Dhularam’s tea stall was the most popular on the route between Lucknow and Gorakhpur. It was almost a mandatory halt for all the buses, cars and other vehicles travelling on that route. There was something very special about his tea and the spicy fritters that were served with it. The other attraction for everyone was Dhularam himself. He was such a lively person, and he would keep singing songs in his melodious voice. He was passionate about singing, and he had mastered almost all genres. After seeing him once, it was impossible for anyone to forget Dhularam. In fact, Dhularam was addictive!
Dhularam lived there with his equally lively wife, Sumitra, and an adorable son, Arsh. Arsh was barely five years old, when a turmoil turned their lives upside down. It was the 6th of December, 1992. Sumitra had given birth to a bouncy baby girl just two days back, in Ayodhya, where her parents lived. Sensing the very grave situation of unrest due to the conflict on the true ownership of a piece of land, Dhularam, with his wife and two children, left for home early morning, in a taxi. A sea of people, who were fanatics, had demolished the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, while misfortune decided to show its fangs to the beautiful family. The speeding taxi rammed into a truck that braked suddenly to avoid a nasty speed-breaker. Sumitra and the infant, along with the driver, died on the spot. Dhularam and Arsh were rushed to a hospital nearby. Miraculously Arsh had minor injuries but Dhularam had injuries in his brain due to which he lost his power to hear and speak. His vision too was badly affected, and he could only make out day from night and the silhouettes of people. After spending about a month in the hospital, Dhularam returned home with Arsh.
Dhularam now had to look after and bring up Arsh, all by himself. The humongous mountain of grief could not break his willpower. He pulled himself up and plunged into putting the pieces of his life together. He restarted his tea-stall and in spite of the loss of his major senses, with amazing grit and determination he could run his stall, as well as the house, pretty well. Arsh started going to school and Dhularam was determined to give him the best of education possible. As it is rightly said, children are like sponge; they absorb what they see. Arsh too was seeing his father fight adversity without giving up. He too would help his father to the best of his capacity. He would help him with the work in the stall, as well as at home. Dhularam slowly started opposing this. He wanted Arsh to focus only on his studies, and excell in it.
One afternoon, a bus stopped at Dhularam Tea Stall. Monica got down to have a cup of tea. She was very tired, and was on her way to join her new posting at Kanpur. She saw others placing their orders by picking up the coupons kept in a jar. Dhularam, with the feel of the coupon, would decipher the order and bring it to the customer. It was a one-man show. She too picked her coupon and placed it on the plate when suddenly there was a commotion. A boy, maybe seven/eight years of age, entered the stall and as he was picking up the coupons to take the orders, Dhularam started beating him up. The beating was pretty hard, and the boy was screaming that he be spared, but Dhularam did not stop. Monica was shocked. The idea of having tea vanished, and she went back and sat in the bus. In a while the bus moved and started its journey towards its destination. Monica could not take the beating of the boy out of her mind. She was sure that the man was forcing the boy to work in the stall, by beating him up. How could such a thing be allowed, she was fuming!
The following week, on Monday, Monica was travelling on the same route to Kanpur again. Lo and behold! She was witness to another beating again. This time Dhularam was beating the boy with a stick! Monica was shocked beyond words. She ran back to the bus and on her way she called the police, asking for help. She narrated how a boy was being beaten up by his father and said that the father should be booked under child labour act. She was furious, and wanted immediate action. For good measure she gave references of her two uncles too, who were very senior police officials in the state. All of this worked. The police arrived and dragged Dhularam out of his stall into their jeep and took him away. A bewildered Dhularam could not speak or understand a word. Where were they taking him, and why? What will happen to his Arsh? Who will look after him? Helpless tears streamed down, unhindered. He was calling out to God with all his heart, for help. Suddenly the jeep screeched to a halt. There were shoutings, and the apparent commotion made Dhularam try hard to hear what it was all about, but to no avail. He took a chance and slowly, checking with his hands, he slipped out of the jeep. He now was trying to make his way through the mob that he encountered and with all his might, and keeping his head down he kept on moving, directionless. He had no clue whatsoever about where he was; all he wanted was to get away from the police, who he knew had taken him away from Arsh. His hands banged on the side of a truck and feeling its sides he somehow managed to climb onto it. He crawled deep inside it. There seemed to be some big containers in it. He made space for himself and squeezed somewhere in between them. His heart felt as if it would jump out of his mouth. In some time, which felt like ages to him though, the truck moved and gradually caught speed. Dhularam had managed to escape for the time being.
Dhularam changed from the truck to another bus, then again to a truck and in a few days managed to reach Dehradun. Seeing his hapless condition no one refused him a lift and, in fact, offered food too. The truck was carrying essential goods and provisions for The Doon School there. The Manager, Madan, at the Doon School was a kind soul. Hearing about Dhularam’s plight from the driver and his helper, and looking at his condition, Madan could not ask Dhularam to leave. He put him up at one of the quarters where all the help of the school stayed. He got him engaged in the kitchen of the mess, where Dhularam soon got adjusted and became an asset to them. Dhularam was illiterate. He could not find any way to communicate to anyone about his son, Arsh. His heart would weep for him but there was nothing that he could do, so he continued working and staying there.
That fateful day, when Dhularam was taken away by the police, Arsh returned from school as usual and was devastated to hear about what had happened to his father. He ran here and there for help, but no help came. He got to know that some madam was behind all this. As luck would have it, the following Monday when Monica was passing by the place again, she saw Arsh sitting alone outside the stall. The bus stopped at the stall close by and Monica came to Arsh to enquire about him.
“Beta, that cruel father of yours has been taken away by the police and you must be relieved now. How can a father do this to his own son? Does greed blind one so much?”
“Wait! Who do you think you are talking about ma’am ji? He is my father and he adores me,” retorted Arsh.
“He adores you? That is why he beat you so cruelly?” demanded an angry Monica.
“Yes, he adores me. Do you know why he beat me? Because I would disobey him. He wanted me to study; study hard and become a big man. He never let me help him for anything. He can not hear or speak or see. Still, he would do every possible work himself. I would come home early from school to help him out with his stall, and that is why he would shout at me and beat me. I would take his beatings and still would finish my work at school fast, and run back home to help my Baba. My teachers also knew about him, and so allowed me to do so. He is a cruel father, you say ma’am ji? He is the best father in this world. Where do I find him now? God knows which lady has done this to us,” howled Arsh.
Monica was stunned! She had never imagined that it was an outcome of love that she had witnessed. She was filled with remorse. She had separated such a loving father and son. She immediately called up the police station to speak about Dhularam and got another shock to know that he had escaped. How could she tell this to Arsh now? Monica left with the bus, but her mind was spinning and her guilt was eating her up. She was like this throughout the day. Arsh’s words kept on reveberating in her ears, “My father adores me. He is the best father in this world.”
Next morning, Monica went back to Dhularam’s tea stall. She found Arsh there and somehow persuaded him to come and stay with her, till his father’s return. She got him admitted in one of the top schools of the town. Arsh was a brilliant child and now he wanted to fulfill his father’s dream. He excelled in his studies, and in time he joined the civil services. He earned his name as a very dashing, committed and sincere officer. Once he was invited as the chief guest of the convocation ceremony, at Doon School. Arsh was an excellent orator. In his speech to the students he emphasised on high morals, hard work, goals and ambition but advised the students to always love and respect their parents. He spoke of how he himself was unfortunate to have been deprived of his parent’s love at a very early stage in life, and how he remembered his father’s love for him, every single day. He could touch the chords of the students and, wishing them good luck, he concluded his speech.
There was a high tea arranged for everyone. Arsh was ushered to the table. He took a sip from the cup of tea offered to him, and suddenly something flashed in his mind.
“Excuse me, but this tea is amazing. I don’t know why, the taste seems distinct and somewhat familiar; strange, very strange,” he said while sipping his tea.
“Ah! You too got bowled over by this tea. Everyone does, because it is made by an amazingly special person. Nobody can match his tea and so, for our special guests, he is the one who makes the tea,” said the Principal.
“Sounds very interesting indeed! If you don’t mind, may I please meet this special person? Actually my father used to run a tea stall, and he was known for his tea, far and wide. So I just feel like meeting another man who makes such special tea,” spoke Arsh.
“Of course yes, you can meet him” replied the Principal as he asked someone to get Dhularam.
“There he comes. How unfortunate that this man can neither speak, nor hear, nor see. He has been with us for the last twenty five years, but we don’t even know where he came from. What a gem of a person he is!” The Principal was speaking to Arsh and Arsh stood there like a statue. He couldn’t even blink. Was he seeing right? His Baba, his hair now turned all white, was coming towards him with a gentle smile on his face.