Rahul and his family finally moved to Kolkata two months ago after his father’s retirement from military services. They lived in their ancestral house. It was a very old house in north Kolkata. From his childhood, he liked the place more than any place he ever lived in. He had to change home very frequently in his childhood as his father wanted his family to be with him every time. Due to his service rotations as an army officer, he had to travel to many parts of India. Rahul and his mother always accompanied him. Rahul has changed more school than any other boy he ever befriended. Initially he liked the change. Growing up, he started taking it differently. He started looking for a friend whom he can get in touch with for long. He was introvert. He did not talk much to other people in school. He tried to befriend others many a times in all those army schools he attended to. Every time, either they left the school earlier or he left before them to attend a new school in another part of India. Eventually he lost contacts with them. He was happy to have finally settled in Kolkata. He enjoyed the homely environment a lot more than the army quarters he used to live in various corners of India.
His grandparents were no more in this world. They had one care taker to look after this house. Banshi kaka as he called him. Banshi kaka was a septuagenarian, living in the house since his adolescence. Banshi came here from his ancestral village for job at the age of sixteen. Rahul’s grandparents were looking for a household help back then. Banshi started living with them and worked very hard to please his master. Banshi developed stronger relationship with this family rather than his own family. He never retired from this job and stayed in this house. On the very beginning of every month, Banshi kaka would go to post office for sending money to his family in his village. That was his only duty for his family.
Rahul’s father was a much disciplined man. He did not allow Rahul to spend much time outside home other than tuition and college. Rahul did not mind at all. Being an introvert, most of his spare times were spent on reading books or painting. He took admission in a private college after coming to Kolkata and did not like the environment there. People did not talk freely. Many of his classmates were having their own groups and they mingled with people in their own circle. Rahul could not find the free spirit among them. He always knew that true friendship comes from sharing each other’s stories kindheartedly, rather than in a calculative and manipulative way.
In the evening, while returning from college, he could find people of different age group talking to each other in front of a tea stall. The tea stall was full mostly at this time of the day. People enjoy their evening tea along with road side snacks there. He liked the warmth of the gathering. People from different socio economic background coming to one small place and enjoy the whole evening with their friends. He had been to different states in India and tea stalls like this are very common anywhere. This tea stall was no different than others. One such small shop was common in almost every corner in the city. Very few items were sold other than tea and cigarette. The tea shop in front of his house did not have any name. The owner of this shop prepares the tea and does every other chore required alone. The owner, in his forties, wore a vest and short pant, served tea and some snacks to the customers. He always tuned into the radio stations playing latest Hindi and Bengali songs.
Looking at the shop, Rahul started thinking how it was different than other tea stalls he had been to in other parts of this country. He could find people chatting there for long in the evening. Some people came and left but many of them stayed there for hours long talking to each other. From the balcony of his second floor room, he used to stare at the tea stall. He spent long time staring at the tea stall, thinking what those people might be talking to each other daily.
One such day, Banshi kaka came to his room and asked him “Would you like to have a cup of tea now?”
“Banshi kaka. Come here” said Rahul calling Banshi to the balcony of his room. He then pointed his finger to the tea stall and said “Banshi kaka. People over there spend entire evening talking to each other over tea and snacks. I can see all familiar faces daily. What do they do over there? Don’t they have any other business to mind at home? People from all age groups come here and stay for at least an hour. Why is it so? Do you know why? Is the tea so good in here?”
Banshi smiled at him. He patted gently on Rahuls back and replied “It is Kolkata. The day does not end here if you do not meet your friends over a cup of tea in your neighbourhood. The people who come here are from different backgrounds. They all come here to meet with same people over a cup of tea every day. It is an addiction far stronger than anything else to them. They talk about politics, they talk about cinema, and they talk about their own lives. Mostly they talk about everything you can talk about and they listen to you. They all come here and eventually they share a very light hearted friendship among them. After couple of days, they feel welcome to the old group. You can feel the warmth of their intimacy if you befriend people over there. They are very light hearted in this place and welcome every one as one of them. Every now and then someone from this crowd is leaving for another place to live and in the same time someone else is coming there for the first time just to stay with them for long. Your grandfather used to go there every day after returning from office, even on holidays. He had some very good friends over there. Your father does not like this and thinks of it as waste of time. He will not allow you to go over there.”
Rahul’s eyes sparkled with joy. He asked in a very low voice “Has my father returned home yet?”
Banshi nodded in negation. Rahul took the main door key and told Banshi “I’ll be back in a while.”
He went to the tea stall, gave a whole hearted smile to the owner and said “Can I have a cup of tea and onion bhaji?”