“These lush beautiful green valleys dense with tea plantations will mesmerise you. The spectacular majestic mountains with the sunrise at the backdrop can heal an aching heart. The blue sky with its fluffy white little clouds like cotton balls is sure to soothe your eyes. The view when we reach high up in the mountains will blow your mind away! The thick white fog will caress you in its silky embrace! Aha! ” The tourist guide went on and on.
“I want to jump from that deep valley”
“I want to tear those clouds apart”
“I want to drown myself in that thick fog of yours till eternity if I continue listening to this over-the-top gibberish!”
“Oh God, was I out of my mind to come here! Please help me!”
Kian muttered and clenched his teeth so hard that his jaws hurt. The guide’s enthusiastic tone banged like a gong inside his head. The lovelorn glances of the newly married couple irked him. The satisfaction in the eyes of a burly man with three kids and a giggling wife sitting in the front seat stirred something inside the pit of his stomach. Tears threatened to ooze out of his eyes.
Kian’s shriek startled everyone. The guide paused his fancy speech and watched in horror as Kian dashed out of his seat with an unsteady gait and jumped out of the open door of the slow-moving tourist bus of Munnar.
He landed on his two legs somehow without losing his balance and avoided creating anymore spectacle.The tears had given away. Kian wore his sunglasses in haste and ran as fast as he could ignoring the voice of the guide and the eager gaze of his fellow tourists staring with their heads hanging out of the windows.
“I should never have paid heed to my therapist’s stupid advice to visit a hill station to calm my mind!”
“Abandoned by parents, separated from spouse, ignored in the job, a heartbroken father… that’s what I am… no hill station can fix me!”
The tourist bus was still following him. After all, he had made a full payment to them for this sightseeing trip to Munnar. In his hurry to escape them, he darted inside a quaint little shop at the corner of the street. He entered the shop and hid behind the tall shelves. He held his breath and waited for the bus to pass without spotting him. It was a success and he let out a sigh.
Kian got startled and tumbled on the rack dropping a few items.
A dusky man with an oil-plastered black hair and a colourful muffler wrapped around his face asked him. He seemed to have appeared from nowhere. The man looked a little bit familiar.
“Sorry…” Kian apologised.
“It’s no problem sir! What do you want?”
“I want some peace”
Kian said in his mind.
“You will get what you want! This is just for you!”
The man said as if he read Kian’s mind and thrusted a shiny rectangular blue colour box in his hands.
Kian looked around in desperation to know what shop he had entered. In his haste to hide from the bus, he hadn’t seen anything.
“But umm…” Kian tried to speak but the man interrupted in between.
“Hundred rupees only. Please pay at the counter. Do you need anything else?”
“NO!” Kian grabbed his chance to speak. The man flashed a mischievous smile and left Kian with a bewildered look on his face.
It was a tea shop. Munnar was dotted with tea shops at every nook and corner. Kian paid at the counter and tossed the blue box in his backpack without giving it a second glance. He felt cheated… again.
Kian’s eyes filled with fresh tears. The same thought went roundabout in his mind again and again as he walked the narrow road next to a huge tea garden which sloped deep down into the valley.
He felt lonely and cheated by everyone. A simple tea vendor also didn’t spare him. A wild thought of jumping from this height and ending his pathetic life occurred to him. But he was sure that death also would not relieve him of his agony. He would not die and end up leading a miserable crippled life.
An endless train of thoughts accompanied with a never-ending walk made him reach his hotel. He was so tired that he slumped on the bed but didn’t sleep. He kept staring at the white ceiling and smoothed the spotless white bedsheet with his hands. He watched the frilly white curtains adorning the windows.
“Why is everything so white in this hotel?… Just like my colourless life?”
Kian grabbed the backpack which lay next to him and threw it in desperation. Something from it fell and hit him straight on the nose.
He winced in pain for a moment but then he lay still on the bed with his eyes closed for a while. The box had landed just next to his face and the strong aroma emanating from it induced a calming effect on him. He picked the tiny box and opened the seal. It had just one teabag in it.
“One tea bag for a hundred rupees! Such a fraudster!”
The strong aroma made him long for a sip of that tea. He got up from the bed, heated some water in a cup and dipped the teabag in it. The water swirled into a purplish pink hue. He took a sip of the warm liquid and placed the cup back on the table. The delicate taste diffused in his mouth. A sensation glided down his throat and seeped in all the cells of his body. He had not felt this peaceful and relaxed in years. Just then, an intense cloud of steam emanated from the cup and created a fog in front of him.
As the fog dissolved and his vision cleared, he let out a scream and almost fell down from his chair.
His estranged wife Manya was sitting in the opposite chair.
“How did you come here?” He was shocked but was quick to arrive at a conclusion without giving her a chance to speak.
“Oh,I know… you followed me and sneaked inside the hotel room to laugh at my misery” Kian eyed her in disgust.
“Why would I do that? When will you stop blaming me for everything? I don’t know how I’m here! I was cooking and…” Manya looked around in surprise with a ladle in her hand.
“Well, why won’t I? You are the root cause of all the problems in my life. You left me without any rhyme or reason” Kian bawled with all the bitterness that he could muster.
“The reason is ‘you’! When will you realise that ? I had adjusted with your temper and tantrums for long enough and now I have given up!” Manya rubbed her forehead in frustration.
“Moreover, I despise spying on people. I can never stoop low like you!” She pointed the ladle at him and looked at him with accusing eyes.
Kian was about to give her a befitting reply but a thought made him stop.
“Does she know?”
“Yes, I know that you have been spying on me.” She too read his mind “ You keep a track of where I go and whom I meet. You even check my phone and laptop without telling me… and this has been going on for a long time. I never told you since I loved you…” Her voice trembled… “and believed that one day you will begin trusting your wife and stop this nasty behavior… but who was I kidding!”
Manya threw her hands up in the air and looked like a defeated woman. The expression of love mixed with hopelessness in her face made Kian feel ashamed.
He lowered his eyes and Manya disappeared. He took another sip of the tea in hope of some relief from this gnawing feeling. The same thing happened again.
This time it was Kian’s parents.
“Why are we sitting? I planned to sleep early today.” Kian’s mother said to his father,who was sitting next to her, with half-closed eyes”
“Hey, we are in a different place!” Kian’s father noticed the surroundings and jerked his wife’s arm.
Kian’s mother too looked surprised but then she spotted her son.
“Kian is here!” her face lit up “Beta, today only I made besan laddoo and thought about you” A mother’s love needs to reason. The mere presence of her son made her question nothing.
“Yes…here is the son you abandoned… and besan laddoo is not my favourite… you forgot that I like kheer” Kian rolled his eyes.
Her smile faded and she nodded her head from side to side in negation.
“What are you saying son? We never abandoned you”
“What else… you gave our ancestral house to Karan, your beloved younger son and not a penny in my name.” He flashed an accusing glance towards his father.
“You are complaining about that now. But you never protested when I had to sell my only land and your mother’s jewels for your expensive education in the US?” His father questioned him.
Kian kept quiet.
“We could never do anything for your brother. I had nothing to give him except the house”
“That is because there was nothing to do for him. I was a brilliant student and he was not” Kian couldn’t think of an appropriate argument so he blurted out a lame excuse.
“Yet my brilliant son never cared for his parents… he didn’t get time to even meet them in three long years!” The immense sadness of a failed father reflected in his deep old eyes.
Kian went speechless.
“Beta, last time when we met, you had told me that you turned vegan. So, I don’t make kheer anymore…”
His mother said in a trembling voice before they both disappeared.
Kian felt disturbed. He tried to reason with himself that his work load kept him from meeting his parents. But this reasoning didn’t satisfy him.
All the things happening right now after having the tea seemed too weird to Kian. He doubted that in his current state of disturbed mind, maybe he was hallucinating. To check, he widened his senses and took another sip.
It was his manager. He was slouching on the chair in his pyjamas with a half-filled glass in his hand.
“Kian! What on earth!… This whiskey is way too strong…” he rubbed his eyes in disbelief.
“Enjoying life after demoting the best employee of your company huh?” Kian’s tone was sarcastic.
The manager looked around in surprise but spoke anyway.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me right now but I want to make it clear that I do consider you as a good employee but …”
“But what!” Kian cut him short “How can you demote me after I work day and night and get a record number of clients for the company? That’s unfair!” Kian snapped and threw away the flower pot on the table in anger. It shattered to the wall and broke into a million pieces.
“You have answered your question yourself” the manager pointed a finger at him and adjusted himself in the chair.
“What do you mean?” Kian twitched his eyebrows.
“Aggression at the workplace.”
“If you remember, I had warned you umpteen times. I got so many complaints about you. I tried to ignore them first since your work was good but after a certain point, I had to give up. I tried calling you to explain things but you never talked to me out of anger. Such behaviour is unacceptable, don’t you know? ”
Kian knew all the etiquette of the workplace but he never paid attention that he himself was breaking them. Such was his ignorance that he never realised how it spoiled his career.
The manager disappeared and Kian took another sip in frustration.
A faint smile crossed his lips as he saw the person sitting in front of him.
“Amyra my baby… “ his voice choked. It was no doubt the happiest moment for him on this gloomy weird day.
“Daddy!” A five-year old girl in a night dress jumped with joy as she saw him. But then she noticed the surroundings. This was not her room where she was going to sleep. But the confused look on her face was replaced by a wide smile at once.
“Oh I know… Maybe I slept off and I am dreaming that we both have come to the holiday you had promised me long back! Isn’t it Daddy?” She clapped her hands and jumped with absolute glee.
“I… I… “ Kian didn’t know what to answer. The promise he had made to his daughter had gone completely out of his mind. He couldn’t recall when he had last met her. It was unforgivable.
“I wait for you everyday Daddy but I know in my heart that you will never break your promise and you can never go to any holiday without taking me! Thanks Daddy!” She opened her arms to embrace him.
Kian wanted to die right at that moment. The guilt was crushing him from inside. He couldn’t look her in the eye so he covered his face in embarrassment and cried. When he opened his eyes she was gone.
His throat felt parched. He wiped his tears and gulped the last drop of tea.
“I want this to end. Next, who?” He said out loud but his voice was weak.
Steam came out of the empty cup.
“You!” He leaped from his chair as if he saw a ghost. The previous sightings he had after drinking the magical tea can also be termed as ‘ghostly’ but he knew that those people were not ghosts.
The dusky man with oil-plastered hair and a colourful muffler around his face, the one who tricked him to buy the tea had appeared with the same wide grin adorning his face. He looked familiar again. Something about his whole personality repelled Kian.
“Who are you? Where did you find this tea?” he came straight to the point, fearing the man might disappear without warning. After all, he was a cheat.
“I do odd jobs wherever I get… nowadays I’m working at the tea shop… somehow the people who hire me are never good to me” he paused “…not much of a family…” he said scratching his head “ my wife left me after just one month of marriage..” Kian wasn’t surprised.
“So no kids… nothing…” he continued “ I sold the house passed to me by my father and came to Munnar to find a job… My father was unable to send me to college due to shortage of funds, you know” He loosened his muffler …”Isn’t the heater too high in the room?”
“And yes, I didn’t find the tea… I don’t know how it came to me and why I gave it to you…” He looked lost.
“You can say that the tea found me” He grinned thinking how smart and funny he was. The man took out his muffler and wiped his face with it.
Kian went numb. He gaped at him.
“Wha… what…is your name?” He slurred as the words escaped his mouth.
“Naik… Naik Prasad..”
The truth dawned upon Kian.
“Kian…. Naik… Isn’t it the same name backwards!”
Kian’s eyes popped out.
“This guy in front of me is ME!”
“No doubt he looked familiar… It is my face!… His story is also mine… yet with some major differences”
The man had disappeared.
Kian picked up the shiny blue tea box and read it. On the top, in gold italic letters it was written,
It was indeed a moment of epiphany for Kian. Naik was the man he would have been if not for the people in his life. It was hard to admit but he had hated that ‘avatar’ of him from the very first glance.
Kian sat in silence for a while thinking about the bizarre incident of the evening. The puzzle in his mind solved itself. He had blamed others in an incessant manner, never realising his own mistakes. He felt blessed to have a loving family whom he clearly didn’t deserve. The day had been an eye-opener for him. He saw his life in a new light.
Kian could come up with only one explanation for the ‘Epiphany tea’ coming to his hands. It was God’s interference. He had cried for help from God and help came to him. He took the empty tea box and touched it to his heart.
Kian opened the window and cold mountain air greeted him. The lights from the dwellings on the mountains gleamed like jewels. He smiled thinking that the animated tourist bus guide was not that wrong. He remembered that he had a trip to complete, but this time he won’t be alone.