The Simple Days of Chai and Plum Cake
by Oszey Calland.
Oszey is a first year Creative Writing student at the University of Gloucestershire. He has travelled extensively and writes about a wide variety of subjects.
The Simple Days of Chai and Plum Cake
Mr Ramesh stepped out of the little shop into the intense heat, looking up at the bright blue sky. “Fort Cochin is getting hotter every year,” he thought. “The monsoons will come soon bringing cooling rains. The Indian Monsoon always comes first to Kerela. Kerela: God’s blessed land.”
Taking his eyes away from the sky he looked to the corner of the street. Mrs Patel from the next shop was sweeping the ground with ferocious swings of her broom.
“Mrs Patel, you have so much energy in that sweeping, obviously your energy is not being used in serving customers?”
“What customers? Low season is here again, Ramesh. What should we expect at this time of the year?” Mrs Patel looked around, the street was empty. “No, Ramesh my brushing is getting rid of my anger and frustration,” she said in a hushed voice, once again looking for any on-comers who might interrupt the conversation.
“Why, is your anger and frustration creating this mad brushing?.”
“It’s Sanchi, he… he…” She looked around again. “I caught him on those titty sites again. That bloody phone. I told Mr Patel it was a bad idea.” Mrs Patel’s voice became more intense. “Those bloody phones, nothing but trouble, and that bloody computer is no better, always asking me, ‘do I want cookies?’. Look at the size of me, Ramesh. Do I look as though I need more cookies?”
“You have a fine figure, Mrs Patel, just as your mother and my mother had.”
“Oh! The old days Ramesh, why can’t it be like back then?” Not taking a breath she ranted on in a hushed voice. “He said he would stop looking at them, those titties on the phone. If we take him to McDonald’s at the new Lulu shopping mall. Have you been to Lulu mall yet Ramesh? You know, they say you can order what you want before you go and collect it, without seeing it. How can you buy something you have not seen, Ramesh?” Mrs Patel’s eyes were becoming larger, looking as though they were going to pop out of her head. She explained more. “It is the gateway to the new world, and a very expensive world, Ramesh.”
“This is the issue, Mrs Patel.” Raising the palms of his hands to the sky, Mr Ramesh joined in the rant. “The young ones want everything now. They’re not interested in the quality of what they want, it just has to be the right brand. Having to bargain with them all the time is harder work than the customer.”
“Well that’s when we get the customer,” replied Mrs Patel.
“Oh! Look, Mrs Patel, you have customers looking in your window.”
“Miracles may happen!” Mrs Patel voiced over her shoulder as she and the broom made their way to her shop. Following the two young people making their way through the doorway.
Feeling the heat and sweat starting to run down his back, Mr Ramesh made his way to the coolness of his own shop. As he stepped into the doorway the call of the chai man caught his ears.
Spinning around he put his hand out. The chai man’s bike came to a halt.
The waft of cinnamon and spices from the hot milk made him feel hungry.
“Yes, please and a piece of your delicious plum cake.”
He and the chai man exchanged conversation on how hot it was and made a wish that the rain would come soon. His shirt was feeling damp and starting to cling to him. He politely said goodbye to the chai man, letting him ride off in search of his next customer.
The coolness of the shop was a blessing. He sat down with his chai and plum cake. The chai and plum cake man had been around for as long as he could remember. His thoughts went back to the conversation with Mrs Patel. “The area was changing, a place that had not changed as long back as he could remember. But times were changing, people were definitely changing.” He started to think of the new fast style food places that were opening in the area. “Bread World, bloody Bread world what type of place was this. Offering western-style-bread, cakes and pizzas, sausage rolls and burgers. Not healthy food, it’s all done in a microwave. All cooked in two minutes.” His mother would turn in her grave if he ate that food. He captured visions of his mother from his memory. Picturing her, spending most of her day preparing the ingredients. He could smell the Masala in the memory. The sound of clanking frying pans, hot oil spitting and the aroma of spices would fill the air. The hours she would spend preparing the curry, marinating meat, adding spices through the cooking process. And then the chapatis and naan-bread tossing in the hot oil. What would she think of microwave samosa? She would be spinning like a firecracker.
He looked around his shop at the shelves filled with cashmere shawls and cloths. The beautiful bright colours, pinks, reds, greens. So many shades. He picked up a shawl and put it to his cheek, feeling the softness and smiling. His thoughts rolled on, his smile slowly disappearing. “This shopping on the internet so easy. Just put it in your basket, press the button and pay. No talking. No exchanging the story of the cashmere. No time, just buy, hurry, hurry, other things to do. People don’t have time for the story any more. The story of how the cashmere got to my little shop. Do they want to know about the journey I took once a year to get the cashmere? 3500 miles to Kashmir, three days on the train. I could have just gone to buy it from Deli, but you would not get the good deal and also having to pay the middle man would cut into the profits.”
That journey, the people the food and all types of animals, goats, chickens and ducks, all packed in with the people. Every colour God created in the saris worn by women who would create little homes on the train, tending to their family’s needs. The journey would take him from one end of India to the other. From the lush greenness of Kerala to the hot middle of India, to the cool mountains and lakes of Kashmir. Oh! What a journey, what wonderful memories.
And the people he would meet on the way. The conversations. Sharing good food, proper food from each region. Biryani from Hyderabad, the light sweet curries of Gujarat, the thick creamy curries of the north. Everyone would sleep huddled together in any space they could find. The friends he would make. His smile faded.
“And now the press of the button is taking it all away. On the train now, there is no conversation, just people looking at the phone, what is happening to my beloved country? Maybe soon we will be able to make a baby with the phone, no need for touching, loving, caring. Just press the button and it will arrive a few days later, and no need to come to Fort Cochin for your holidays any more. Get one of those bloody head things and go anywhere in the world while sitting on the toilet.”
“What is this world coming to?” he shouts out loud to the shawl, kissing it. Rolling the shawl around his hands. The cashmere felt soft warm and comforting. “Can the computer tell you about the goats this wool came from? Has the computer met the goats?” He kisses the shawl and presses it to his cheek. “And the work that goes into these little prayer rugs.”
He loved to show the customer the detail. They were once his best sellers as they could be packed easily into a suitcase.
The two young backpackers filled the door-way. “Hi! Can we have a look around?” the young girl bellowed in a high-pitched American voice, the young man following. “Hi!”
“Oh yes please do, welcome, welcome to my little shop, is there anything in particular you are looking for?” His sale patter kicked in. “I have a special end-of-season offer on these exquisite little rugs. Very easy to take home with you. Are you from America?”
“Yes, we’re from California,” the young girl replied.
“California, I have many customers that come from California, they always take a rug home. They fit so easy into the backpack.” Mr Patel was feeling good now. The actor is on stage, his sales spiel flowing. The sound of drums and air guitar filled the air. The young girl looked at her phone.
“Nicky is in the Coffee Lounge, we should go. Thank you we have to go and meet a friend.”
“Let me just show these beautiful cashmere shawls I have them in many colours.”
“I am sorry we really have to go, our friend is waiting.”
“Can your friend not have a coffee while she’s waiting?”
“We’re really sorry we really have to go.” She pushed the young man to the door. “We were only browsing any way.”
“Thanks for your time, we will try and come back tomorrow,” the young man replied in an apologetic tone as he was pushed out the doorway.
“Oh yes please do and bring your friend. I have many lovely things for you ladies and young gentlemen.” He stood alone in the shop again, holding the little rug.
“Just browsing, always browsing. And now they will go and browse the internet to remind them of the little rugs. Order it from Amazon, in the basket: click, click and it’s done.”
Sitting down, he looked around at the shelves of brightly coloured garments thinking of what the future was coming to.
He did not hear the light footsteps enter the shop behind him. He jumped from his state of daydream, feeling the hand move through his hair.
“My beautiful husband you are in dream land again.” He captured the heavy scent of his wife’s perfume. Turning, he looked at her, in her slender high heels and tight fitting western style suit.
“Oh, my beautiful wife you are like the first rains of the monsoon.” He softly stroked the arm of her suit. “Cashmere?”
“Yes darling, from Italy. You like it?” She lightly kissed him on the lips. “And how has your day been?”
“Yes, normal, just sitting around here waiting for someone to walk through the door.”
He opened his mouth to give a defensive reply. The words disappeared in to the fragrant air. She filled the gap with soft compassion.
“This shop is so old and dusty. You have everything so crammed on these shelves. How old is this stock? I think it’s been here for so many years it’ll be starting to disintegrate. Have you checked for mice?”
He looked at his wife with no words of defence.
“We open the new floor on the store tomorrow and I am signing the contract with Apple. Why don’t you come and work with me?” Her voice became enthusiastic while looking into his eyes.
“You are very good at selling. I think your talents are wasted here. I can get the web design department to create you an online shop, it can be your hobby.” He kissed her on the cheek.
He kissed her on the cheek. “My beautiful darling wife I think you are right.”