“Sir, I am telling you, these elderly friends of yours will leave you bankrupt one day…..” Manoj sounds little anxious.
Mr. Amarish Bhardwaj smiles coyly. He totally understands the situation Manoj is talking about but he also knows that he can’t help it. He is running this café for many years. He started it after being retired from army at this small hill station which is also not so well known as his café. Not many tourists visit either the town or the café.
There is a sanatorium neighboring this café. So, doctors and other staff usually visit Mr. Bhardwaj once or twice a day. The sanatorium is not only proving treatment to mental patients but also is serving a purpose as an old age home for the patients who have been cured but not being accepted back into the families as a normal person. No one has ever returned to take them back home. Either the mental condition or the age may be the reason (!).
These oldies are the regular visitors of Bhardwaj’s café. And Mr. Bhardwaj never asks any of these to pay. If they pay he takes it but if they don’t, it’s on the house. Manoj, working here as the assistant, the caterer, the waiter, the care taker and what not, always worries about Mr. Bhardwaj being so generous.
“…… and sir, mark my words one day you will also be joining your friends in neighborhood if this continues for few more months!” He seems really nerved.
Mr. Bhardwaj: “Manoj, what happened? Why are you so edgy?”
“We need to focus on getting this café little more advanced. People are bored with the same old menu and we must have to get them something new.”
“Why? I think they like this place.”
“Yes, the place is fine but, the food?? We really can’t afford to serve every customer these oldie friendly recipes.”
“But those are healthy….”
Cutting Mr. Bhardwaj’s sentence in between, Manoj: “But we need something exotic that people come from far away just to have our special item.”
Amarish practically understands the necessity of change this time. There are few customers to be looked after so, the whole conversation is wrapped.
It is evening tea time. Customers have started coming. The friends from asylum have also arrived. There is a special table for them in café. Can say, sort of reserved for them only. There is a new face among them today. She is a decent looking, still beautiful — middle aged lady. She is quiet. Mr. Verma, Mr. Deshpande, Mrs. Arya, Mrs. Yadav etc. are talking on some current affair. They have well digested the reality of their lives that this is home and these people are their family now. So, everyone in the group is quite familiar and kind of habituate to each other. Here there is no name for any of the relation at all. They all are friends (actually in need!) and are sailing in the same boat.
Mr. Bhardwaj introduces himself to the new face in the group and gently welcomes the lady. She with a slightly faded smile introduces herself as Mrs. Shweta Gautam.
Amarish comes to know slowly about Mrs. Gautam that she lost her whole family in riots the last year and she has been depressed after that and after few months’ treatment, she has been cured, but now for her there is nowhere to go.
Mrs. Gautam visits the café sometimes. She sits calmly. Hardly speaks something. Takes tea or coffee sometimes and leaves unhurriedly. This is her normal routine. But it seems that she has accepted the place and the people by heart. And she is settling down slowly. Mr. Bhardwaj gives her company sometimes. He always talks on the positive aspects of life, his experiences in army and how difficult is to run this café. She listens everything carefully.
One afternoon, she comes to the café. This is not her usual vising time. Manoj is preparing for the evening routine and Mr. Bhardwaj has gone to bring supplies needed for the week. Manoj asks her for tea or coffee but she refuses everything and Manoj stands amazed when she asks him to show the kitchen. Manoj is bit worried considering her mental condition. Still guides her to the kitchen.
For next half an hour she demands various things and impressively struck Manoj hands over those to her. After an hour, Shweta gives something looking like a soup to Manoj asking him to taste. He tastes it and with his eyes wide open, stands stunned! Finishing his bowl at once, he literally screams with joy,
“This is it. We need this. Where had you been Mrs. Gautam? You only can save us……”
For the first time during her prolonged stay here, she has a gleam of joy in her eyes with a broad grin on her face. During all this, Amarish and other friends enter together as it’s their tea time. Manoj pulling him directly to the kitchen, readily hands him the bowl of the recipe Shweta has made.
Amarish: ‘It’s so good! Wow, I really like it.”
Shweta: “Thank you. Would it be any help?”
Amarish: “Such a great cook you are! Why haven’t you told us?”
Shweta (in a serene tone): “I used to be a culinary teacher. But, after losing my family I never could gather that courage to do something or to prove someone that I can…….”
She continues enthusiastically: “…….. After meeting all of you, I have been treated with so much of compassion, acceptance, care, friendliness, respect and patient support that it has helped me to get back to real Shweta Gautam. And a blend of Mr. Bhardwaj’s kindness with all these has brought me back a perfect recipe called Life. So, I am actually grateful to you.”
Everyone is seeing a new Shweta Gautam today but all of them are really happy to see her restored.
It has been a month after the incidence. Mrs. Gautam is now working at café as the official employee-the chef! And café has also got new frequent visitors just to have “The Perfect recipe”- as they have named Shweta’s recipe.