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Art is not a luxury, but a necessity.



I was taught to make tea by his mother at a very early stage. My mother taught me many things about life and one of the first things I learned from her was how to make tea the way she made tea for the family – Ali Peter John

She showed me how much of tea leaves should be put in boiling water for how many people, and how much sugar to put together with the boiling water and the tea leaves.

She also showed me how to make dal and rice, grind the masala on a round grinding stone with a hole in the centre to hold the spices, coconut and other essential items like onions.

She always wanted me to be her daughter and this was one of her ways to make herself happy in spite of not having a daughter.

I was interested in learning how to cook, but I enjoyed the art of making tea (chai) the best.

We had tea only twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening if we were at home.

I was 12 years old when I made friends with “BEST” bus conductors and sometimes spent my holidays and my summer vacations and Diwali vacations traveling with them while they were on duty.

I sometimes even called out the names of the bus stops and even rang the bell for the bus to move ahead.

It was during my travels with the conductors that I got to know about a kind of rule among the drivers and the conductors.

They used to have a cup of tea after every round during their duty hours. They shared a cup of tea among two of them and sometimes even three of them.

I too joined in this ceremony and by the time I was 14 and had lost my mother, I had got addicted to tea, but I rarely had the money to indulge in my addiction.

THE first time I asked for a cup of tea in an Udipi hotel, the price for a cup was one “anna” ( equivalent to six naya paise).

There was something called “special chai” which cost “chaar anna” (25 naya paisa). My addiction grew stronger as I grew up.

I had to have at least three or four glasses of tea a day and I had them even if I had to miss out on breakfast or lunch.

I had a friend called Shantaram who was the manager of a small and dingy hotel inside an industrial estate, who gave me glasses of tea on credit, which I couldn’t honour at the end of the month, and Shantaram was so kind that he served me the tea I needed without asking for any money till I left the village.

In the early 70s there was a chain of hotels where only different kinds of tea were served.

The chain of hotels was called Laxmi Vilas and it specialized in preparing and serving tea the way it was made in Gujarat; my choice was the “Ahmedabadi chai” which was more of milk than tea or water.

Then I got addicted to the Irani cup with bread-butter or bun-maska with it. The tea the Iranis made was heavenly and everything served in these Irani restaurants had something very special about it.

From the Irani restaurants I graduated to the hotels run by Muslims whose hotels were called “Chilliya hotels” and enjoyed a good and heavy lunch at these hotels, followed by one or two cups of their special brand of tea and that was enough to live through the day .

Time changed and with time the quality and price of the tea served in different hotels also changed, but nothing could make me give up my addiction.

Some of the restaurants in Bombay were the “adda” of writers, journalists and poets of different languages, who did most of their thinking and writing over cups of the cheapest tea.

My favourite was the Firdous hotel in Dadar where I met renowned Marathi poets like Narayan Surve, Dilip Chitre and Sadanand Rege and these poets became my excuse to visit Firdous more often.

The canteen at the University of Bombay continued to serve quality tea for 25 paise only, which was perhaps the reason why students spent more time in the canteen than in their classes.

As I started earning some money, I started spending more money on tea and a time came when I was spending half my salary on tea and biscuits.

I have had the privilege of having lovers of tea like MF Husain, Sanjeev Kumar (he used to have his tea after he poured it into a saucer, put his legs up on a chair and enjoyed every sip and slurp of tea).

And if I could call any one the badshah of chai it would be my friend Amjad Khan who used to say, “accha huva chai hai, nahi toh zindagi mein koi chaahat nahi rehti” (Amjad used to have at least a 100 glasses of tea which were specifically prepared for him by a man called Ashok, whose only job was to see that glasses of tea were ready for Amjad.

Amjad, who never drank alcohol, often said that tea gave him a greater kick than any alcohol.

My guru KA Abbas also loved tea made according to his own taste, he had a unique combination of tea and a single banana for his breakfast.

And if there is one place I will always remember for its tea, it will always be Rajneesh Refreshments where Shantaram gave me the kind of tea that could inspire me to write and even walk after Molly while she was on her way to her office.

And look at how the times have changed. I still have several rounds of black tea, which my caretaker Pushpa who serves me even if I just make a sign, and it is this black tea that others say is dangerous for my health, that keeps me alive.

I am so addicted to Pushpa’s tea that I even feel like having my rice and chapatis with it.

And just before the second wave stopped all the good things of life, I was having what is called “regular chai” in a cafe called Chaayos and paid a Rs100 for a mini glass of tea.

Rs100 was the amount my mother who first taught me the value of tea, spent on running her home with herself and her three sons in 1963.

And that was such a long time ago. And as I finish writing this tribute to tea, I can hear my soul, heart, tongue feeling the urge to ask Pushpa for another round of black tea made her way and now at 71 years, I can only feel my love for tea growing beyond my control.

So what if will give me trouble in the future, but right now, which is the only time that matters to me, life is what tea makes it.

Suna hai aaj kal chaiwalle pradhan mantra aur sevak bhi ban jaate hai. Aisa hai aur agar ye baat sach hai, toh mujhe sabse pahela pradhan mantra aur pradhan sevak ban jaana chaaiye tha.

Jo bhi ho, uss chaiwalle ko Mubarak. Lekin mera jaisa chai ka sevak phir kabhi milega nahi.

After all these years of living the kind of life I am sure no one must have lived,I can place my right hand on my heart (I am still not sure whether I have a soul)and say that I am richer than the richest men in the world

The Emperor Akbar must have heard his nav ratans in his darbar, but I have had my own ratans who can outshine his ratans (jewels)any time anywhere.

How can Akbar or any one for that matter have ratans like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor,Balraj Sahni,Sunil Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor,Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and how can I forget an amazing and awesome (an adjective I have rarely used and which is thrown around like old and over used pages by the generation of today) M.F. Husain ?

There are many other jewels in my invisible crown, but I will talk about them some other time because I am overwhelmed by these names now, especially the name of Maqbool Fida Husain, the bare- feet genius who came into my life a little late but made my life rich forever.

I had only seen Husain Sahab as a visual when I was in school and then in college. I was one of the crores of jobless young men who travelled to the city from a village in chase of a dream risking my unknown future by travelling without a ticket and living on an empty stomach on most days and my only staple diet was the scenes of the city and the exciting people I had never seen before.

It was on one of these many hungry and hot afternoons that I saw a visual from my early days coming to life right before my sunken eyes.

I had to see the sight several times to believe that the men before me was in fact and in God’s truth the one and only M.F. Husain.

He was wearing an all -white kurta and pyjama to match with his all -white hair and beard and had no foot wear and was walking very briskly all alone in the heat of the sun .

I stood still for a few moments and then followed him wherever he walked till he got into a small tea shop and the owner of the tea shop handed over a glass of tea to him which I saw him sip with some kind of devotion and after finishing the first glass he asked for another and then walked ahead and I didn’t have the energy to follow him and could only see him vanish from my sight.

Watching this scene every afternoon grew into some kind of a ritual for me and when I could no longer afford to practice this ritual I only hoped that I would see or meet in some way or the other in the time to come.

I had to wait for years some years and for my time to change and it changed and M.F. Husain also became a reality for me.

He had been enamoured by Madhuri Dixit, the girl who was once my neighbour and who studied in the same school where my daughter was to study years later.

He was inspired to make a special appearance in a film called “Mohabbat “which was being directed by Reema Rakesh Nath, the wife of Rakesh Nath who was the manager of Madhuri.

It was during his shooting for the film that I first fulfilled my dream of meeting my dream, M.F. Husain and it was also the first time that I had the first two glasses of ordinary studio tea with him and realized how much he loved his tea and he could go to any lengths to have it.

Like all my other ratans, I really don’t know how and when he and me took a strong liking for each other and I couldn’t for the life of me believe it when he one day told me that he wanted to see my house.

I was undoubtedly excited and wondered how my wife and neighbours would react to this Internationally known man visiting our middle class building.

He made life more difficult for me when he was determined to travel in an auto-rickshaw.

We somehow reached home and my wife was a bundle of emotions and feelings when she saw him.

He made her life more miserable when he said he wanted some tea desperately. She told him that she couldn’t make good tea and before she could say anything more, Husain Sahab asked her for permission to go into her kitchen and asked her where the tea leaves and sugar was kept.

He lit the gas stove himself and stood in the kitchen till the tea was ready and served the tea in three cups and first gave it to my wife then to me and finally took his cup and again asked my wife if he could sit on her chair with his legs up and sipped his tea in peace.

He told my wife that he would teach her how to make good tea and said “Bambai mein toh zyaadatar log chai ki beizzati karte hai “.

He then asked where Swati my daughter was and asked for a huge blank sheet of paper, took out his sketch pen and drew something for her.

When I tell people about that painting and how it was misplaced, they curse me and tell me that I could have bought another flat by selling that painting, but how do I tell them that the experience of having Husain Sahab in my house was worth crores of rupees ?

It was the opening of a new art gallery in Worli called the Tao Art Gallery owned by a woman called Mrs.Shah ,I think. Husain Sahab had invited Madhuri Dixit, Tabu,Amrita Arora and many others from the film industry and high society circles.

He insisted that I should come and kept ringing me up in my office which was close to the Gallery. I was very sure that I would get lost and I did.

I reached Worli Naka and called him. He asked me where I was. I said I was near and Irani Tea Restaurant called Cafe Worli. He said “Tum wahi tehro, main aata hoon”

He was there in his black Mercedes in three minutes and walked into the restaurant. We had three glasses of tea and several khaari biscuits which was a specialty of the restaurant, he knew.

We drove to the Gallery which was packed with celebrities. At,I told him I had to go to the NCPA at Nariman Point to see Gulzar’s play “Kharaashey”.

He said, “mein bhi ata hoon “I kept pleading with him and asking him how he could come when it was his exhibition and all the guests, including Madhuri had come because of him.

He kept following me and when I was leaving, he called his driver Mohammad and got into the car and we were in the NCPA hall watching Gulzar’s play even though we had no tickets and had to stand through the play.

He liked the play and congratulated Gulzar and the team and we came out on the footpath.

He kept looking for some hot tea and I showed him a small and temporary tea stall and we relished two glasses of tea each at ten o’clock in the night.

I asked him if we were not going back to the Gallery and he said, “yaha garam bhutta achha milta hai “and I told him “mere pass daant nahi hai “and he said, “chalo, Swati Snacks jatey hai “.

It was one his favourite spots to have South Indian snacks and of course good tea made according to his orders.
I had two plates of idli butter and he who was forty years older than me had three plates of dahi batata puri. We finished the night with his kind of tea the waiters knew very well.

The night was still young for him, but he never talked of going back to the Gallery. He told me he would drop me home in Versova and then go back to his own house in Colaba.

He suddenly stopped the car and opened the dicky. There were any number of currency notes lying around and he said, “le lo jitna chaaho “.

It was very tempting, but I refused to touch the money. He took out his official autobiography signed it and gave it to me and grew very emotional, embraced me and said “tum mere bete ho”and he didn’t talk till he dropped me home. What an evening that was !

Husain Sahab had his places to have his tea in high places and low,from places in Colaba where he lived for many years to the Juhu and even the Lokhandwala areas in the later years of his life.

He had all his business meetings at the Sea Lounge restaurant of the Taj Mahal hotel, the only five-star hotel where he loved to have his tea at any time of the day or night.

I was present at a meeting between him and a businessman from South Africa whose daughter was getting married and whose ambition it was to present all his guests with gold rings with miniature paintings done by Husain Sahab.

The deal was being done by Husain Sahab’s friend and agent, Mr. Jhaveri, the owner of Joy Shoes at the Taj while Husain Sahab and I was busy having tea.

It must be mentioned year that the lobby of the Taj has its backdrop painted by Husain Sahab and the fire in which the Taj was engulfed in during the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 1993 couldn’t damage Husain Sahab’s painting much.

The other hotel in Colaba which Husain Sahab loved having his tea in was the Olympia Hotel near the Regal Cinema which was the favourite place of taxi drivers and medical representatives and other sales men.

In early 2000, Yash Chopra’s son Aaditya Chopra had built the Yashraj Studio in Andheri and Husain Sahab had heard that there was one entire wall that was left blank.

HE mentioned it to me and asked me to tell Yash Chopra that he wanted to paint his version of the history of Hindi cinema on that wall and would wear all the expenses himself.

I told Yash Chopra about it and he was thrilled. They had several meetings after that and I was the intermediary without any personal interest .

Husain Sahab was to meet Yash Chopra in his office at Vikas Park in Juhu and I was supposed to join him from Lalbaugh.

Husain Sahab who was a stickler for time reached Yash Chopra’s office an hour before time. He sounded panicky when he called me and said, “Tum jaldi aao”.

It was only when I reached Yash Chopra’s office that I knew what had happened. Yash Chopra had not reached office and his business manager, Mr.Sehdev had served Husain Sahab tea on a fancy tray and in a fancy cup with lots of milk and sugar and with a silver spoon.

Husain Sahab had not touched the tea till I had reached. He was angry and said, “chalo yaha se.It was one long hunt for tea that evening.

He first said, Shabana (Azmi)ke ghar jate hai,woh chai achhi banati hai”.Neither Shabana nor Javed Akhtar were at home, but Husain Sahab was not willing to give up hope.

He said, “chalo, Nadira Babbar ke yaha jate hai ,chai achhi milegi “Nadira and her daughter Juhi were standing outside their bungalow and Nadira said, “Sorry, Husain Sahab, meri rehearsal hai,main apko mil nahi sakungi ,Sorry Ali Sahab.Aadaab.”

Husain Sahab tried his best to hide his irritation and told Mohammad, his driver,”chalo airport chalo.

“Mohammad kept looking at me and smiling. He knew where Husain Sahab was heading. The car stopped outside “Aadhaar Udupi Hotel” outside the domestic airport.

He literally ran into the hotel and all the waiters and the manager came out to welcome him. It seemed like he had finally come home.

He sat on a wooden bench and a senior waiter brought him his tea in a glass and he drank it from a saucer like any peasant from a village and then asked for another glass and when he was satisfied he took out a wad of notes and without counting them gave them to the senior waiter and said, “sabke liye hai”.

They must have never looked so happy in a very long time. He stood up and took out a number of airline tickets from his pocket and asked, “kahaa Jaaoon main ?

itne sare ticket hai “.I had never faced a question like this before and before I could answer him, he said, “Delhi jaata hoon “.

I asked him about his bag or luggage and he said, “Delhi jakar dekhta hoon, tum meri gadi lekar jao,jahan jana hai jao,main do deen ke baad aunga aur milunga”.

He came back and it was time to start painting the wall at Yashraj Studio. He was eighty-five. The wall was sixty feet tall. He asked for a wooden ladder.

His entire family and Yash Chopra’s family were present and both excited and very nervous.

He climbed the ladder like a young man and painted the image of Lord Ganesh before starting the painting and came down.

The small crowd which included me heaved a massive sigh of relief and the first thing he asked for was a “gram chai ka glass “.

He completed the painting which he had started in the name Lord Ganesh within a matter of days and then there was the kind of trouble for him that he could never imagine.

The Bajrang Dal had found reason to ask for his hands and his head to be chopped for different prices.

He was not scared, but his family and his friends and well-wishers were. He was taken away to Dubai where he was the guest of the Sheikh of Dubai and from Dubai he was taken to Qatar where he was diagnosed for pneumonia and he died when he was eight six and the man who loved his country and his city, Mumbai couldn’t even be brought back to find six feet of ground to be buried.

India had lost one of its greatest sons and I had lost a great ratan and a friend who I know I will never find again. And tea will never find a lover like him again.

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