A chalk pencil had visited this blackboard. Leaving marks wherever it walked. The letters it weaved shined through the dark surface. Morning sunlight polished it even further. Given that our belly was somewhat full, we could only read ‘Masala Chai’ out of the other options. We had come to this cafe after a friend’s recommendation.
The space between the tea garden and the cafe formed a gully to walk in. After taking a few turns, it led to a mountain home. We were curious who lived there. The chatter of chirping birds and mating trees was intermittently broken by a vehicle or two, after waiting for a while.
A beautiful Himachali lady carried the teacups, while the hot flames rushed towards the open veranda. She was a native of Bara Banghal village. Accessible only 6 months a year, one had to walk 3 days, camping three nights in the wild just to reach there.
About a year back, when her nephew informed her about a job in a kitchen, she had come down to live here. “Maasi was a fine lady”, she told us. “Always cheerful with a natural glow, you could never guess her age.“, she continued. “She didn’t have any relatives here. After living in Italy for a few years, she made these mountains her home and started this cafe. She only taught us how to cook. That fateful morning, I got a call from her in distress. We arranged an ambulance and took her to Baijnath and then to Palampur hospital. The doctors couldn’t help. She took her last breath at 3”, and a little drop of water ran down her cheek.
“Maasi was alone, but the whole village was her family. While her relatives who were all living outside the country couldn’t come here, hundreds of people collected for her last rites”. Some chalk dust slipped through the board, as she said that.
It was only 7 days back that she had left this place. The home that we were curious about, belonged to Maasi.