Before sunrise dad would bend down next to my bed and gently touch my hand to make sure I was awake and eager to go. He wouldn’t say a word to disturb others sleeping nearby and wait for me to get ready. Once outside the house, he would still wordlessly look at me while I silently pointed to one of the two roads that could take us out of town. He would let me choose, and sometimes even confirm the choice by saying, “Well done! This side of town seems quieter today.” I wondered about the comment then, and I realize now he said it more as an encouragement to me than as a factual observation.
We walked three miles to the river, sauntered a little on the scraggly shoreline and then turned round. Another long stretch of silent walk, punctuated by the briefest of remarks, till we again came within city limits. A bustling town was slowly coming awake. I knew what was on dad’s mind, but waited for him to broach the subject.
Sure enough, he would suddenly turn to me, as if a new idea had just struck him, and say, “Do you think we should stop for some tea?” He loved tea, every kind of tea, and I knew he was by now longing for a sip of strong morning tea. I would nod my agreement and we would take a quick turn to visit the small street-side tea stall where a wizened old man made and served tea to passing day laborers. We would sit on a rough bench next to a rickety table, and soon two steaming cups of fragrant, over-sweetened Darjeeling tea would be placed before us. I loved to see Dad’s face as he took his first sip with an expression of benign satisfaction. After the third sip, he would turn convivial and ask, “So what do you think of this town?” It was the opening gambit in a facile stream of conversation that curiously seemed, unlike any of our conversations at home, like an exchange of equals.