In these days of cut-throat corporate competition and hostile business feuds, two tea vendors prove there can be friendship above business interests.
The cold draft of wind lashed me brutally, the moment I stepped out. A fully clad me, squirmed with unease as my eyes once again fell on an ill-clad labourer, almost dashing towards the tea kiosk. I could not resist the temptation of talking to him when he smiled warmly in my direction.
“Why are you not wearing a sweater?”
“Madamji, these are my work clothes. We have a bath in the evening after the work is done, and wear clean clothes. While we are working, we do not feel the cold,” he said in reply to my query.
“I am working in the building behind your house.”
“Yes, I know. I have often seen you there. ”
Lately, I had seen a new group of women, all huddled around a fire, probably some local labourers. I shuddered at how they worked in the cold, while we sat in our well-heated rooms, guzzling coffee and tea. Life really was unjust.
“We have completed the third floor, now working on the fourth,” he said, with a glow on his face, which had a few days’ stubble.
“That is great,” I said, wondering what made him so happy. After all, it was not his house. My eyes followed him as he almost ran towards the tea kiosk, vigorously rubbing his hands together.
Almost overnight, work had also started on another massive building, half a metre away from our flat, and today I came to know it was a mall. I saw that another tea kiosk had sprung up right next to it.
It was better-stocked than the first one, and I immediately started feeling concerned about the original tea-vendor, looking at cigarette packets and pouches of tobacco, biscuits and loaves of bread, which his shop did not have. I thought he would be glum, but he was grinning from ear to ear.
“Hope this new shop will not affect your business adversely,” I ventured to express my doubts when I reached his shop.
“Not at all,” he said with confidence.
“This will only help me to work harder. This world is big and there is space for everyone.”
When I returned from one round of the compound, I saw the two tea vendors sitting on a bench in the first kiosk and guffawing loudly.
Christmas had come and gone, but it had very generously left behind not just a couple of shops still flaunting Christmas trinkets, but also the lingering and fragrant message of sharing and loving and the first tea vendor seemed to be well-aware of its message. I could see no jealousy or hatred in his body demeanour.
As I came back after another round of the compound, and passed the kiosk, I saw him taking out two Santa caps from a carton and putting one on the head of his new friend, and one on his own. Then smiling broadly, he clicked a selfie, while his wife watched indulgently. The lingering aroma of boiling tea leaves floated softly in the air.
(Picture: Santosh Bakaya / Illustration: Antara)
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