“Good Morning folks…..” echoed the radio jockey’s voice. It was indeed a fine Saturday morning when it was raining cats and dogs outside and I was cooped inside my favourite café with a steaming cup of coffee and chocolate chip cookies. The view of the road and the world around drenched in the natural showers was adding on to the day’s charm. The words inscribed on my cup drew a smile on my face. It read ‘Café Mirage’. This hole in the wall place was my second home. I could spend hours in this little space doing absolutely nothing. As soon as you walk through the café’s door it embraces you with the tempting aroma of coffee and the humming of the evergreen Bollywood songs by the radio. The café eludes you from the cacophony of the chaotic world and gives you a bird’s eye view of what sheer joy could be. The ambience is so alluring, you wouldn’t realise when you left behind your life’s woes at the doorstep of this place. These are just a handful of things that attracts me to this place. The main reason why I am here every now and then, stands on the other side of the counter brewing coffee and cooking up a storm.
She still looks the same, dark black hair knotted up in a bun on top of her head. I think I can spot a couple of greys here and there. Her plaid shirt dusted in flour and icing sugar even though she has an apron. Come to think of it she has always been too engrossed in perfecting her sugary treats that she could be least concerned about how she looks. Her smile, her attitude and her thoughts are just many figments of the amazing being that she is. I have known her for the past six years but the connection that I feel towards her run much deeper. As I look at her whisking the cake batter like her life depends on it, I cannot help but think of the first time I met her.
Six years ago, on a sunny evening, I was walking around with my results for the academic year in hand. I was a first chemical engineering student who had passed her exams yet again with flying colours. The daughter in me had made her parents proud again. For the world around me I was Niharika Sharma the top student of her class, the one who had a secure, successful and ambitious future laid out in a platter right before her. To anyone who looked from the outside I had everything I could need but only if someone would have asked me if I was happy, if this was what I wanted. With these conflicting thoughts in my head, I walked around and stumbled into a tiny coffee place.
I walked in and took a seat by the window. Rather lost in my thoughts I just stared outside the window mindlessly. I heard someone behind me ask “What can I get you dear?” I just mumbled “A Coffee” without even making eye contact. The sun rays from the window reflected on the shiny floors. I looked closely and noticed that the floor had a mosaic tile work done and it was very pleasing to the eyes. I was studying the details a little too closely when I saw a pair of feet encased in simple rubber slippers walking towards me. The feet stopped at my table. The toes were painted a shade of pink, most of which was chipped off. A cup of coffee and a plate of chocolate chip cookies were placed in front of me. I looked up to a smiling face looking that glided past me with a quick “Enjoy your coffee!” There was a tissue paper under my cup. I held the paper in my hand and took a look at it. There were two words scribbled on it “Chocolate helps” It didn’t even make sense but somehow, I felt like someone just understood me without even trying. Weird, how two simple words can fill you with a sense of warmth.
I walked up to the counter to pay for my coffee and found the same lady who served me mine, bobbing her head to the beats of the Hindi classic playing on her radio. She smiled at me and I couldn’t help the smile that was drawn on my face. I wanted to thank her but I didn’t know how, so I said, “Chocolate indeed helps” I waved her a goodbye. As I was walking away, I
turned back and the board read ‘Café Mirage’. I knew this was not my last visit to this place. Two days later I found myself craving for not just coffee but for the coffee served by my happy ever smiling stranger. I found myself tracing my steps back to the quaint little place. On reaching the café, I looked around and finally found her in the kitchen working with an apron tied around her neck. She saw me and smiled. Her happiness was contagious. I smiled and said, “I think some chocolate would be nice.” She chuckled and asked me to follow her.
We made small talk and I learnt that her name is Meera and she was a widow and a single mother who earned a living out of this café. Her son Sparsh was ten years old and went to the neighbourhood school. Meeraji was a force to behold even at such a young age. She had seen a lot of ups and downs since her husband’s death. She had so many stories to tell from her days back in school and college. She was like a potful of sunshine and I wished if only I could steal some of it and fill my life with the kind of joy the woman carried within herself. Slowly she was becoming the person I looked up to most in my life. She giggled with me like my gal pal, she reprimanded me like a mother. She supported me like a sister and advised me like a guide. My days after college was spent gorging on Meeraji’s coffee and words. I would ask my friends too to tag along when I visited her at the café. Slowly and steadily, Café Mirage became a pet spot for many of us. Me and my friends craved for her coffee and mouth-watering recipes. Her
cooking was like the cherry on the cake to her exotic persona. The way she dealt with her life and found joy in the smallest of things stirred my curiosity. One day I asked her why she named her café ‘Mirage’ and this is what she said, “A Mirage is a game that your mind plays on you. It is an illusion that makes you believe that something exists when it does not. It is misleading and a little cruel too when you put it like that but it gives you a hope that something good is coming your way and makes you move forward in the search of it. Mirage is not just a delusion it is a sign of hope for a better future” I was left speechless for a few minutes after listening to this. Honestly her thoughts always left me boggled and spell-bound.
One fine evening, as me and my friends were enjoying our coffee time at the café, we were interrupted by an uninvited guest. He walked in and handed Meeraji a paper. She took a look at it and silently guided him to the kitchen. Minutes later we saw that café Mirage was being closed down for inspection as complaints of food adulteration were filed by some anonymous source. Everything took place so fast that I couldn’t comprehend what just happened. One minute we were enjoying our coffee and now we are standing here, clueless as to what is going on. After some speculation, we found out that Meeraji’s growth was becoming a hindrance to her competitors so she was being trapped in this false allegation.
I expected her to breakdown, but even in despair she did not lose her composure. She did not disappoint me even when she was facing her worst nightmare. Her headstrong attitude, ignited a spark within me. I decided to do my best to help her. As a teenager, the first thought that came to my mind was social media. So, with the help of my friends, we started promoting a campaign “Save Mirage and make way for hope” We made videos of both young and old people giving their reviews about Café Mirage and Meeraji. We posted it on various social networking sites. Lovers of Mirage joined their hands to make way for hope. One of my friends bagged Meeraji an interview with a local magazine. It was our final nail to the coffin. As soon as the article was published in the magazine “Save Mirage” campaign received a lot of attention. We made the most of the opportunity and reached out to more people in and around the locality. I received a lot of help from my classmates. After a lot of hardships, we revived ‘Café Mirage’ back to life. It was a tough fight but the joy of victory was unfathomable.
On the day our café reopened I saw tears in Meeraji’s eyes for the first time. She hugged me tight and said, “Niharika thanks for leading this fight for me.” She didn’t know what she and this café meant to me. Words could not define what I felt so I just smiled at her. That day before leaving the café She stopped me and said, “You fought my fight diligently, now it’s time to fight yours.” I know what she was implying. She was the only one who knew, who cared enough to ask what I wanted. That day I knew it was time to face my fears and ask for what my heart desired. I walked back home with a new found strength. As soon as my mother opened the door I walked inside and told my parents, “I have something important to share. Please listen to me.” I remember the creased look on my mother’s face. It must have been something in my voice that grabbed their attention. I took a deep breath and spewed my guts out, “I don’t want to continue my current course. I don’t want to be chemical engineer. I don’t want to take up your pharmaceutical business. I want to give voice to my designs. It’s not just a hobby Ma I want to pursue interior designing. I am good at it, Pa, and interior designing makes me happy. I have tried my hand at some online courses and projects but I want to explore it as a real career.” I am still not sure how I rambled all that information in one breath but I didn’t want to let go of the adrenaline rush I felt at that moment. But I do remember the look of disbelief in my parents’ eyes. They looked at me as if I had grown a pair of horns. That was one excruciating conversation. They had many questions about this choice of mine. Yelling and crying the discussion went on and on. They tried to convince me to not throw away my bright future by chasing a haphazard dream. I thought back to all the coffee talks with Meeraji. I took my parents’ hands in mine and said, “I know you want to see me reach great heights in life but Pa…..Ma, my happiness lies in interior designing….my heart lies in designing. I have always tried to be the daughter you wanted but for once let me be me…..”
Six long years later I am still here at my favourite place in the world. Things have changed, life has taken new turns but Meeraji and I shared the same bond. Suddenly someone calling my name pulled me out of my trance. I didn’t realise I had walked a long way down the memory lane. I looked up to see her hovering over me with a smile. I smiled at her and said, “Good Morning…sorry for zoning out I was just reminiscing our good old days.” She nodded her head and said, “You have always been a dreamer. Six years have passed, you are no longer a teenager but your habit of day dreaming has stuck with you. However, I wonder what brings you here on a fine Saturday morning. Shouldn’t you be cuddling your pillow in bed?”
This woman knew me too well, I thought to myself. I stood up and pulled out the envelope and gave it to her. She opened it and then looked at me with joy and pride. She read out ‘Café Mirage’s remodelling plans by Niharika Creations’ She looked impressed and applauded my work. She commented, “It looks great and I can’t wait to work in this modular kitchen you have in store for me.” We discussed our ideas and continued our coffee talks. I am so glad that I met my stranger. She changed my life. I would just like to say, your ray of hope might just be lurking around the corner, keep your eyes open and make way for it when destiny works her magic.