Among his many qualities, two stood out - Punctuality and Memory. Tea and Coffee were served exactly at half past ten in the morning and at three in the afternoon, no excuses entertained. You only had to tell him once in your life - the day you first met him - which you preferred, tea or coffee, and he would never forget. In fact, if one day you changed your preference and held your hand out for the other, he would smile. He would always smile at everyone, but never stop to chatter while on duty.
The entire building, consisting of two hundred-odd people, waited for the light, quick step that heralded his arrival at their seats with the beverage that kept them going till it was time for the next one. Settling down to work in the morning required a sip, so did warding away of inevitable post-lunch drowsiness.
There were days when people grumbled at the taste, the sugariness or the absence of it, and so forth; however, twice daily, their ears cocked for his footsteps.
Then one day, to everyone's delight and awe, arrived the coffee vending machine. Folks drank five or six cups of tea/coffee per day, just for the heck of it, if only to punch the machine and watch the steaming liquid flow out. Nagaraj was soon moved to other responsibilities as there was no need to 'make' tea anymore. People began to forget his light step, and the longing for his tea vanished since one could get tea whenever the desire arose: the machine knew no timing. The vending machine quickly became a corner where crowd gathered for socialising.
Weeks and months passed. The obsession with the machine grew lesser and lesser. The 'machine' taste began to lose its charm. It broke down on days when someone badly wanted tea to keep himself alive. People drank only when required, sometimes when there was nothing else to survive on. Some discovered a small tea shop right outside the gate, by the road, where they made excellent tea - by hand. "Nothing like man-made tea," they said.
Some of the veterans whose memories stretched far back, asked among themselves... I wonder where Nagaraj is?