“Literature Is Also Like Chai…”

November 27, 2013 at 9:15 PMNov (Friends, Literature, Media, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

“Stop stop. I want to eat.”

It was 22 of May 2012. Deepu, Sandy, Veeru and I were on our way to Sagara. We had started at around 15:00 hrs from Manipal. Cutting through Hiriyadka, Hebri and around 20 hairpin curves of the Ghats we had arrived at Agumbe, the Cherrapunji of the south. Because the sun was nowhere near the horizon we did not stop at the famous Sunset Point but drove ahead. We were just a few meters ahead from the Sunset Point and Sandy taking a deep breath asked Veeru, who was driving the car, to stop. Smell of some food item being fried in oil was in the air!

I turned to my right and saw a small canteen kind of set up over a push-cart which had become a permanent structure. The canteen had tea too. I joined my voice with Sandy saying, “Yeah stop stop.” By then Deepu and Veeru too had taken a deep breath to enjoy the smell of the fried item. Veeru stopped the car.

With high expectations about some good food we parked the car and got down.

IMG_8889As we slowly walked towards the canteen we saw a few customers already seated there. The owner and cook of the canteen asked us what we wanted. “Chattambadey” we said. Serving some chattambadey to the other customers he said, “You will have to wait for a while.” We were ready to wait but still couldn’t wait. “Fine. Till then serve us some tea,” I said. “You will have to wait for that too,” he said. “Ok,” I said and stood by to see his preparation of chattambadey.

As I stood there my eyes fell on a set of books kept in the side, along with some spoons and cups. One novel, one book on criticism, one collection of essays and one autobiography! All in Kannada. I was surprised to see those books next to spoons and cups, above the sugar container! Out of great curiosity I asked whose books were they. “Some customer who was here few days ago kept it here while having tea and forgot to take it,” he said all set to let fresh chattambadey raw material into the oil. “Oh!” I exclaimed browsing through the book. The chattambadeywas making noise in the oil. Hesitantly I asked him, “What will you do of these books?” and ask though reading my next question in the pipeline he asked, “Do you want them?” “Well if nobody is going to read it here I will take it,” I said. Immediately he asked me what was he to do if the owners of the book came back asking for the book. And I did not have an answer. I kept the book back and saying, “Oh yeah. Let it be.”

I turned to my friends who were trying to make rings out of smoke. Their attempts in rings making and my observing of it was broken by the voice, “Here is chattambadey. Take it.” Throwing off the cigarettes the three walked towards the push-cart while I took my plate of chattambadey. As I was taking a first bite of chattambadeya question came to me. “Who is your favourite author?” The chattambadey stopped just a few millimeters away from my mouth as I looked at the vendor busy making chai. The milk was boiling and he was adding sugar to it. Suddenly I got the answer to my first question to him. “So, they are your books!” I said and the man looking at the boiling milk on the stove said, “I am a book worm.”

Without looking at me in the same breath he reiterated the question- “Who is your favourite author?” When I told him that it is a difficult question to answer he narrowed down the question by asking in Kannada authors who I liked the most. “Shivaram Karanth,” I said and immediately he asked me if I was from the coastal part of Karnataka. When I asked him what gave him that impression he said that usually the ones in the coastal part of Karnataka tend to like Shivaram Karanth and the ones from the Malnad region tend to like Kuvempu. “It is not regional favoritism. It is just that one can relate more. When you can relate to the story it becomes a personal experience,” he said. I was floored! He then asked me what I think of Kuvempu and I said I hadn’t read his novels and hence I am cannot say much. He suggested I read them and asked me if I had read Kuvempu’s poems. I nodded my head to indicate I had. “Who else do you like?” he asked me and I took Devanoor Mahadeva’s name. “He is a different world all together,” he said and laughed. I was astounded by the conversation I was having and so was Veeru who could follow the conversation unlike Sandy and Deepu.

By then the tea was ready. Handing over the tea he asked me which author I liked outside Kannada. As I took the name of Tagore he said, “Don’t tell me you loved Geetanjali. It is nice but he has written things better than Geetanjali.” I couldn’t agree more with him. When I said Gorky he had something similar to say. He said, “Almost everyone speaks of his novel Mother. But his short stories and his autobiographical writings are equally interesting profound and important according to me.” I told him I had read some short stories but hadn’t read his autobiographical writings. Immediately he asked, “Who else?” There was some kind of restlessness that one could see in him. Observing his restless and sipping tea I said I like Chinua Achebe. As I uttered the name of Achebe he said that he had recently read an interview of Achebe by U.R. Ananthamurthy in a book which has several interviews conducted by Ananthamurthy. “Hattu Samasthara Jotey,” I said the title is and “Yes that is the book,” he exclaimed.

IMG_8897Now I was curious to know more about the man and hence asked him where he is from. “Perdoor” he said. I said its close to my hometown Manipal. He said he has been in Agumbe from a long time. He asked us what we were all doing. We introduced ourselves and when Deepu said he was into filmmaking our man said, “Oh I have acted in a few episodes of the serial Malgudi Days.” Our eyes flowered even the more. “Have you seen Malgudi Days that was directed by Shankar Nag?” he asked and while we were nodding our head he said, out of great affection, “Shankar Nag is our boss!!” Without halting much over Malgudi Days he told us that he had featured in an episode of Discovery Channel too which was on King Cobra in the Western Ghats. “Wildlife is my other love,” he said and added, “My first love is literature.”

Our tea glasses were empty by now. We were handing over the empty glasses back to him and he asked how the tea was. When we said we loved it he came with a gem of a sentence. He said, “Literature is also like chai. Once you have tasted something of superior quality it is difficult to go back to something mediocre.” A smile spread itself on my face.

Veeru insisted we take some pics with him. We took some, while he was busy making some more chattambadey and chai for some more customers who had come, some of them being the officials from the check post which is at a walkable distance from his canteen. We paid the bill and were all set to leave. While saying bye I asked him for his name. “Padiyar,” he said and got back to his work.


  1. Prashant P said,

    such a lovely anecdote… books and literature have a way of connecting people and their imaginations… cheers to chai and to literature !

  2. Ish said,

    Also, this reminds of the author and chaiwalla Laxman Rao. He is the author of 12 books and is pursuing a master’s degree in hindi literature, while making a living selling tea…

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