It was 10 a.m. and I was looking forward to a tea break. Having reached office half-an-hour before time, with nothing better to do, I had started tackling the day’s tasks much before the other’s had arrived. After two and a half hours of work in sub-zero temperatures, if I may add ( people on my floor like the number 18 which is why they set the AC at 18 degree C, irrespective of the weather, population of the floor etc), a hot cup of tea sounded fabulous. Just as I was about to go downstairs to get myself tea, the boss popped in to announce she was leaving for the day. My colleague surreptitiously did a little jig to express her happiness at the event. Not only was she leaving early toady, she was also going to be out of town till next Thursday. Yay! No one breathing down our neck for a whole week! Yipee!! Life was all of a sudden looking good.
Following her departure, I went to get myself tea – cardamom flavour with heaps of sugar. Perfect. My colleague too brought a cup of tea and fished out a box of sandwiches. She had skipped breakfast and so had hurriedly slapped together slices of bread with a thick layer of butter in between and brought it to office. A few extra pieces were brought along for us. As I sat dunking the bread in my tea, I had a flash back. Many, many years ago, eating un-toasted bread and tea used to be a daily ritual.
As a kid, I frequently made visits to my paternal grandparent’s place. They had an old-ish, extremely loyal maid who would come in the morning to help out with the household chores. I am told she came to work as a young woman and continued to work in our house for more than 30 years. With so many years spent together, Sarli, as she was called, was practically family. I had grown up seeing her going about her chores day after day after day. She and I were friends, even though she was approaching 60 and I was merely 3! We got along well. I would follow her around the house, fascinated by her broom and bucket of phenyl water. She would talk to me in Marwari, I wouldn’t follow a word but would respond saying whatever I felt like anyway. She lived in the village at the periphery of the BITS campus and offered to take me to her house one day. I readily agreed. Her house was far off and walking in the dessert sand was no easy task but I enthusiastically made the trip. With no immediate neighbours, her house looked like a colourful dot in the dry, dusty expanse of the dessert. Her brightly pained house was literally overflowing with grandchildren; all of whom fell between age 0 and age 12. She had a couple of domesticated goats too. They came in all sizes and colours and smelt pretty strange.
Sarli and my grandmother followed a schedule. Once she would finish doing her work for the day, my grandmother would make her a cup of tea and serve it along with a few slices of heavily buttered bread. Sarli would take her teacup and plate and sit in the sunny backyard, peacefully dipping and eating the slices of buttered bread (or doubleroti as she called it) in the tea. I used to think her breakfast was so exciting. My paratha– omelette or poha, served at the table promptly at 8.30 am everyday looked so boring and unexciting in contrast. In spite of having had my breakfast, once I saw Sarli eating, I just couldn’t resist the doubleroti-chai combination. I would beg my grandmother incessantly to be served the same breakfast. She would eventually get fed up of my nagging and give me a miniscule amount of tepid tea with one slice of buttered bread. But I wasn’t happy with just that. I wanted to have it sitting next to Sarli. My grandmother would roll her eyes as if to say “Do what you like. I see no point in this activity but give up!”. That indication was enough for me. I would somehow manage the delicate balancing act and carry my chai n bread to the backyard and happily plonk myself right next to Sarli. Copying her, I would dip the bread in the tea before eating it. It most definitely tasted better than my breakfast.
My grandmother’s initial resistance to my second breakfast rapidly wore away. She saw the look of pure joy on my facing and realised she couldn’t deny me the simple pleasures of life. So each day that I spent in my grandparent’s house, I would share Sarli’s breakfast- no questions asked.
Sitting there under the sun, eating bread and tea and chattering away with my friend Sarli is one of my fondest memories from my childhood.