The Dreams of Shyam Bhaiya, a Chaiwallah in Delhi

Shyam bhaiya’s tea stall is a popular spot in the Rajinder Nagar area of Delhi – especially for people who have early morning chores around there. The workers who clean cars, the milkman, safai karamcharis, common men who like to have a cup of tea after a long morning walk and the students who cram the whole night preparing for the UPSC exam – you’ll find them all there at one time or the other.

Bhaiya provides hot ginger morning tea, biscuits baked in local bakeries and bun maska at his small thela. He is compassionate and always makes an effort to strike a conversation with his customers about politics and everyday problems.

Recently, one morning, people at the tea stall were as usual prattling about the ongoing health crisis – the rumoured role of China in spreading coronavirus, migrants walking back home, general debates around the Indian economy and so on. Standing on the other side of his thela (cart), Bhaiya had an unusual shine on his face – looking happier than he would ordinarily appear.

When Manjeet, the local milk supplier, asked him the reason, Bhaiya broke his silence hesitantly. He told us all about a dream he had last night. In the dream, he was sitting in the Delhi municipal corporation office to be allotted a shop with the serial number 2409 – which is also the registration number of the second-hand scooter he bought after India won the World Cup in 2011.

In his dream, the officers told him how lucky he was because only a handful among thousands of applicants get the allotment. They urged him to get sweets for them and celebrate. Bhaiya told the officers that he always knew he would get it someday. His father had told him to keep the papers intact and one day, sooner or later, he would get the shop – and that’s what he did. He tells them about his father’s wise suggestions and how he always obeyed them.

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He takes out Rs 500 and asks his younger brother to distribute sweets to the poor and the office staff.

And then, like every other day, the sounds of morning birds wake him up.

At the tea stall, Bhaiya told everyone that he hasn’t taken a break in the past 19 years since he arrived in Delhi. Working day and night, he was able to achieve everything he wished for. He talked about having a house in Delhi, for which he has bought a plot. He talked about getting his sister married. He talked about being able to build a concrete place with proper toilets to live in.

Life, he said, has given much more than what he wished for and had dreamed about. It was all once a dream, he says.

Now, he is sure that his dream of getting a shop from the municipality office will also come true.

It is interesting to see how hope pushes us to be productive and achieve what we aspire for. Hope is not merely an expectation or a want, as it reflects and draws upon human desires and generates courage to make that desire reality.

Amidst a global pandemic, when the whole world is living with the fear of the unknown, we need a different approach than mere optimism. What we need is a productive engagement with what we desire and the social realities in which we live.

In the words of Emily Dickson,

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tunes without words and never stops at all.”

Anshuman Singh is a final-year postgraduate student at Delhi University.

Featured image credit: Sumayya/Flickr