Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – December 10, 2015

Chai Twins Monkey

Chai shop. 7:30 PM.
The dhobi’s workday which began at 6 AM is over.
He’s having his customary plastic glass of masala chai, sitting on
one of the stools at the large wooden table.
His name is Mohan, he is of the washerman caste.
His working day is limitless, but today it is merely long because the
upper-caste home-owner and his wife are travelling to Rajastan.

Usually Mohan is having chai and chatting with three or four other
dhobis he has known from childhood in Kashi, but not tonight
because Mohan is early.
Like other dhobis, Mohan is thin and dark with a black mustache.
He is wearing faded, colorless trousers his patron’s son wore then
disposed of, along with a old teflon short-sleeved shirt and flip-flops.

What is he thinking as he sips his chai?
He’s thinking about having a small dinner with his wife and four-
year-old son in their shanty in northeast Kashi, not far from the long
half-moon sandbar east of the ghats, left vacant so that devotional
Hindus can see the sunrise when they do puja.
So that tourists will pay to take a small rowboat on the Ganges at
dawn to see the sunrise.
Mohan’s old bicycle will weave him through the dense traffic for the
forty-five minute trip back and forth from his shanty to his work.

A man about Mohan’s age enters the shop and sits on a stool
alongside Mohan but three stools to the left.
They nod to each other though they do not know each other.
The man orders masala chai.

Though neither seems to notice, the men are about the same age
and look close to identical, except that Mohan is distinctly darker.
Moroeover, the man is well-dressed in well-fitting western clothes
with a white silk scarf tied elegantly at his neck.
He is wearing smart leather shoes; Mohan has never worn leather in
his 26 years.
The man carries a smart phone and is now talking into it in Hindi.
He talks in a way that makes him seem independent, a decision-
maker.

His chai comes and he sips it while talking on the phone.
Mohan scarcely notices; he is tired and sips his chai without
thinking, except remotely of bicycling home to his wife and child.
The man disconnects and immediately makes another call, this time
speaking in Engish with authority.
He disconnects again, has a final sip of tea, leave a fifty-note rupee
on the table, leaves.

Carrying his smart phone in his left hand, he is about to step into his
white Toyota Camry (nearly all the cars in Kashi are white) when a
male macaque monkey suddenly hops down in front of him and
seizes the phone from his hand.
The man utters an oath in Hindi and makes after the monkey into
the dense traffic where he is run over and killedß by a white
Mercedes.

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