Stray dogs, hookers and shady guides. Before my first cup of tea the world looks quite different.

For us Indians, tea or ‘chai’ is a big thing. It won’t be an overstatement if we call it our national beverage. Right from a conversation stater to a wake up drink, from being the magic potion to impress a potential groom and his entire family for an arranged marriage to “It’s pretty cold I want something hot”, tea plays varied roles in an Indian’s life. But for me this beverage of commoners is very special.

I have a very simple formula for measuring happiness in my life is – my first cup of tea. I like to start my day by treating my self with a cup of hope, a pinch of optimism, boiled for 5 minutes of me-time and then I add thought/imagination to taste. The world seems a better place, everything just seems right, there’s a natural smile on my face as I sip my first beverage of the day.

But today was different. I woke up at 4am to catch an early train. And since there was no tea available an irrational fear was instilled in my heart. Something was not right. I came out in dark, walking through the lonely alleys of the city. Stray dogs looked at me ferociously, you flinch just a little and they are ready to pounce at you. Worried inside but nonchalant outside, I walked, praying that I don’t get bit. As soon as I crossed their territory I witnessed another pre-dawn phenomenon, a van with of two Afro-American men and three hookers. The women seemed North East Indian in origin. Every year several women from this region are brought into the other parts of the country for certain ‘specific’ roles. They were overdressed, a little too overdressed and were wearing too much of make up. Hate to be racial here but since they were with blacks they seemed a tad too ‘pimped up’.

Took an auto to the railway station. While I was searching for an ATM. The guides, the rickshaw pullers, the cabbies, the porters, the shady guy standing next to me, all of them thought I was a tourist. Or in other words their potential prey. It’s interesting how a backpack can make you look different. Still in search for my first cup of tea, I could smell something fishy all around me. I found an ATM after searching a lot, walking a lot and after getting a lot of stares. I don’t know whether it was my “I’m new in town look” or my angry birds T-shirt. As I entered, right next to the money vending machine was sleeping another stray dog! I felt scared and protected at the same time. Scared because I knew the ATM machine will beep, a lot, which might wake that dog up, and I know for a fact that I get cranky when I hear a beep when I sleeping. But since this area was full of muggers, pick picketers, I did feel protected as well. Thankfully, that dog was a sound sleeper unlike me.

While on my way back from the ATM, I saw another hooker, this was an Indian one, with a huge butterfly tattoo on her arm and her client on her side. I guess she was calling it a day, quite understandable, as it was 5am. But wait, here they go again. Seemed unbelievable in a conservative nation like India, in a public place, it’s not that you see such ‘professional action’ everyday.

Too many ‘new’ things were happening. I really needed something to calm me down, something more familiar, something more routine, something like my first cup of tea.

And I was about to enter the railway station, these two guys, cabbies started fighting. A good ol’ fist fight. People act very different before sunrise. They are kind of high maybe due to lack of sleep, with dark eye patches and an edgy attitude. One guy owed the other some money. And they decided to sort it out in front of a place full of cops. Really intelligent.

So even before the day had begun I had seen a lot of action. And my urge to have tea was at its peak. After a long walk to the platform I finally found it. A small IRCTC tea kiosk. For five buck I got my piece of mind. And a pack of glucose biscuit just added to my glee. With every sip my adrenaline levels calmed down and my serotonin levels rose, along with the sun. The world seemed all normal, surrounded by normal people, busy with their daily lives. Unaware of the crooked, scary, weird world around them. Maybe we all are just comfortably oblivious and ignorant to the dark realities of life  that come alive usually in the dark hours.

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