The man with chai ki kitli took out a thousand-rupee note from his weathered wallet. There was something about the resolve that inspired him to part away with almost a week’s earning.
For Rahul Gandhi, it was a potential life-changing moment, when Kaushal Singh, a chaiwallah, offered him his hard earned money to start a new business.
That was on April 25. The 42-year-old has since done nothing with the money he was given, has continued with the family business of politics, and has got an assurance of the post of Prime Minister whenever he is ready.
It all started when Rahul’s motorcade stopped at a traffic signal in Bhopal. “Chai kyun bechte ho? (Why are you selling tea?) Do you invest in stock market?” the Congress vice-president asked the man holding out a cup of tea.
Kaushal, who has been selling tea at traffic signals for twenty-two years now, said he went to a government school and wanted to be a doctor, but he had to give up his dreams and continue in his family business of selling tea.
Kaushal’s grandmother was known as the town’s chai queen whose employees would throw salt in competitors’ brews whilst his great-grandfather was famous as the first modern chaiwallah because he used a home-made gas burner.
He still keeps their pictures at the stall. “Sometimes I think people come because of them and not me,” he recounted his story to a riveted Rahul Gandhi in jeans and kurta, with whom he could strike a chord.
Forced into the family business, his dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed and his self-esteem suffered.
“You feel low sometimes,” his eyes welled up as Rahul Gandhi offered him a tissue paper. However, the chaiwallah refused the tissue paper and instead took out a thousand-rupee note.
“Yeh rupaye le leejye. Aap kuchh naya kijiye. Family business mein kuchh nahi rakha hai (Please keep this money and start something new. There is no fun in family business),” he told Rahul.
Those who were accompanying Rahul that day said he was moved. He took out his wallet and kept the crumpled 1,000-rupee note. A happy Kaushal blessed him. “I hope to see some change,” he said.
Rahul kept his wallet back in his jeans. “I will try my best,” he told the man, “I will remember what is in my genes and what is in my jeans.”
Then the motorcade moved on.
Rahul’s mother Sonia couldn’t believe her ears when her son told him about his brief interaction with Kaushal. “Baba, you actually met a chaiwallah while moving with z-plus security and he gave you this 1,000-rupee note?” she asked.
Someone called Digvijaya Singh suggested keeping the note as a souvenir.
However, Rahul Gandhi soon realized that politics was everywhere, in his shirt, in his pant, in his kurta, in his jeans. He dropped the idea of moving away from the family business.
And then Congress won Karnataka elections. Rahul Gandhi’s vision and leadership was applauded. Kaushal Singh’s advice and thousand-rupee note were seen as a liability.
Back in Bhopal, Kaushal was summoned to local Congress office, where he went with his son, who too wanted to be a doctor and not be trapped in the family business of selling tea.
Kaushal was hoping to hear some good news and tell his son to take inspiration from the youth icon who battled against all odds and left his family business to do something new.
But he was returned the 1000-rupee note that he had given to Rahul Gandhi. No interest was paid either. Kaushal was a little confused, and so was his son.
When the father and son looked up, brain fried in confusion, they saw a giant photograph of a smiling Rahul.