I have a story to tell.
I long waited for this to be told. This was one of the reasons why this blog is a selfish endeavor, as it is made out so I don’t forget singular moments during travels. I always knew that in the scheme of things, it wouldn’t matter to me if not a single soul gets to read these stories, although I am grateful for my dear friends and followers who do, but when I am old and grey or forgetful, I just want to be able to relive my solitary adventures and reminisce through these "journal" entries. And this was one of such moments.
It would be my last night in Agra. I’d seen the Taj Mahal that morning, and I was to check out of Shanti Lodge for my Marudhar Express train that pulls out of Agra Fort Train Station at 9:15 PM. From here, I was heading westward to the direction of Pakistan, but more specifically to the Blue City of Jodhpur!
After fixing my luggage, I headed out to take my last stroll in Taj Ganj. Right across my guest house was a restaurant that read: Chinese, Continental, Japanese, and Korean. I gazed at a sign that says “Saroj Restaurant” and the hooking line, “Recommended by Lonely Planet” followed by “Tibetan Kitchen”. But having been cited by LP, the place couldn’t be bad, right?
There was no one there, but myself so I took the stair to the second floor as it provided a better vista of Chowck Kagziyan street down below. I was attended by a boy. That actually surprised me. He handed me a menu and I ordered Chinese style fried rice (30 rupees), potato curry (40 rupees) and a bottle of Coke (15 rupees), one of my cheapest meals. The friendly owner, who apparently cooked my meal as well, came to say hello for my welcome pleasantries. “Cambodia? Japan?” He asked. I shrugged and chuckled, still amused of the constant reference to Japan. Heaven knows I’m too far removed from being a Japanese. “Filipino,” I proudly uttered, but it was lost in his blank stare. Then something so weird came out of his mouth, “You look like an angel!” Lost in translation perhaps? He must mean “devil” I just knew it. He excused himself to prepare my meal and my younger host took over.
His name is Sayed Nazem Ali, sporting a shirt 3 size bigger than him. He regaled me with his story which made me wistful. Sayed is the restaurant’s waiter, and he is only 12! He told me that he goes to school, but had to work to help his family. It wasn’t even one of those woe-is-me tales as our conversation was matter-of-factly. Sayed has 6 brothers and 3 sisters. His father earns by peddling trinkets and Bengali bracelets around Agra, while his mother is a home maker. He says life is hard, thus he had to work to supplement the family’s meager income. Do you know how much he receives waiting tables per week? 100 rupees! My heart really went to Sayed, but such is life, and I admire his determination.
There was power outage, a frequent occurrence in Agra so I was left with a huge lamp, I was almost tempted to rub it just in case a genie pops out. Sayed, like most Indian children, asked me to take his photo, and I gladly obliged. He made me promise to send him a copy, but the address he wrote at my notebook was my guest house’s (Shanti Lodge). Sometime during the conversation, the owner’s children came to greet me. Indian children, in my travels around India, have been a constant source of delight and hospitality, and one of the country’s most charming elements.
Food was delicious. Check out the size of that rice meal, I had to take away half of it for my train ride. 85 rupees and delectable!
Much later, as I paid for my meal, I called Sayed and gave him 100 rupees as tip, but as I headed down the stairs, I caught him turning the money to the owner. It could have been his one week salary. Darn! I was mildly upset, but there are things in the world that can’t be changed in a heartbeat. Is child labor an issue here? Not as far as I am concerned! Would you rather his family stay home and starve than Sayed earning a little bit more for tomorrow’s meal? If he doesn’t work, who would provide a better option?
This is the Eye in the Sky!
Chinese style Fried rice at just 30 rupees.
Potato curry (above) at just 40 rupees.
Saroj Restaurant is located at 3/155A, Chowck Kagziyan, Tan Ganj, Agra, UP, India.
Adorable fraternal twins as among my hosts. They were smart too; they could converse in English.
Sayed and the twins.