Indian Tea with Rafiq bhai…

He is a tall lanky fellow.  In a very few days he has already become my father’s right hand man. Rafiq is our society watchman in Bombay. My dad just got transferred from Patel Nagar in Delhi to Santacruz. In this successful transition Rafiq has played a very important role. Right from helping him with moving the furniture to getting him bread and eggs. He seems to have all the answers to all my dad’s questions.
Recently I was in Bombay and was getting out in the evening for a walk.  I saw Rafiq in his cabin making chai. He saw me and immediately said, ” Namaste madam, you have some tea? I make good Indian tea. English tea no like.  English people so rich but tea very poor. No milk, no sugar. Very phiki phiki!” I smiled at phiki phiki and tried to say no. He insisted and started cleaning the only chair in that small cabin for me to sit. I sat and he sat down near the stove. There was old hindi music playing on a very old transistor.
“Rafiq bhai tum kahan se ho? Bombay se hi? I tried to break the awkward silence.
” Know not, Madam. I can be from Bombay,Patna, Rajasthan, all India anywhere.” He said smiling and putting almost 5 spoons of sugar in the tea.
” Matlab? Mujhe nahi samajh me aaya. Aur Rafiq Bhai hindi aati hai mujhe. Hindi mein baat kar sakte hain hum?”
“Why madam? I know Engliss! I know Shakessphere. I tell you wait-  The (there was a pause, a long one) dharti has music for these who hear!” He looked at me with pride.
I smiled, ” Rafiq bhai, The earth has music for those who listen. Hear nahi!”
“Acha acha madam. Hindi mein baat karte hain. I also comfortable, you also.  Thoda shinning martay apun.”
I started laughing, he joined me too.
He gave me his Indian tea. I took a sip and loved it. I told him so. He seemed pleased with himself. ” Toh Rafiq bhai, family kidhar hai tumhari?”
( the rest of the conversation happened in Hindi, as he promised)
” Madam, I am an orphan. When I woke up one fine day and started understanding a little.,I found myself in an orphanage.  We were all boys, 30 of us. Hashim chacha was the one to pick me up from a station near Bhopal. “
I sipped my tea, and slowly gulped it down. ” So, how do you know Shakespeare? You went to school?
” No madam. I never went to school. There was one Bismil chacha who used to come to teach us. He was very good. I learned to read and write from him. He was crazy though, an alcoholic. I was his favourite student. He once gave me a glass and asked me to gulp it down.  I went to the terrace and started singing all Amitabh Bacchan songs. I got a nice beating afterwards from Hashim chacha, but  it was fun.”
I smiled. ” So how did you land up here? “
” I ran away from the orphanage with a friend five years back. Hashim chacha died, and a new man came in. He was a bastard. He would beat us, make us work and not give us any food. I couldn’t take his crap anymore so we ran. I then did a lot of things, to keep alive. Hunger can make you do bad things, wrong things. I was an pick-pocket expert, but then I got caught. Police officer ne bohat dhoya. So I shifted to selling things on the local train, to delivering milk and newspaper, to selling wada-pav and eventually  came here.”
I was amazed by his honesty. ” Rafiq bhai, didnt  you want to study more?”
He smiled. ” Madam you big people give too much importance to education. It is so over-rated. I have learnt so much ,seen so much , living on the road.  You might need a lifetime to learn it. You tell me, Do you know how a rubber band is made? Do you know why pav is called pav? Do you know how much water is mixed in the milk you drink? You don’t. So according to me you are uneducated. Madam for a poor man education is that which fills the stomach.  Period!”
I thought to myself. Education, is it really over- rated? Can a man be successful only if he is highly educated? If I haven’t eaten for days, will I prefer to read a book, or rob a wallet and get myself some food?
“Madam, madam. Drink your tea it’s getting cold. ” I was lost in thought. I sipped some.
“Anyways madam. All you educated people are extremely scary. I read in the papers. All these scams and corruption. You think we uneducated people are responsible for it? There was a husband and wife who lived in this building. The man used to hit his wife black and blue.  The whole building could hear them, though everybody remained silent. He must be an educated man, right? If education means losing your humanity, I don’t want any of it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. So much wisdom from a man who lives on the street. I finished my tea. As I kept my cup, there was a small passport size photo of a girl on a small mirror. ” Rafiq bhai, yeh kaun hai?”
” Kaun? acha yeh? Yeh Fatima hain, my love. Madam, yeh jo aap mujhe dekh rahi hain na yeh sab uski wajah se. Fatima hain isliye mein ek sachi naukri kar raha hun. Nahi toh kab ka gunda- mawali ban jaata. Beautiful she is?”
It was such a adorable sight. ” Bohat khoobsurat hai, bhai.”
Love is such a universal thing. It happens to the poor and to the rich. It makes you or breaks you. For me it is the most powerful word in the English Dictionary.
I thanked him for the chai.  “Come again, for some nice Indian tea, Madam?
I nodded. I looked back once before I left. Rafiq bhai was looking at Fatima’s passport size photo and singing a song.

The Middle- Class!

We always look at the right side of the menu card, first. We buy some gold and one diamond ring, earrings, etc and lock it up in our bank lockers. We wear them may be only ten times in all of our lives. We always are gifted expensive crockery and we always keep it in our showcases, saving them for the guests. They come and go but we only sometimes  use it. We never break rules and follow all the laws of the state. Though if we do break a traffic signal once every three years we do get caught. We always make sure that we vote and when we get very angry with the government we stand under the scorching sun and shout slogans. ( while constantly worrying about not getting the salary for that day).  Welcome to my world, into the world of  the middle- class.

My mother and father have struggled their way up here. Their life as youngsters was not easy. Though there was always food on the table, they had to grow up too quickly. Both of them didn’t have too many luxuries but they do say, they had a very happy childhood. When my mother looks at the number of clothes I buy she always tells me her tale. She only had two pairs of frocks, which graduated to salwar kameez as she got older. My grand mom stitched it for her. She had to wash her clothes and iron them, everyday. There wasn’t a choice you see. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have clothes to wear the next day. By the age of 15, she was already taking tuitions and helping with the finances. She would walk miles to her school, if it was really far away, cycle. Spending money on a tanga or rickshaw was a luxury they couldn’t afford. My father was the eldest of all the siblings and there were responsibilities. He gave a bank exam at 18, and got in and has been on a pay roll since then. At 18, he had to start earning, he had dreams of studying more, he still does! Though he still has responsibilities. So he works in the same bank.

My parents came to Bombay after marriage. They both got exposed to tall buildings, rich people and big cars, unlike Gwalior. They like every small town person who comes to Bombay were inspired with what they saw and decided that they would give their children the good life. They worked hard both of them, one as a teacher other as a banker and made some money. If my parents wouldn’t have come to Bombay I would have never played badminton. Badminton is a very upper middle class sport. The rackets, shoes, shuttles, coaching, etc everything is really expensive. I’m still surprised they chose to put me in this sport. I can imagine how difficult it would have been. The adjustments they would have made in their lives. The sarees mom never took, the watch that Baba loved but would never buy.  All those sacrifices they made was their struggle to keep my dream alive. I will never forget that, I can’t. When today I live my dream and take my mostly selfish decisions, I am always aware of a fact- it’s a luxury provided by my middle class parents.

My mother retired a little early from her teaching career. Since then she runs the house in the most money efficient way, spending only the money that is really required.  She is a professional bargainer, she always takes the bus and never the rickshaw and she tells us to do the same. She might have stopped working but she has not lost her self- esteem. Baba knows that, so when mother asks him for one saree, he makes sure he buys three. As we all know mother will never ask for something unless it’s a necessity. My mother recently was really fed up with the lack of space in the house. She told baba we have to buy a new house, it was time. Baba like the obedient husband went to see housing projects all over the city, nothing was in a range he could afford right away. Mom sensed his disappointment and told  all of us how all the houses were so small and ugly and our house was so much better. While she said that, baba smiled and mother kept her hand on his. Oh! Middle class love (if  there is such a thing) – it’s not about the expensive gifts, the fancy dinners, or hugs and kisses. It’s about the subtle things- that touch of the hand, that look in the eye, the constant support when the chips are down. There’s nothing flashy about it. To spot it  you need a microscopic vision.  Though once you see it, you realise it was always there and ample of it.

When Baba today tells people about how I own a bigger car than him, or how I draw a salary which is as good as his and how my tax return file is bigger than his, there is always a sense of pride in him. It always bring a smile on my face. The truth though is, that even if I own a flat, or drive a Beetle, I will always look at the right side of the menu card. I will buy the diamonds and never wear them. Even if I cross the middle class barrier in kind I will always be a middle class girl in mind and heart. I am sure that’s not such a bad thing after all!


Recently one of my BPCL bosses, came and said, ” Aditi you are too emotional and gentle in your ways. In today’s world you need to be a more practical and aggressive person to survive. You need to stop being a ‘ middle-class Marathi girl’. ”

” But that’s my strength sir.” I responded

” What is?” my boss asked.

” Being middle-class.” I said.

He was a little taken aback, stunned. After a few seconds though he smiled and patted me on the back, and left.

It was my turn to smile. I did!