way and that’s what happened with me too. All sorts of unpleasant thoughts started crossing my mind. I kept moving, kept thinking and reached office. As the day passed, I realized I was crabbier than the usual with so much work but my mind occupied with thoughts of chacha. The day passed away at its pace. I reached home late and went to sleep quickly.
I got up feeling restless and tired on Wednesday morning. I had dreamed of chacha the whole night. I was dreading my journey to office today – what if he was not there still? I was in a strange situation. I was damn worried, in fact scared for him and I also knew I can’t share my problem with anyone at home. What would they think? I was dreaming about a chaiwala old man? Nobody would understand my concern for him. I left for office and as expected chacha was not there. Now I was almost convinced something wrong had happened with him. He was very old. Or maybe some accident. I decided to stop and check. I stopped my car near 2-3 people standing on the pavement whom I thought I had seen earlier also, rolled down the left window and asked about that old chaiwala baba. Somehow I knew they won’t know anything and they didn’t but it still disappointed me. I was very sad. I reached office but couldn’t concentrate on anything the whole day. Citing health reasons I left for home early. I didn’t talk to anyone at home and went to sleep.
Thursday morning was a dreadful morning not just for me but also my family. I got up early morning with high fever and severe headache. Night before had been full of nightmares. I puked a number of times and was taken to the family doctor. He didn’t know what was going inside and he gave the usual medicines. I wanted to go to office but mom was relentless. I gave in but kept thinking about chacha only. I felt as if I had lost someone close to my heart. I didn’t eat anything the whole day. But thankfully everyone blamed it on to the fever. The day passed somehow.
I was not allowed to go to the office the next day as well and then was the weekend. Staying home for four consecutive days was not my thing but this time I forced it upon myself. By Sunday evening I had gone through various stages of worrying and finally accepting that chacha was history now and I would never see him again. I have had pangs of extreme sadness and had cried many a times. Some family friends dropped by in the evening and I decided to join them for dinner at a favorite restaurant. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to forget chacha but life had to move on. Dining out came as a welcome change and I had a relatively peaceful night.
Monday morning came and with a heavy heart I left for office. Mom gave worried looks but she knew this was maximum she could keep me away from work. I had half a mind to change my route but I knew that was not the solution. I had to face it.
Roads were unusually crowded. Maybe I felt like that because I was driving after a gap of four days or maybe it was because of the approaching festive season. Whatever was the reason, it was good for me. I completely concentrated on my driving. But as I approached chacha-wala turn, panic struck me and I suddenly felt nauseated. I wanted to close my eyes and believe that chacha never existed but alas I was driving. I kept moving with the traffic and took the turn. As my car turned, my eyes automatically moved in the direction where chacha’s shack used to be. And my heartbeat stopped. Standing there in all his glory were chaiwale chacha. I couldn’t believe it. I started moving my car towards the left and stopped a little ahead. I went with my impulse and ran towards chacha. I almost hugged him. He gave his signature teeth-less smile and got busy in making my tea. I didn’t know what to say to him and could only manage – “Aap kahan the itne din se Chacha?” And for the first time I heard his voice – “Beta Hamare pote ki shaadi thi gaon mein“. I wanted to kiss him on the forehead for making one full week of my life a hell.