“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Cup of Tea

Just  meters away from the entrance of Alleppey railway station stand a few shops; among them a little tea shop where I often have my tea. There is a tree beside the shop; it is a little one, offering cover more than shade. 

My cup of tea came and I grimaced at the taste; I don't take much sugar in it. As I took a sip, I saw someone standing behind the little tree. He was a tramp; could  not be more than 40 or so, filthily attired, his unkempt hair and beard matted with dirt.  I looked at him, our eyes met and he lowered his.  I took another sip and glanced at him. His eyes reminded me of the countless stray dogs - meek, wary and in the hierarchy of living beings, the lowest, the pariah.  Like a tentative wag of the tail, he managed to smile at me - and gestured - oru chaaya - a cup of tea.  

Call me heartless, but I am not the kind who give alms to beggars. Because most of them belong to beggar mafia; they are organised and controlled by goons. Every evening they have to give their collection to the leader. I know; I have talked to many of the beggars. But of course, occasionally I do part with a rupee or two, just because I could not turn my face away.  The beggars exploit this weakness, this guilty feeling we have. .

It had been drizzling. I looked at the tramp once again. In his eyes, the way he looked at me, sipping my hot tea, I could see that at  that moment nothing would be more pleasurable to him than a hot cup of tea. 

I ask the tea shop owner if he can give the tramp a cup of tea.  He hands over tea in a paper cup.  I hold the cup and look at the tramp; he doesn't move.  I keep it by the side of a ledge slightly away from where I stood. Again, the dog. Again I see the feeble wagging of the tail.  

Paying, I leave without a glance back at him. I didn't want to look at him because I did not want to own him for a mere cup of tea. I was not ashamed of my magnanimity, but I did not want to be his patron for a five rupee worth of tea. 

In the station, I go to the farthest end, where breeze from the sea blew gently and unhindered. It was dusk. I waited for the train to come. There was no hurry to get home. I was at peace. 

***************  Balachandran V, Trivandrum 08-07-2012


  1. @Anil: ?? Again the dog - meaning that again the image of the stray, approaching the proffered food, cringing, almost crawling, afraid to the last moment...

  2. The last line says it all.... I was at peace.
    Talking of the Alleppey rly stn., reminds me of the train I missed by the time I crossed over to the next platform using the overbridge, but that is another long story.

  3. I am quite uncomfortable with the comparison of the tramp to a dog. Why insult the poor dog? At the same time why insult the tramp? Both have their dignity and right to live.

  4. An opportunity lost!

    This would have made a beautiful poem.

  5. It's a mood-maker.Alleppey station there bringing back few evenings,the tramp thing with various thoughts.Altogether,it is a piece of life..
    yeh jo zindagi ki kitab hai..
    yeh kitab bhi..
    Kahin kho diya kahin paa liya
    kahin ro liya kahin gaa liya
    Kahin cheen leti hai har khushi kahin meharbaan behisaab hai..

  6. hmm well sir, you did right and the last line you wrote feeling at peace well that says it all..

    SOmetimes even if we give money to someone we cant have that peace .. if a cup of tea did that , then its got to be good ..

    I hope the tramp did pick it up though


  7. That look, a wrinkled face, a lean hand… sometimes I oblige, sometimes I don’t. And they no longer haunt me the way they used to, I ‘might’ve grown up’. I too have heard countless stories about the beggar mafia. But once I read an article in Frontline by Harsh Mander (If my memory serves me right) about beggars in Delhi. He refuted the existence of any such mafia in the capital and claimed that the beggars were doing it on their own.

  8. I always end up giving alms to everyone - though i know they are a mafia and all that.

    I can totally empathize with you buying the cup of tea for that guy....

  9. A nice gesture Balan Sir; but somehow a little sensitive about the comparison to a d--.

  10. @Haddock: That reminds me; have to take a photo of the station from the overbridge! Thanks for coming by!

    @Insignia: What in the wide world gave you the notion that I was INSULTING, either the dog or the man?
    I, as you know respect and love the canine more than the human. I just said that the expression, the body language of the man reminded me of the street dogs that hang about. There is nothing derogatory about it.
    And B, don't complicate the issue; it is not about dignity and right to live. It is just an image, a scene. Like I wrote, there is no emotional involvment here; I just bought a man a cup of tea, but that made me feel - like I wrote - peace. No other word can describe it.

    @Sreejith: :-) I thought of it, but decided for prose, because I have the tendency to get carried away if I wrote poetry! :-)

  11. Melange: Thats it, M, just the mood. I could've described that beautiful evening further, but that would have shifted the focus.

    @Bikram: Oh, yeah, sure he did take it.

    @Arun: I don't know about Delhi, but at Trivandrum and during train journeys, I have befriended many beggars - esp., tamilians because I could talk Tamil, and all of them have confessed that they have to show their pickings to the 'Talaivar' and a percentage is given to him. There are clearly demarcated territories and any infringement would not be tolerated.

    @Gymnast: I always knew you were a softie behind that tough exterior! ;-)

    @Hepzibah: Sensitive about comparison to a DOG? I'd rather be a dog than a man! There are such stereotypical notions about calling people dog, bitch - I wonder why dont we call them horse or cat or mongoose or -

    And giving a cup of tea is no big thing.

  12. Balan,

    I for one who fight to protect the respect and dignity of a dog than a man. No sweat; I think I read more than it implied :)

  13. I am very uncomfortable with beggars. I feel very guilty and that makes me look away and walk off. I have very rarely given money to beggars, if at all i have bought them some snacks or tea. I am still uncomfortable and as in Muscat you don't find any beggars, my discomfort stays.


Leave a word, please!