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Chandini Chawk and Chai

by Shreya Bhatia

         To 60-year-old Aruna Mathur, maneuvering through unruly traffic and walking in between rikshaws and autos felt like going into war. She waddled at a slow pace, water bottle and bags in hand, lagging behind her nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

         She was taking everything in. Old Delhi was just the same as she remembered it: rundown buildings, old mosques, tiny food stalls and lots of chaos. Wires hung from electricity poles, vegetable sellers ploughed their trade right beside the road and cows roamed around the street aimlessly; it was a free country after all. Smog filled the cold Delhi air and the pollution made her eyes burn. The smell of hot chai and rotis tickled her senses and made her hungry for a piece of her childhood.

         It had been a while since she did something like this: venture out into the hustle and bustle of a typical Delhi market. She never thought she could handle the mess but being there, in that moment, made her feel more alive. She missed the agility in her bones that was robbed from her by old age, yet she tried her hardest to keep up with the rest of her family. The Mathurs were on a food mission, as they always are when they visit Chandini Chawk, and were building up their appetite for the best parathas in the city.

         Hello cholesterol, thought Aruna as she shook her head.

         “You’ll love them, nani. Just you wait,” said her 21-year-old granddaughter who was now walking beside her.

          “Did I say that out loud?”

          Suhana giggled, “Yes you did.”

          “Well, it is the truth. But between you and me, death by food is the best way to go.” She smiled warmly at her granddaughter who returned it and put her arm around her.

          Suhana noticed how much taller she was to the old woman. She noticed the way her nani’s eyes crinkled at the corners. She noticed the way her silvery white hair glowed in the sun. She also noticed the way her grandmother huffed with every step, almost as if she was tired ten minutes ago, but had not said anything about it.

         “Could we stop for a bit, nani? This smoke is making my head spin,” Shuana lied.

         “Yes, yes. Do you need my hanky? Wait I have it in my bag. I have medicine too if you want it.”

         Suhana couldn’t help but smile at the old woman fussing about her stuff. They had not covered much distance at the pace they were walking at but Suhana didn’t mind at all. Her nani was babbling about smoke and the Delhi pollution and her sinus, while she continued to listen to her intently. Whenever her nani was trying to make a point she would look at Suhana through her round spectacles and see if she was following. Suhana found this adorable.

         They stood on the side of the pavement under a big Banyan tree that had grown right in the middle of the path. The pavement was full of people lugging baskets over their heads, men wheeling vegetables on carts, kids playing with sticks and marbles, all cocooned in the chatter of haggling people and horns. Suhana helped her grandmother wrap her woolen shawl around herself and tightened the belt on her own coat. The dull afternoon haze was getting thinner now but it was still cold. The sky was a cloudy canopy and the sun was absolutely nowhere in sight.

         The rest of the family had stopped just a little ahead to buy spices, but were still well in view. Each shop had at least ten jute bags full of masalas and the smell of fennel, mint and thyme danced their way to where they were standing. While she watched her parents bargain with the shopkeepers for cinnamon and turmeric, Suhana knew they were going to take a while.

         A thin old man with a balding head, carrying a stainless-steal flask and glasses paused in front of them.

         “Mataji, chai?” he asked Aruna.

         “Two,” Suhana said, and stuck out two fingers to the old man. He nodded and poured the tea into little glasses and handed them over to Suhana, who gave him a rupee. She brought the glass to her lips and the smell of cardamom and ginger invaded her senses. She looked at her grandmother and was pleased to see that she too was enjoying the warmth that the tea offered.

         “There’s nothing like Chandini Chawk chai, no?” Suhana sighed gratefully. 

         Aruna looked at the way her granddaughters hazel eyes sparkled and the way she scrunched up her nose when she spoke about the things she liked. She had forgotten how beautiful Suhana had gotten and it made her heart swell with feeling. She only saw her granddaughter for a little while, whenever she visited the country, which lately had not been often. She pulled Suhanna’s cheek, drawing her granddaughter’s attention and said, “I really missed you.”

Shreya Bhatia is a Journalism senior who hopes to become a published author someday. She holds her Indian roots quite close to her heart and recently has started writing a lot of creative pieces about her family in New Delhi. She has lived in Dubai all her life and feels very much at home with the culture here. Shreya enjoys reading and has a flare for art as well. She is an animal lover and is obsessed with elephants. She has also travelled to almost 15 countries and hopes to go on more adventures after graduating.


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