It is not even 7 in the morning as I turn on the ignition of my car. In Bangalore, the weather reading on a cold January morning hovers around 15 C or thereabout. Outside, there is a blanket of fog that is so thick, I can barely see beyond a few meters. Onward I muster to the nearby railway station, barely a 15 min drive away. I have promised to meet a friend for early morning chai there.
The drive is dangerous in the thick fog. As soon as I get out of the car, the dew drops condensed on the eucalyptus tree branches above patter down on my windcheater. It is cold, and I regret not taking my winter cap along.
I take a deep breath and look around.
The eucalyptus trees loom above, but the fog obscures most of the upper reaches outright. The specter of their pale bark and greyish foliage make for a picturesque sight. Somehow, although their rich smell does not carry today, their sight carries me back to time spent at Kodaikanal a few years ago.
I walk towards a chaiwallah. There aren’t many passengers today, so the chaiwallah quickly pours me a cup of tea. It is too sweet for my liking, but I care more for the warmth than the taste. Across the street, a few autorickshaw drivers are hunkered down, around the warm, comforting dying embers of a fire. I walk by them, catching a few drifts of the warm air.
Inside the railway station, people have their arms inserted inside their winter jackets. Most passengers choose the shelter of the rundown waiting area cum ticket house. Children, usually noisy around a railway station, are far too subdued. Maybe it’s the weather or maybe it is the early morning.
As the next train is announced, activity perks up. People walk towards the designated coach positions. Pretty soon, I can hear the engine’s horn. The fog has remained much the same and with restricted visibility, one can only discern a ghost with a dim headlight, clanging against the tracks.
My friend has arrived as well and we make our way to another chaiwallah. Here, the chai carries a faint note of cardamom, my favorite spice. But even that can’t salvage the excessive sweetness. The chaiwallah is a native of Kerala, and there are also Keralite snacks on offer for breakfast. Pazham pori (ripe banana fritters), bondas, idlis, vadais, a watery coconut chutney and sambar and for those who prefer it, hot milk.
In between the piping hot cup of chai (we both concur that it’s incredibly sweet and milky), talk veers towards family, politics, health, sports, jobs and events to look forward to. The occasional locomotive hoots, unsuccessfully trying to dispel the effect of the fog.
And before we know it, the sun at last makes an appearance, bathing the surroundings with warm, golden sunshine. The sweet tea doesn’t appeal at all, but a welcome short break in a setting that has changed little over the past 100 years, has been refreshing on this cold winter morning in Bangalore.