Soon after Aayi passed baba was my sole caretaker. He would cook, braid my hair, teach me music and did all the chores work. Everyday I delibrately waited for the clock to hit 6 so that baba would close the clinic shutters and take me to Sharma’s Chai Stall, where he had a kullhad of chai everday and i simply enjoyed the perks of being the only child as sharma ji gave me his home made biscuits which were offered to none except me, trust me they were exceptionally delicious.But one thing that I could never learn and understand was the “perfect chai obsession ” baba had. Though Sharmaji’s Chai Stall was the most popular spot in lucknow but baba never appreciated it…he just went there on a daily basis to breathe some fresh air and let me relax and eat the buiscuits offcourse. years passed with the same routine. I reached in 12th grade and then came my boards, I had less time to study and a lot lesser to go to slSharmaji’s place with baba, and yes by now even I was addicted to chai, chai in our house was not a beverage anymore, it was an emotion, it was the lame laughters we shared while mixing sugar in the brown liquid of warmth, it was baba missing aayi in every sip he took..though he concealed that pretty well.
One cold december morning he came to me, woke me up and said, “come on Chutki I’ll teach you how to make the perfect chaai today”. I burst into laughter and said ” haha baba do you even know how to? all these years it has been sharmaji and his kullhad keeping us warm and happy, I’ve never seen u make chai before, give me the scooty keys i’ll bring some from him” I said. No! that you don’t call a chai, its just an overrated syrup of sugar and tea leaves, come i’ll show you what you call a “CHAI”. I saw him boil water and arrange all the items to put in. I’ve never seen him do anything with so much dedication not even his music lessons, but the zeal to prepare it and teach the same could be seen in his eyes. “Put those elaichi in it Chutki” he said while picking up the cups from the shelf and as I was about to put it in the vessel he held my hand and said “Not 2, neither 1, put dedh elaichi in it, or wait you leave i’ll do it”. I passed a smile. “Now whatt”?? he exclaimed. Nothing, just you and your chai obsession I replied. Here it is, ready! drink this and tell me how’d you like it, he said impatiently. Baba’s eyes were fillled with excitement, he made it after so many years but as soon as I was about to sip it he said “Wait first smell it, let the aroma fill you, taste it with your eyes first, and then let the mouth do the rest.” I did the same he asked me to, then I took the first sip, it was magic, it felt like something i have never tasted before, it was as if I could feel aayi’s presence there, Sharmaji’s tea now became a mere hot drink to soothe the throat because this was just…it was… perfect!!! and I was astonished, Baba you are a wonder man,How did you make this cup of complete amazement? why you never made one all these years?. He stood there and smiled sipping it and gazing at aayi’s picture placed on the drawing room wall. “I never felt like”…he replied. what do you mean I questioned? ” I used to make this special chai on your aayi’s birthdays and our aniversaries and soon when we knew that her disease has consumed all of her and that being a doctor I could not save her, I fell apart and I could not gather my senses but your aayi, Chutki, Huh!… that lady…brave lady…hugged me very tight and whispered in my ear “Make your special tea…and see the wonders it’ll do to my body.” I made her the best possible version of the perfect chai I mastered and I saw the smiled that covered her face, it was contagious! it lit me up that night and then in a flash of days your aayi was gone leaving beside you, me and this favourite drink of hers which became tasteless. I hugged baba and I cried he did too, for the first time in 18 years I saw him wet his cheeks, no wonder aayi called it the “special chai”, it brought an ocean of emotions and happy moments, it healed. That night brought baba and me much closer.
It has been 10 years now since that day passed. I own a chain of bakerys where I have ” baba’s cup of magic” in the specials list. Today he visited me and I asked him to come along to one of my bakerys where I showed him his special tea. “Baba wait i’ll make a cup of chai, its been years since we had it, I insisted.He stopped me and said “put”….but I immediately cut his sentence midway and said ” umm…dedh elaichi??…No more, No less.