From the day I moved to a small tea estate in Assam with my husband Amit, I heard nothing else but stories about Mrs Dubey.
No one knew how long Mrs Dubey had been living in the ivy-covered bungalow at the farthest corner of the estate. Neither did they know how old she was? Or from where she was before moving to the remotest tea estate in Assam? But they knew about her teapot. They knew about its magic powers.
“My brother couldn’t find a suitable match for his daughter,” my maid stopped mopping the floor to attract my full attention, “Mrs Dubey invited her to have tea with her. The poor girl, she was used to having tea in a metal glass, but Mrs Dubey served her in a china cup. From the magic teapot. Within two months she was married.”
Of course, I didn’t pay much attention to her. The remote communities always had magic stories. But a magic teapot was the first. I wanted to meet Mrs Dubey but didn’t think it was appropriate to go to her unannounced. I waited till someone introduced us.
One morning Mrs Dubey’s maid knocked at my door, inviting me to have tea with Mrs Dubey in the afternoon. I strongly believed my maid had something to do with it. By now everyone in the small community was aware of my childless status. It was her way to help me.
But accepted the invitation not because I believed in the magic of the teapot but because I had nothing better to do. At least Mrs Dubey was educated. She might be a good company to pass time.
I walked to her bungalow, through the winding tea plantation carrying a cake which I managed to bake during the noon.
Mrs Dubey looked much younger than her years, which I estimated to be somewhere in nineties. Her skin was as white as the white lace dress she was wearing.
“Welcome, my dear. May I have the pleasure of knowing your full name.” she asked in a flawless English accent.
“Nalini Mistri.” I took her hand which she had put out so delicately while resting the other one on the walking stick. In a white lace dress and a matching hat she looked more elegant than someone half her age would.
“Lovely name!” she said, “I hear you have been shy to make an acquaintance.”
“Of course not!” I started with a lie but checked myself in time. For some reason, it didn’t feel right to lie to her. “A little bit!” I nodded.
She laughed. “No need. In country side all we have is each other. Follow me please.” She led me to the verandah where a round table was set up for afternoon tea. It was quite an elaborate setup. A lacy white table cloth. English china. White hand-embroidered napkins, which Mrs Dubey told me she embroidered herself in her younger days.
We started chatting easily. Mrs Dubey came to India as a young girl from England. She fell in love with a local tea estate owner Mr Deshmukh Dubey. They got married and she never went back to England. Although they travelled to a lot of other places.
The maid brought the egg pudding and home baked cookies along with the cake I brought. The warm evening air got filled with the aroma of home baking.
Then came the much anticipated tea pot. It was no doubt beautiful. Despite frequent use it was in good condition. Perhaps due to the utmost respect with which it was treated. It had a big belly, like a pregnant woman. The handle small and sturdy, the spout short and curved. If you look at it from a certain angle it looked like a matron with one hand on the hip and other up in the air.
“It belonged to my aunt,” Mrs Dubey noticed the awe with which I was looking at it. “It has special powers, she added.”
I didn’t say anything, not wanting to disrespect the old lady.
“Anyone who drinks tea from this pot,” said Mrs Dubey, “their luck change for good.”
The maid had gone inside leaving us to eat and chat. I offered to pour the tea. As I got up, a bird flew in my direction and I lost balance trying to doge it. I caught the table to break my fall but hit the teapot which fell on the floor and shattered in pieces.
My hand went to my mouth. I looked at the Mrs Dubey’s face which fell open with disbelieve. The maid came running from inside. The look on her face, when she saw the broken pieces floating in steaming tea, gave me a fair idea of the gravity of my crime.
“I am sorry! I am so so sorry!” I looked at Mrs Dubey and then the maid and back to Mrs Dubey. I had no idea why I was apologizing to the maid but I was. Maybe because I had taken the magic out of her life.
“It is all right my dear. It was bound to happen one day.” Mrs Dubey was much more understanding and forgiving. But her maid was in obvious shock when she bent down and picked the pieces one by one, carefully placing them in a tray.
I brought the pieces of the broken pot with be hoping to find a similar one on the internet. It was the least I could do. Although it wouldn’t have the same powers everyone believed it had, it was the least I could do.
Days of searching on the internet brought results. I found a similar looking pot on eBay. It was expensive but I thought I owed it to Mrs Dubey. When it arrived, I took it to her. She was very pleased. It even brought the smile back on the maid’s face. That day we had tea together, with the usual ceremony.
Mrs Dubey told stories of people who came to her with their troubles, and she would listen to them. She had such a reassuring face that anyone would want to tell her all of one’s worries.
I told her everything too. How Amit and I got married, how he was always busy with his work, how I had to leave my research career behind to follow him from tea-estate to tea-estate, how a baby would have filled that gap but perhaps God had other plans.
She listened to me with the same patience she would have listened to thousands.
I started meeting her regularly. We always found something to talk about. She was a worldly-wise woman who had travelled far and away in her time but had nothing to do nowadays. I was a well-educated woman who had no idea what to do with her life.
Months later, two things happened simultaneously. Amit got the news that he job in Munar tea estate that he wanted so much before coming here. I got confirmation that my pregnancy test was positive.
Mrs Dubey and I looked at the teapot as if wanting it to reveal its real identity.
Was it possible that it was the twin of the broken one? Maybe it was not the teapot but Mrs Dubey was the one with magical powers? An idea she dismissed instantly.
Whatever might be the case, I didn’t have enough time to get to the bottom of it. I had to pack for our next move. It also meant my friendship with Mrs Dubey came to an abrupt end.
Months later, after the birth of my daughter, on a hazy morning at Munar, I received a big parcel in the mail. As I opened it I found a neatly written letter on top of a carefully packed box. It was from Mrs Dubey.
By the time it will reach you, I would have gone to a better place. I had a long and fulfilling life, so no need to shed tears for me. I am forever grateful to you and never properly thanked you for the time we spent together in the last few months of my life. I was starving for some company when you came. I always wanted to tell you but didn’t have the heart. There was no magic in the teapot you broke. It was a story I made up to give people some hope.
As time passed, more and more stories got connected to it, and the teapot became a thing of magic. Then it broke. My heart broke with it too. I thought no one will come to me to share their stories now that the magic is gone. But then you brought the new teapot, exactly like the one before. And immediately afterward fell pregnant.
Your story got connected with the new teapot.
Since you left, Ira’s daughter got cured, Chandra’s nephew passed exams and Bodhram’s cow survived malaria.
These things were probably going to happen anyway, but they got connected to the teapot.
You see, magic is in beliefs, not in objects.
There are so many desperate people in this world who need some magic in their lives. Magic gives them hope.
I am passing the teapot on to you because I feel you will use it to incite some hope in people’s lives.
I opened the box to find the teapot I bought from eBay. For some reason, it looked shinier. Maybe Mrs Dubey’s magic got rubbed on it.