Friday, July 01, 2011
For a Cup of Tea
The Mashima* at 37B/1 was very stingy. Miser might be a better word to describe her. She complained about everything, about the corners not being swept, the brown stain not being scrubbed well from the teapot, the Rin bar getting over on the 28th instead of the 31st and about how much tea Manju drank throughout the day.
And the last one wasn't even true. But Manju kept quiet. The money here was good, Mashima's son who lived in Dallas made sure that Manju was paid well. And why only Manju ? He made sure that the cook Sarla's Ma, the watchman, the driver everyone got a good salary. Last time when he was here, he even gave Manju a perfume. It smelled of forest woods and dead flowers. One whiff and she would be transported to the tree laden haven of her childhood where the scent of new leaves mingled with wild flowers.
But Mashima was very unlike her son. As Manju swept the floors and scrubbed the bathroom, Mashima hovered along side always keeping an eye that Manju did not pour more bleach than necessary, did not run water for too long. And when Manju dusted the glass cabinets, carefully wiping the golden rimmed tea cups, the coffee mug with the blue windmill, the terracotta cups with white paisley pattern, Mashima sat at the dining table reminding Manju to be extra careful because they were all very expensive.
The only time she softened was when Manju took out the coffee mugs, the ones with pictures of two little girls smiling out of the cup, hair blowing in the wind and something written in English all around. They were Mashima's grand daughters. Every New Year, Mashima's son would send a coffee mug neatly snuggled in bubble wrap and ensconced in a colorful box. And every year the mug had a picture of the girls in different stages of their life.
Mashima never drank anything in those cups. Neither did she ever serve anyone in those.The cups and mugs in the glass cabinet sat just by themselves, supercilious and a tad bored .
"There is a story wrapped around each of them. Those cups are my memories", Mashima would say. The golden rimmed china was her wedding gift from an Aunt in England who is no more, the mug with the Eiffel Tower was from her honeymoon in Paris, the black tall mug with the warli painting was what her son got her on his first job and the New Year coffee mugs was her grand kid's life in front of her.
"If you ever drop any of them, I am going to fire you", Mashima would threaten, drinking her morning tea from a chipped plain white cup with a rounded bottom.Manju drank her tea from a steel glass.Wrapping the edge of her sari around its warmth, she took a long sip, making a sharp sound with her lips. The tea was lukewarm and not sweetened at all. Mashima had been stingy with the sugar yet again.With a sigh Manju poured out the tea from the verandah, onto the downstair neighbor's potted tulsi plant.
Really with tea like this, there was no reason to work here anymore. But she couldn't do without the money either. And then there were the afternoons for which she pined.
The afternoons, when Mashima would go for a walk and her evening gossip sessions at the nearby park, Manju would let herself in to do the dishes and sweep the floor for the last time in the day. This was when Manju would put water to boil in a kettle, pour a generous amount of milk, add spoonfuls of sugar and stir in the tea leaves. Lovingly she would peel a knob of ginger and pound it in the mortar and pestle, to put in the boiling tea.
She would then pour the pale brown liquor in a cup carefully chosen from the glass cabinet after much deliberation.
Sometimes when the day was cloudy and there was a wind rustling over the horizon Manju chose the one with blue windmill, on especially hot days she picked the cup with the smiling sunflowers. But most she loved to drink from the mugs with the two girls on it. She would sit in the verandah with the cup in her hand, staring at the two smiling girls and think of the long limbed, dusty haired, brown girl playing in her village where the scent of new leaves mingled with wild flowers.
As the tea grew cold, Manju sat, counting the days until she would next meet her daughter.
*Mashima -- though it means aunt, elderly ladies in Bengal are respectfully addressed as Mashima
This is my entry for the Of Chalks and Chopsticks event started by Aqua and hosted by me this time. The photo cue for the fictions was here. I will be doing the roundup next week so if you are running late, please send in entries over the weekend.