In 2007, I was trying to pass my large backlog of engineering exams, and was studying like a madman, starting at 3 in the morning. The tea shop near where I lived then opened at 3 too, to cater to the fishermen who needed the pick-me-up before leaving to sea. I would go and stand there, along with all these rough and sun-cooked men, and I would get a steamy cup of milky, strong tea without having to ask. I would go again at 4, and again at 5, punctuating my studies with tea so I wouldn’t get tired or fall asleep. And I would never say a word, I’d just stand there, sometimes with one of my large, unwieldy textbooks in hand, and the tea would come to me. Never coffee, or the special tea. Just the normal tea, everyday.
I was a regular, with a usual.
In 2009, at my university under the mountains, the tea and coffee would arrive in large cans to my hostel, and I’d be one of the first to come get a mug. This was because it was cold there, and I was one of the few early risers. I would nod at the guy who brought the cans everyday, who knew me well. I would take my mug and walk outside to the volleyball courts, and wait. I would wait for the light to come up, and ponder the day ahead. Much later, my friends who had rooms that looked out on the courts would tell me that this was what they saw every morning when they woke up and opened the windows: Me walking around with a mug of coffee, looking up at the sky.
In 2011, at my first job, and in my first real experience of the world, I would wake up and walk to a mosque nearby, at the entrance of which was an old man selling Irani chai. I had no money and no clear thoughts about anything, but this was a routine I understood, so I would follow it without thinking. Every single morning I would be there, sipping that fragrant tea and looking around at the faithful, thinking about where life was going to take me. That city of the Deccan held me close then, and would call me back later. But I didn’t know that yet.
In 2012, in the Tamil capital, I lived near the sea, and ran laps around the road near the old church. Later, drenched and exhausted, I would go to a moderately famous restaurant on the main road. They would be just setting up, but coffee would be ready. It would arrive as soon as I sat down. The waiters knew me and also knew that at times I’d have two, reading on the Kindle. Once a friend of mine was visiting, and because she ordered tea, I asked for tea too. The surprised waiter told my friend, in Tamil, that ‘sir usually drinks only coffee’.
In 2013, in the national capital, my best friend and I were in that phase when we were rebelling against everyone and everything. Every day, he would take out his motorcycle, and we would go to the shop nearby to buy beer. One day, we told ourselves we wouldn’t drink, it had become too much, and we should stop. We would just go home that day, and watch the cricket or something. But as he drove home, he inadvertently, by sheer force of habit, drove to the liquor shop. We looked at each other, and bought bottles of Tuborg.
In 2016, in my town, I was attempting to write. I would come to the French library at 10, write for an hour or so, and go out for a filter coffee around noon. Every day for a few months, I would do this. I would go and have a strong coffee in the bar from where you could see the sea. I would stand there with the clerks from the government secretariat, and wonder at the beauty of the place I was born in.
In 2020, in a city surrounded by hills, where the idea was to slow down a bit and get some more time, I was delighted to find a Irani chai place, complete with bun maska and colourful bottles of Ardeshir. I spent some time there every morning, reading. It was a delight, and I thought that this was something I could get used to, having a place to come and read in, and go back home from. For some time, it was. And then the pandemic hit, and soon another move happened.
One day, I’ll go back home. I’ll have a boring routine. I’ll have nothing to work on, nothing to get to. I’ll just have time and a sense of contentment in my head. And I’ll have a bar to go to, one I’ll go to everyday with my friends. I would have made a couple more friends there. I will sit down there in the evening, drink a beer, and marvel at some small thing, like an insect, or the afternoon light, or the smell of the ocean. And I won’t think about anything else.
I’ll be a regular, with a usual.