Sun yet to wake up from his deep slumber; a canopy of darkness still engulfed the road; a bus here and an auto there, footpath filled with brisk morning walkers trying to burn away extra calories and the worry that came free with the calories.
A couple of kilometres jog and I reach my destination 'Mahalaksmi Canteen'.
Sitting quietly on a bustling busy main road, Mahalaksmi Canteen is home to some of the best masala dosas and idly vadas in Bangalore. As I walk in panting and sweating the owner Shiva anna (elder brother) sits pretty in the cash counter waiting with a smile, I stand leaning against the counter looking at the clean kitchen getting ready for another busy day.
'Two minutes Tejas, they are getting the chatni ready'
'No its okay uncle, i'll wait' I reply and walk towards a table.
The wooden chairs with granite slab tables and the sweet aroma of coffee lingering in the air, have all stood the test of time. I look at the watch and then at the entrance
'Sridhar Bhat, will be here anytime' I tell myself.
Sridhar Bhat a middle aged Kannada author, well a budding author spends his day working at the printing press next door, his early mornings and late evenings are mostly spent in the canteen sipping coffee and trying to write his book. Getting rejected by most of the publishing house has not dampened his spirits, he still dreams of becoming a successful author some day. Shiva anna and I believe strongly that someday his book will see the light of the day.
'Gunda, one coffee' Sridhar walks in, he takes a seat in front of me and pushes a couple of sheets towards me.
'My latest short story' he smiles.
I start reading it out loud enough to be heard by Shiva anna at the cash counter. I finish both the sheets and look up to face an eager expression on Sridhar's face
'Its good, I actually like this the most'
'Super Sridhar' Shiva anna shouts from the counter
'Three more stories and I will have enough for the book' Sridhar smiles
We get up to see if our coffee is ready, Sridhar walks towards Shiva anna to explain he is still yet to get his salary and will pay the money he owes in a few days time. Shiva anna and I both know the money will never come, being an unsuccessful writer and working at a printing press doesn't pay much to lead even a decent life.
I turn to face the hot coffee waiting for me in a steel tumbler. Ask any South Indian and he will tell you 'Coffee runs in our blood'. Having the perfect coffee is a dream many strive to achieve. A brand of coffee powder used for years and no other will do, filtered first to get a dark decoction (brewed coffee) with the right amount of milk and sugar, finally poured into a steel tumbler to get a good looking froth and relished at least six times a day. Any mention of 'black coffee' is frowned upon in most houses.
Sridhar still looks to be chatting with Shiva anna, I pick up my glass and walk back to the table to relish my morning coffee.
I look at my watch 6:45, instantly turn to the entrance hoping she will come by today.
Tablet Thima with his bulging belly touching the table is busy sorting out his tablets, I haven't really had any conversations with him but took the liberty of christening him the nick name 'Tablet Thima'; four tablets of different colours washed down with water and he is ready to have his idly and coffee.
'Tejas dosa ready' Shiva anna calls out
My mother often comments 'All your jogging efforts are lost when you bite into that oily masala dosa'
I quietly reply 'The only reason I jog is so that I can have the dosa peacefully'
I tear into the oily masala dosa with my eyes still fixed to the entrance. I drop down to have a look at the chatni and she enters the canteen.
Wearing a red salwar with her dhupata falling gently over her delicate shoulders, a pink glow on her cheeks and a ever so beautiful smile anchored by deep dimples on her face, she walks past me to the counter.
She visits the canteen a few times in a week to get a parcel of idly vada. Each time she walks past me I try to talk to her but stand silent mesmerised by her smile.
I quietly put away the bowl of chatni to Tablet Thima's table and walk towards the counter to get another bowl of chatni. Every time I walk towards the counter I tell myself
'Just say hi, just hi, nothing more nothing less. Just hi'.
Words get struck in my throat and my efforts to flash a 'super cool guy' smile results in a combination of stupid smile, grin and uncontrollable blushes. I look away from her and say
'Gunda one chatni'
'Already finished your chatni' Gunda laughs and I try to tell him off with a stern look but my blushes stay strong.
She smilies almost every time Gunda laughs and I ask myself 'Is she smiling at me, does she know of my desperate crush on her?'
I come back to the table and let out a sigh 'If only I had the guts to talk to her.' Pretty much everyone in the canteen knows of my crush, Shiva anna is grinning at the cash counter, Gunda is laughing, Tablet Thima looks up to see my plight while Sridhar stands there sympathising with me.
She picks up her parcel and walks past me.
But today she suddenly stopped a few feet away, walked back to my table and smiled
'Hi, I am Shilpa.'
I stammered, stood up immediately, tried to manage a word that sounded like 'Hi', I extended my arm to shake her extended arm but suddenly noticed it was covered with oil. I quickly pulled back my right and shook her hand with my left only to realise I had chatni all over my left which I had now passed onto her soft warm palm.
She took a step forward and wiped the chatni onto to my shirt with a soft laugh and sat down in the chair across the table.
'Gunda one coffee' I shouted out
'Come and take it' he shouted back
Shiva anna immediately gestured Gunda to delivery the coffee to the table. She smiled and looked to have stolen a few of my blushes onto to her cheeks
'The dosa looks yummy'
'It sure is, have a bite please' I pushed the plate towards her
Gunda's laugh was silenced, Shiva anna's grin looked to have widened and Sridhar was all smiles.
Tablet Thima suddenly moved towards our table and asked with couple of giggles
'Want a bowl of chatni, there is one extra on my table.'