Jan 21, 2014

A cup of chai

This is Saraswati. She sells jewelry to tourists and pilgrims from a roadside stall by Dashashwamedar Ghat. She usually arrives around 8 in the morning and leaves around 8 at night. I'm not clear on exactly how old she is, but somewhere between 30 and 40. Her skin is very smooth and she has some grey hair coming around her temples and her forehead. 

I was walking along early one morning when she was unpacking her stall. She called out madam, look here, madam, five rupees a bracelet. I stopped; five rupees is not very much. I had some coins in my pocket so I bought a blue wooden bead bracelet. She threw in a second bracelet for free, said the first customer of the day is lucky. Then she offered me a cup of tea. So I said okay, and she sat me on her stool at the stall and went across the road and bought two cups of chai out of the money I'd just paid her. Five rupees for a bracelet, five rupees for chai. 

She brought back the chai in a little clay cup. She told me all about the cups - how they are made out of Ganges clay, shaped and fired in a special Varanasi style shape. When you are finished with the cup she showed me how to throw it on the ground so it disintegrates and goes back into the earth. Better than that plastic garbage some tea sellers are using now. The point of the cups is to be single use so anyone can use them, even a Brahmin, without being "polluted" by sharing a cup with an untouchable. For tourists this also means the clay chai cup is very safe and clean. Chai is always boiled for a long time before serving so it's about the safest drink going. 

I asked Saraswati about her family. She has three children. Her eldest is a girl, 15 years old, the same age Saraswati was when she got married. She wants her daughter to stay in school. Her two boys are 10 and 11. She wants them all to be able to read and write because she is illiterate. I asked if she was able to write her name in my notebook and she did try but it didn't turn out quite right. She is from Chennai, in Tamil Nadu in the south. Her mother, father, sisters and brothers are there and she was married there. She and her husband came north looking for work. 

By that time I'd finished my tea so she took out her little purse to get me another one. I wouldn't let her though - it would have been a shame for her to spend money on me, of all people. 

That was a few days ago. I went to say goodbye and have another cup of chai with her today. I wished her all the best and bought a few more bracelets for the girls back home. When I was going I was about to throw my cup on the ground but she told me to keep it for the memories, so I did. 


  1. that's so awesome that you can sit down and chat and make such great connections. Definitely didn't have that when we flew through. Good choice with the slow trip!

  2. This is quite wonderful. I love that you can take the time to learn about people you meet.