Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

73. Reward

I smiled at her. She too smiled.
“Ah! The tea is very good. I like it very much”, I said.

I was traveling from Shahada to Pune, a 14 hour road journey. I was traveling by office vehicle. Generally I travel this distance by bus, but then I was just recovering from an accident, so decided to travel by car.

On the way, near Rahuri the driver needed a break. So, we stopped.

At the roadside was a small tea stall. Noting special about that stall. The tea stall was a small wooden box with two tables and few broken plastic chairs around. There were couple of jars of biscuits, cream rolls and khari. The stove was making noise. A young woman in her 30s was taking order, preparing tea, washing cups, taking and paying back money, talking to customers. She was of a small frame, looked bit worn out. She was alone. It was about 3.00 in the afternoon. There was not much crowd.

Generally, I am not an enthusiastic tea drinker. Many times I drink tea only because I need something hot to drink. Most of the tea I drink suffices only the quality of being ‘hot’. But I am smart enough to appreciate when I get a cup of good tea. And this was one of those rare occasions.

The woman’s face suddenly brightened up. She grinned from ear to ear. Her eyes were shining. Her body relaxed. She looked straight into my eyes as if to gauge my honesty. It seemed that I passed her test.

“Tai (sister), have one more cup of tea.” She said with a mixture of politeness and aggressiveness.

Now I am bad at that. I mean I cannot consume more just because something tastes good. Eating, drinking, seeing, enjoying are qualitative aspects and they are not directly proportional to the quantity of consumption.

“Thanks, but I do not really want another cup, though it is very good tea.” I tried to refuse politely.

“Oh! Don’t worry. You don’t have to pay for this extra tea. It is my gift to you” She added proudly.

Now this was something different. Here a poor woman was offering a free cup of tea to a relatively better off woman – just for no reason. I was suddenly interested in that woman. I said, “If you insist so…” She smiled happily and filled another of those big glasses of tea.

I relaxed a bit, sat on a chair, talked to the woman for half an hour. We talked about her business, her family, her kids, her life, her experiences, her agonies. She asked many questions to me. She wanted to know why I was traveling alone, whether the car belonged to me, whether I had a job and so on. It was a very egalitarian interaction.

Before leaving, I said jokingly, “If you offer a free cup of tea to every customer, you will not earn any profit. Why did you offer it to me?”

She was silent for a moment. As if she was weighing the consequences of sharing the secret with me. She took a deep breath. She looked beyond the horizon. She was bit sad. Again she smiled. Then she spoke very softly, “Tai, every day at least 200 people come to my shop to drink tea. Some of them are coming here for years. I am running this stall for the last five years. But you are the first person, openly appreciating my work, my tea. You see I invest my energy into it, and when you appreciated it touched my heart.”

I was speechless. I could understand the plight of the woman, who was doing a thankless job for years. Yes, everybody paid money for the tea, but nobody attributed non-monetary value to her work. What she sought was a little appreciation, though she needed money too for her bread, shelter and clothes.

Just to come out of that painful moment, I humorously added, “If people come to know that by appreciating tea, they would probably get one cup free…”

“No, the trick is to understand honest appreciation and appreciation as a bargain”, she said emphatically.

“Sorry sister, I do not understand. Please, explain it to me.” I requested.

Now she was smiling again. She said, “Very rarely people appreciate you for the sake of your work. Most of the rewards one gets in life are dishonest, superficial. People reward you because they want to hide their guilt; they want something in return from you – normally what you would not easily give. By rewarding you, they oblige you. So, the trick is to understand honest reward and dishonest reward. Like the traditional (mythological) Rajhamsa bird, you should be able to differentiate between those two. Accept the honest ones, reject the hypocritical ones. Never sell your soul to those who are not your well wishers.”

Wow! What a woman and what was her advice. I have not been fully able to follow her, but whenever in dilemma, I remember her. Then I realize that she did not offer me just a free cup of tea but something more valuable than that.

The conversation was her reward to me, about which I am proud and happy – for ever!


  1. nice one..!!!
    i just love your articles...
    keep writing :)

  2. What she gave you is priceless.It is not often that one comes across such honest soul. very

  3. You know....you make such rare and clear minded people to open up and speak frankly to you. It is indeed a great art you have!
    And about honest appreciation, my observation too is just like yours. Saying a simple "thank you" to auto-rickshaw drivers brings a satisfied smile on their faces!
    They are there to help us at odd hours....doing a thankless job through out the city. honest appreciation of everyone's work makes happy to them and us equally.

  4. your words of appreciation(while voting for BATOM6) touched my heart...

    and what I read just now is really very true.Satisfying one's soul with few words of appreciation is much more than rewarding him with some materialistic thing(though that too have it's role).

  5. Thanks Apurva. You are here after a long gap. I will definitely keep writing, will you keep visiting? :)

    BKChowlajee, it was indeed a priceless gift.

    Anunja, I think if you don't threaten people (by advising etc.), they open up. And I have learnt one thing, to open up with strangers is much more easier than to open up with people whom you know. Yes, I too always thank auto rickshaw drivers.

    geeta, thanks for your kind words. Sometimes we are good at criticizing but not so good at appreciating. That needs to be changed for sure.

  6. what a lovely moment it must have been! narrated so well... was like watching a movie (somehow in black & white)...

  7. true everyone looks for a honest bit of appreciation for their hard work.... you narrate your real life experiences so nicely and theres so much to learn as well :D

  8. magiceye, thanks. it was indeed a very picturesque incidence.

    Dhiman, there are too many people - not so famous - around who keep me teaching the facts of life which I am otherwise unaware of.


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