Coals, Clouds and Cups of Tea

Most of us like the smell of wet mud, don’t we? After the rains are done beating hard against the surface of the earth like a peculiar case of violence, the air feels new, young and reborn. Why ‘peculiar’ you may ask? Well, however harsh its splashes are, there are no signs of bruises, cuts, scars or burns anywhere on the carpet soil.

I remember how a smile ran across my face when I saw a few 8-year-olds (initially engrossed in a duel, determined to break each other’s bones over flouting game rules) suddenly, break into a jig upon looking up at the sky that changed its colour and said, ‘Go play!’ As they danced in the rain, the anger got washed away and a child in each of them was (re)born.

So lost was I in this scene of joy, I almost forgot the hot cup of tea had warmed my hands enough, but, not got a chance to sign a pact with my thirsty lips. About to take my first swig, a tiny droplet flung into my tea mug like a missing ingredient. Gazing at the ripples that the raindrop managed to stir, I stood awestruck for a moment.

The tea tasted better, I realised there was indeed a missing ingredient.

I was on my way to work one sunny morning when I walked past a little makeshift tent across the road at one corner of a residential apartment. The mother had placed hot burning coals inside the press iron with the lid half open, stationed below a banyan tree that doubled up as a fragile roof to their dwindling tent house. The exposed coals turned yellow, sometimes red, then orange and again yellow. The smoke that tickled the morning air gave out another distinct smell; a smell that made me feel I was walking toward a temple where the camphor lamp was yet to be lit before the morning offering prayer.

The father changed sides on his charpoy to avoid the sun rays meeting his eyes while he stole some more sleep. Rubbing the last traces of sleep off her eyes, she carefully arranged the crumbled and creased clothes on the ironing board. The kettle by the side was ready to spill out all its contents when the mother quickly lifted it with her adept hands. She readied two cups, one for her husband (to be served as bed tea I suppose!) and the other she kept on the ironing board.

It was time for the little one to wake up. Dragging his feet, he quietly stood behind his mother who was now bent to pick up the coal-loaded iron while holding its handle with thick clothing rolls. Watching his mother intently, the child did not make any noise but slightly pulled the loose end of her saree.  Taken aback she turned around with the hot iron to see who it was, and, in this hurried act a coal clinker flew away and dropped on the bare feet of her son.

The mother panicked but did not let her mind stop working. She tried all possible remedies to heal her son’s wound who had by then screamed his lungs out in pain. It was only after she had massaged some kind of an ointment to the injured toe that he calmed down.

Her tea was almost cold now. With the baby clinging to her, she drew the cup close to her mouth when the last teardrop on her son’s cheek fell into the drink.

Will her tea taste better today?

In the meanwhile, the husband woke up and took a sip of his tea. With a frown on his face, he asked “Where’s the sugar in this?”

Or a missing ingredient perhaps?

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