Snow falls in a rhythmic pattern like dancing angels from the sky. The white cotton-like snow covers everything from Mall Road to Lakkar Bazaar, from the shady to five star hotels.
Strawberry chacha sells chai in winters with small cupcakes that his wife, Cherry chachi bakes. Himanshu often stops at his stall for the love of kadak chai and before starting the day at Wake & Bake Café, he chit chats about Shimla and his future travel plans with chacha.
Today, just like other days he stops at his shop for the chai. But something is different, there on the bench sits a little girl. Her cheeks as pink as a blossoming cherry flower. She sits there and sips the warm soup that chacha has cooked for her.
‘Who is she, chacha?’
‘She is my granddaughter, Petal.’
‘Her parents have left for Chennai, so she will be with us.’
Himanshu, instantly, connects and sits next to her. He watches her play with snow that falls from the roof.
‘Chacha, can I take her with me to the café?’
‘Yes, sure beta’
‘Petal, you wish to go with bhaiya?’
She grabs Himanshu’s finger, all set to go to a new place. On the way, they talk about snow and why it is not pink in colour. She shares that how much she misses her mum and dad and wants them to come to Shimla with her.
He listens to her talks attentively. Her tiny palm clasps Himanshu’s and he could feel the warmth and love of that of a sister.
They reach the cafe, Dhananjay is busy with the mise en place as Mesha arranges the chairs for the guests.
‘Oh we have a chotu guest at our café.’
‘What’s your name darling?’ Mesha asks.
‘My name is Petal’ she answers.
‘She is Strawberry chacha’s grand daughter.’
With Petal in the café, the ambience becomes childlike and innocent. Petal jumps from one table to another. The customers enjoy her presence and so does Himanshu and Mesha.
As dusk descends and Mall Road becomes quiet, Himanshu calls it a day.
‘Come Petal, I will drop you at chacha’s.’
‘Yes, Himanshu bhaiya.’
Tonight the night sky is clear as stars twinkle and sing the song of the night. Himanshu and Petal gaze at the stars as she tries to name the constellations.
‘Chacha, we loved her presence at the café; she is one chirpy soul.’
Chacha’s face appears sad.
‘What happened Chacha?’
‘Petal go inside, granny is waiting for you.’
She jumps and hugs granny.
‘Himanshu, Petal’s parents died in a tragic accident last week and she is unaware of this fact.’
‘I don’t know how to break this news.’
‘Will you help me?’
‘Please help me.’
Himanshu stands there, numb as if words are dead inside.
‘Chacha, don’t worry.’ he says as tears trickle down his cheek.
‘We will take care of Petal.’
‘Yes, we will.’
A lazy Saturday morning, I am up at 7.30 which is a rare affair. A newspaper delivery boy cannot afford to be late and especially in Shimla, a city where people love to read the daily with a hot cup of chai. I wonder if people in other cities in India are so touchy about their dailies and chai.
Unlike other Saturdays, today I feel a bit weird. The January air in Shimla is chilly and cut right through my bones as I pedal, hurriedly, to Lakkar Bazaar. My bicycle and I roam around in Shimla and most of the people here call me the bicycle boy. Apart from delivering newspaper in this city, I write poetry and stories. I love my job as much as I like to ride my blue bicycle. It was a gift from mum on my 18th birthday and the most cherished one.
My muffler flutters as I pedal with all my might. Strawberry Chacha waves and calls out my name.
‘Hey bicycle boy can you give this box of strawberry to Himanshu.’
‘Oh I am heading to Wake & Bake; I can do that chacha.’
Quickly, I keep the box on the front and pedal my way to the cycle stand.
The brown stairs at Wake & Bake Café is fascinating but what gets all my attention is the sculpture of the two cats. They seem to be shy but friendly. I enter and give the box of strawberries to Himanshu, the lanky chap who is behind this magical place called Wake & Bake Café.
‘Hey thank you Tarun for helping me out with the strawberries.’
‘Oh come on Himanshu, I am very hungry can you get me a cup of chai and banana crepes.’
Mesha is here today as she carefully takes out the HB pencils from her bag to work on her masterpiece. The Yellow Universe evolves as its creator comes with a variety of tools and ideas and shape it. I love the way it has grown with time.
Dhananjai comes with the banana crepe and chai. I start to gobble the crepe and sip the chai. Perfect combination for me. As I devour the meal in front, I hear a sound; perhaps the sound of a cat meowing.
It, indeed, is the sound of a cat. Himanshu, Mesha, Dhananjai and I look up and try to find the source, but to our surprise we are unable to locate the source of the meow. Dhananjai pays attention and declares, ‘the sculpture, the cats.’
The horror on his face, now evident, says it all. We start to walk towards the sculpture with our hearts beating like that of Romeo from the Romeo and Juliet tale.
They notice our presence and quickly turn their backs to us. Himanshu musters courage and tries to strike a conversation.
‘Hey Two Cats, were you guys meowing?’
Cat # 1 turns and replies, ‘You have to help us, please.’
Now how can we help two dead (sculpted) cats meowing, I guess we need help here.
Cat # 2 or the headless cat turns and faces turn pale. She is melting and we have no idea what is going on.
‘If you want to save Shimla from the Vampire Cat infection, you have to help us.’
‘We can turn your city into Vampire land and the infection will turn each and every one of you into a vampire cat and not vampire humans.’
Now that is weird, I have no desires to become a vampire cat in this lifetime. After a lot of probing, we come to know that they want Chicken Pretzel. Wait, what about fish. Aren’t cats supposed to love fish and not chicken. I try to talk this out but you know cats are cats. They meow and leave you with no choices whatsoever, it becomes all the more difficult if they are vampires.
Dhananjai quickly takes the order from the cats.
2 Chicken Pretzels
2 Strawberry milkshakes
2 Chicken Kathi rolls.
As the cats place their order, I put my desires to have paneer kathi rolls in front. What I get in return is a long stare from Himanshu, Dhananjai and Mesha.
‘Shimla is on the brink of a possible vampire cat attack and you want paneer kathi rolls.’ Mesha lashes out.
I can sense the urgency to change the topic before they could give me a nice moral lecture. But anyways, Chicken Pretzels, strawberry milkshakes and chicken kathi rolls saved Shimla from becoming a Vampire Cat hill station.
Eeee, I would have missed my blue bicycle has the infection turned me into a vampire cat.
Photograph and haiku by Tarun Mazumdar
The Wake & Bake Haiku Project is the first in my Travel Haiku Series and I am enjoying it a lot. It brings back fond memories of yesterday.
On my trip to Shimla, I visited Wake & Bake Café to enjoy the tasty food and drinks but I was awestruck by this girl sitting next to this yellow window. She was gazing out and writing something in her green notebook, she appeared thoughtless to me. Her face was serene and calm like Buddha. I don’t know if I will encounter her again but one thing I am sure that I will never forget the face.
This haiku is dedicated to that young girl.
Photo and Haiku: Tarun Mazumdar
Location: Wake & Bake Cafe, Shimla
As you climb the wooden stairs, these two lovely cats welcome you. They appear shy to me, lost in their purrry world. I couldn’t stop myself from composing not one but two episodes on them.
The next episode is rather diabolical, come back and read it.
Place: Wake & Bake Café, Shimla
Photo & haiku: Tarun Mazumdar
Mesha’s idea of the Yellow Universe seems to be out of this galaxy, as I couldn’t stop myself from clicking this lovely planet calmly orbiting on the wall.
My first thought was ‘Earth?’, then I looked closely and found out that it has no boundaries, no divisions, none whatsoever. I call it the ‘Planet of Joy’.
Art by Mesha Singh Manhas
Photo and haiku by Tarun Mazumdar
Location: Wake & Bake Café, Shimla, India.