And I missed my train…
I rushed to the railway station. Outside the jumble of auto rickshaws, horse carts, cycle rickshaws, passengers with big canvas bags presented a maze. As though by some magic I wove through them expertly. I sensed an extra sense within me as if the pull of G had filled my senses with an extra power. I sensed that the porter rolling his iron cart ladled with an odd assortment of trunks and suitcases followed by the fat woman with her two children would take a sudden turn and come directly in my course. I also somehow knew in advance that a boy would come running towards them and he would be forced to stop his rolling cart suddenly, throwing off the precariously placed luggage on the platform. With a sense of deja vu I watched the sequence of events unfold in front of my eyes. Could I really have known this would happen? Or was I just feeling this way in my excited state of mind?
I seemed to know exactly where platform eleven was supposed to be. Even though there were no signs to direct me. How could there be a sign the station had only eight platforms. Strange! you say! ya but then what about my meeting with G had not been strange?
I was a waiter in a cafe that sold everything from South Indian idlis to Punjabi Dal Makhani and American Burgers. I wasn’t proud of my job but one had to make a living and to do that this was as good a job as any. Born as the third child in a poor farmer’s family on the outskirts of Rajasthan does not give one too much choice in terms of careers. I had been bright and managed to finish high school. Then I had gone to the government college in the district headquarter. Wanting to study further but having no money I had been forced to come to Alwar. Here I had enrolled myself in MCom. and to make ends meet had taken up work as a waiter in a cafe in the main market area. Life was trudging along. It was not the life I wanted. Like everyone else my age I too craved for a white-collar job, a car, a small house of my own … dreams of a middle class existence, ordinary in every way.
The ordinariness of my existence makes what happened to me that day even more extra ordinary. Like always I was cleaning the cafe in the morning. Business is slow in the morning so there are only a couple of us on duty. Manohar and I are in charge of opening the shutters, dusting the tables, putting everything in order and serving the stray customers. Manohar was on leave so I was alone in the cafe. Nathuji, the assistant cook was there in the kitchen with a few of his cronies, shouting orders and obscenities, FM played on a transistor in the kitchen but only faint shreds of the music could be heard outside in the hall. Just then the bell that tinkles each time a customer pushes open the door, jingled. I looked up to see a young woman walk in. She looked around the hall for a waiter perhaps, on spotting me she smiled. I greeted her as I had been trained to do by the manager and pointed her towards a corner table. Then I hastened off to bring a glass of water and menu for my first customer of the day.
When I gave her the menu, she did not take it. “You tell me what to eat?” Oh! she was that type , I thought . The young and yuppie type that come into the cafe to sample something wonderful! Give me the local specialty types! Must be a tourist! I thought. Must have come to visit the sanctuary located a few kilometers away and wandered off to explore the local town! Something didn’t quite fit though. She didn’t have a camera though or the tell-tale bag behind her shoulders.
I rattled off a list of names of dishes… including almost everything on the menu, as I had been instructed to do. “Never tell a customer what is good. He will assume other things are bad.” was the dictum of the boss! “Keep your preferences out of the cafe.” He had said. If I were to be honest with her I would have told her that if she wanted to eat something really delicious she ought to go to the halwai in the by-street at the next turn. Nathu ji halwai, in the next by-street , served an amazing aloo subji with pooris that were truly awesome and his milkcake was something to die for.
“You want to come” she said, pushing back the chair she was sitting in to get up. “Come… me… where?” I stammered somewhat startled. “To the halwai on the next bystreet! the one who serves amazing subji , poori and milkcake!”
How did she know? Had I spoken aloud my thoughts? I looked around immediately. Just in case the manager had come in and heard the exchange. I would lose my job if he got to know that I had sent a customer somewhere else. “Don’t worry! she said. A slight mirth in her voice. You didn’t say anything. And by the way… I ma not a yuppie tourist and no, I am not here to go to the sanctuary. And though I don’t mind tasting some nice local delicacy that’s not the purpose I am here.”
I was stunned! Can this girl read my thoughts?
“Yes!” She said, smiling at the puzzlement on my face. “Now are you coming or not?” I really want to taste that milkcake!” I have looked back at that moment a million times in the last twenty-four hours. What made me take off the apron that was part of my uniform and rush behind her? I have never done a reckless thing in my life? I have never even jumped into the lake near my village. The one that has a cliff looming over it. Almost all the village boys did it. It was like a rite of passage. ..
To be continued…
Wow prompts always get me thinking so I sat down to write this story, but then life came in the way. I guess weekends are not as free for moms!!! So I am leaving this here. An unfinished story , to be completed soon. If it catches your fancy do come and look me up in a couple of days. It will be ready to serve and piping hot!
I have used a lot of Hindi words in this post. I have to dash off now but will come back to translate them for those who are not familiar with hindi.That’s a promise!! 🙂