In Ahmedabad it is not cold yet. Blame it on global warming. Years ago when I was here in this state of Gujarat, as a student I used to take a lot of pleasure in wearing jackets and sweaters because it was so exotic to be seen oneself in such clothes that were quite alien to your dressing pattern when you were living in a tropical place. Hot and humid days condition your body and a little bit of cold would pleasure you like a good foot massage. And you look good in sweaters and jackets. You prefer to keep them on even when you are feeling hot from inside. Today the climate has changed much. If at all people wear winter clothes here it is only because of some nostalgia or by habit; just the way you panic your train chugs into the platform or your flight is announced. You know very well that you have a confirmed ticket and your seat is assured. Still you panic. It is habit.
I go for walking wherever I am. It used to be jogging in the beginning. Slow and steady running, lungs refusing to cope up, silent visuals passing by you in a steady pace, unknown people crossing you or overtaking you, then the harmonious rhythm happening between your breath and the movement of legs. You become one and the same with your jogging. You can run kilometres without realizing the fatigue. You feel good when the breeze touches your ears and your shins feel the hardness of earth. Then one day your knees rebel and you shift to brisk walking.
So I go out of my hotel room. Though winter has become an old memory here, silk like darkness carries a whiff of cold in its invisible pores. I don’t find a park in the vicinity. So I choose to walk in a side road. I walk, dogs stare, milk mans cycles by, old people come out of darkness, graves of unsung Muslim saints spring up from nowhere, birds chirp, women was dirty vessels, devotees frantically beat their gongs, motor cars smile in their sleep, trees stretch their branches and a baby cries in a cradle. I feel someone is walking with me. I look around and see none. The feeling is so intense that I start talking to that person. I tell that presence about all those people walking at the same time in roads, parks, walkways, treadmills and in dreams in different parts of the world. I tell the presence about the amount of calories being burnt and mention about the fat and calories waiting on their dining tables to be consumed by them. I smile into a grey morning that has just pushed its limbs out of the blanket of darkness.
A dog looks at me keenly as it sees me talking to myself. But suddenly it remembers something and goes back to its puppies. She knows that these days people talk to others over invisible phones as if they were somnambulists making tele-conferencing. The road narrows down and I reach shanty and from there I reach a clearing where there is a temple and a few people who have just swarm out of their deep blue sleeps. They look wet by dreams and beaten by currents. Unseen words drip from their hairs. They speak to each other in hushed up tones.
I walk back as I feel that I am not welcomed in that area. I look a perfect stranger. I walk fast and the presence is no longer with me. I try to talk with the presence again in vain. I emerge to the main road as if I were coming out of a forest. The roads are already busy. Motor cars ply, shops open their eye lids and look out and with the pupils drawn up they look like blind people staring at the morning with some unknown purpose. My stomach rumbles and I feel like having a cup of tea. I walk along the main road looking for a chai laari. One is opened but the stove has not yet been lit. I walk past. I see an old woman sleeping on the pavement with her belongings kept within a thermocol packing tray. It must have been protecting a television set or a fridge. Now it is her home. Four walls made up of thermocol. Her sleep is sound as if she were a queen living inside a fortress protected by huge walls and armed eunuchs.
One chai laari is opened. The stove is lit. A pot on it steams. I ask the young man whether tea is ready. He picks up a milk pouch, cuts it open and pours it in the vessel which is already steaming. He gives me a smile and says yes. I stand there waiting for the first tea made by the young man. He has a young wife and two small kids. She smashes ginger pieces in a small steel vessel. Children eat some obscure biscuit. They seem extra obedient. The family looks very content on that pavement. A cot where the children sit and a few bundles summarise the worldly belongings of the family. The young man picks up an iron chair and places it for me on the pavement. I sit on it like the king of streets with no kingdom and no courtiers. And I feel a lot of happiness.
The young tea maker works like a magician. He throws a few spoonful of sugar in the boiling milk. Then he places a cloth over a steel vessel. He pours the thick solution which would be filtered in as tea over it. Then he pulls the four corners of the cloth to the centre to make it a sort of bundle and lifts it to the air. It looks like a pouch full of wet and hot secrets. The he takes out an iron pincer and squeezes the pouch. Tea that looks like muddy water hisses into the steel vessel. I think he would pour a glass of tea for me from it. He does not do it. He takes out two spoonfuls of it and pours it on the floor. It flows into the dirt below the lari. The he takes two small steel cups. He pours a glass of tea in it. Then he pours a glass of milk in the other cup. He walks across the road. And pours both on the concrete road divider in the middle of the road. Then he looks up to the rising sun and makes a gesture of supplication.
Immediately, all temples become irrelevant to me. All kinds of places of worship look nothing before that road divider. It looks like a majestic old tree or a totem pole lay horizontally. Road is his temple. Sun is the one that shines it. And at the pavement he lives with his family and tea is what brings him his humble subsistence. And what better offering could be offered by him to the gods of road where tired people come for a cup of tea? Which god he needs to worship? I feel overwhelmed. Soon a thought comes to my mind. Why did he waste those two cups of tea and milk? He could have given them to some poor needy people. But I rubbish my thought. It could be a very humanitarian act. But what about this idea of worshipping the unknown forces that rule his life, that keep him and his family safe?
He pours a cup of tea for me. I take it in my hands as if I were receiving a ritual offering taken from the feet of a deity. I drink it as if I was worshipping something that I don’t know yet or perhaps would never come to know. How is the tea sir, he asks me. I try to discern the taste? How does it taste? I don’t know. But I say, it is good. I pay him and walk back to my hotel room. Under my jogging shoes, all religions and the organized places of worship crumble like those nameless biscuits that those kids eat.