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6-Apr-2005

April 6th, 2005

6 April 2005

VT Railway Station

 

This morning, I met up with Arjun bhai again. He is dressed in a smart sky blue shirt. His shoes are the executive type – chocolate coloured and polished. He wears matching socks. Holding a Marathi newspaper in his hand, we meet outside the railway station and he stretches his hand out to greet me. I am picking up from the last lines he uttered in our last conversation, “These are modern times. I also like being modern. Therefore, you must shake hands with me and say hi, hello. I like this rather than you folding your hands and greeting me.”

 

Our conversation today takes the following turns:

 

Arjun bhai: Hmmm … where have you been all these days? I was remembering you.

Zainab: I was out of town, back to back, and hence it was difficult meeting up. But like always, I watch you when I am around at the station, even if you are busy.

Arjun bhai: Where all did you go to?

Zainab: Bangalore. And then immediately zipped off to Europe.

Arjun bhai: Europe must be quite pretty. Also very nice. But I have heard that you have to take appointments over there to meet anyone. You cannot just land up at people’s places. You always must take appointments. Also, I know that in Europe, you cannot pick up things just lying on the road. If it is lying on the road, it belongs to someone or the state.

Zainab (astonished): How do you know all of this?

Arjun bhai: You see, everyday, when I get back home, I play with my kids which is great fun. Then I talk with my wife. On holidays, friends and acquaintances come over aur dimaag khate hai (eat my head). So I tell them ‘let’s go out and drink tea’. That is when we discuss all these things. My friends keep telling me that we must go to all these European countries, but I tell them that Mumbai is the best. There is no better place than here.

Zainab: I agree. So tell me, when you first came from your village, did you land up here, at VT (Victoria Terminus – now Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus CST) itself? How was VT station then?

Arjun bhai (laughs, recollects): Yes, I landed here at VT itself. At that time, it was all so different. My train had stopped right here, platform number 7 (where we were sitting today). Now, of course, this station has become quite clean. Life in the city was different then. I used to earn thirty rupees a day and a rice plate at GPO (General Post Office) used to cost Rs.2. No, no Rs.3. Nowadays what is the value of three rupees? Nothing. You know, I landed straight at VT Station and I went off to Chowpatty. I had a bath in the sea. I had heard a lot about Chowpatty, so the fascination drove me there. After Chowpatty, I went straight off to the garden where there is a large shoe (i.e. Hanging Gardens at Walkeshwar). I slept there that night. Very contented. Next day, I started looking for work. But no one would give me work because when you are new in the city, employers want that someone should know you. I did not know anybody in the city because I was new. Who would know me? I could not get a job. At the end of the day, I came here, at VT Station, and I sat here with my hands on my head. A man, a stall owner, Rajabhai, saw me. He asked me, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” I told him that I was new to the city and the two to three hundred rupees in my pocket were exhausted and that I was looking for work. Rajabhai offered me work. That day, he gave me twenty rupees and asked me to go over to GPO and eat a meal. A single meal consisted of three heaps of rice, vegetable, chapattis, dal – enough for three persons to eat – and all of this only for three rupees. Thus I started working at VT. I used to wear ten bags on my one hand and ten bags on another and climb up the lamppost at VT and sell. I was little then and in order to be seen, I had to climb the pillar. My salary then was twenty rupees a day and then it increased to thirty rupees. I used to buy food worth three rupees and everyday, I used to spend one rupee on a bucket full of water to have a bath. This is the year of 1979.

After selling bags, I got bored and went off to film city in Goregaon and got involved in the balloon business. You know I have supplied balloons for the Amitabh Bachan film ‘Jadugar’. In a song sequence, actress Jaya Prada comes out of clouds with lots of balloons surrounding here. I have supplied those balloons. And I tell you, behind the clouds, if you look carefully, you can see Vile Parle. The problem I had with the film line was concerning food. On the first day, during lunch break, they announced, “All go for lunch!” I am generally used to eating leisurely and all by myself. Here, at film city, all of us had to queue up in order to get lunch. Lunch was served in silver (foil) plates. I had seen the Amitabh film ‘Kaalia’ in which Amitabh is also subjected to such a queue to get food and he kicks the food and shouts, “I don’t want this life of slavery”. I remembered the scene and the dialogues and I also said that I don’t want this life of slavery. That was my last day working for the film industry. Thereafter, I started blowing balloons for parties. I had friends in the city by now. Some of them were dosa makers. At parties too, you had to queue up and get food. In the first party, my friend told me, “Go inside and get food for yourself.” I went in and saw all ladies log standing in the queue and collecting food. I felt very embarrassed. I ran out and told my friend, “You go in and get the food for me. I will sit outside and eat quietly.” He shouted back at me, “This is the way food is served in this city. Just go in and get yourself food!” I was angry. I went in with my sour temper and took a plate and thrust it before the waiter serving. He asked me to get out. But then I started going for lots of parties and realized that food is served in the same manner everywhere – standing in the queues – whether it be parties or film line. In the meanwhile, I got a membership card to the film industry workers’ union. Once you have the card, you are paid a monthly salary of five to six thousand rupees even though you don’t really work work. I used to go and hang out at the Film City but not work. I have interacted with a lot of film stars. I know them.

Then, I gave up the balloon business because I saw that two to three persons in the same line had begun suffering from lung diseases. I came back to VT and started working here. Since then, I have been here, with this boss. It’s been twenty years now. I live in a kholi (house) provided by him.

Zainab: You have two children nah?

Arjun bhai: Yes, two children. Both are boys. Here, I carry one child’s photo in my wallet.

(He removes his wallet and shows me his son’s photo. The son is very fair and does not at all look like him.)

Zainab: Your son does not look like you.

Arjun bhai (understanding that I am referring to the skin colour): Arre, main dhoop mein khada khada kala ho gaya hoon (I have darkened standing daily in the sun!).

These days, BMC (Bombay Municipal Corporation) raids have increased a lot. We go into hiding for four to five days at a stretch. I have heard they are making a museum of this VT Railway Station. The work has already started inside. I know about it. Quietly.

I play a lot with my kids. The elder one is named Aakash and the younger one is Siddhesh but the problem is that everyone calls him Saajan. This is because when he was born, we took him immediately to the village and at that time, the film Saajan was released. So everyone calls him Saajan, not only in the village, but also here. We are also referred to as Saajan’s mummy and daddy. My younger son is very attached to me. We sleep hugging each other tightly at night. Playing with kids is very good fun. Great time pass!

Zainab: What was the city like then? How did you adjust and adapt to the city?

Arjun bhai: It was a magical city. I ran away from my village when I was in fourth class. My classmates used to tease me a hell lot, so I ran away. I went to Nanded (village in Maharashtra) to work. From there, I landed in Hyderabad. I was adopted by a family. They used to love and care a lot for me. I used to work in a kiryana (grains and povision store) shop. I used to manage the galla (cash counter). I never had a bad heart. So, even with so much money in the galla , I was never tempted. I used to get up at six in the morning, fill water for the house and work until two. My foster father one day told me, “Why do you get up and do all the work? You should make other people work.” So I started doing that. My foster father would never allow me to go out of house after finishing work. “Eat your food, watch some TV and take rest. You get up early in the morning and work. So you need adequate rest,” he would tell me. But I had always heard of the magical city of Mumbai. There was a charm about getting here. I ran away from the foster home. I came here to Mumbai. The home people know that I am here. And if they have to find me, they will know that I am at VT station. But they never came back to look for me and get me home.

Now, you tell me about yourself. Are you getting married? What does your fiancée do?

Zainab: Yes, I would get married, maybe two years time.

Arjun bhai: Where is your fiancée?

Zainab: (unable to explain boyfriend) in Delhi.

Arjun bhai: So, will you move to Delhi? Then how will I come to meet you? What does your fiancée do? Why doesn’t he shift here to Mumbai?

Zainab: (boyfriend) is an architect.

Arjun bhai: What is architect?

Zainab (trying to explain): makes buildings.

Arjun bhai (assuming): Oh, he is like a sub contractor. So, then, what is the problem? So many slums are being cleared in Mumbai and builders are needed to build buildings. He can easily move here. No problem at all!!

Zainab: What kind of customers do you get?

Arjun bhai: Public is not very good in this city. You find good people as well as bad ones. Some of them come and scream at us saying, “What is all this?” I tell them, “take your money back and get lost. It’s not like only you have money. We have our own money. Take your money and get lost.” Some people are funny. They will hold cotton socks in their hands and say, “We want cotton socks, not this.” I calmly hand nylon socks to them and tell them, “Here, take this. Cotton socks!” And it’s not like only men are bad. Ladies log are also very aggressive.

Zainab: Have there been instances of thefts with you?

Arjun bhai: Sure enough. What do you think? People will look for opportunities to flick. I have to keep a watch with my eye. Once, a man, nicely dressed in executive clothes and tie, was carrying a newspaper in his hand. He was sifting through the socks. Then, he quietly slipped one pair of socks between the folds of the newspaper and began to walk. He went a few distances and I called him, “Sir, please come here.” I got him to open the paper and out came a pair of socks. I got angry at him, “Your parents educated you, brought you to this level where you can where executive clothes and this tie, and you steal? Is this what they taught you?” He felt very ashamed. He quickly walked off. And women also flick. They will quietly, while looking at the socks, slip one pair in their bags.

Zainab: How do you then manage the women?

Arjun bhai: Nothing doing. When they ask for hisaab (final amount), I coolly tell them, “Ten rupees for this pair, ten for the other one, and ten for the one you have put in your bag.” Then they feel ashamed and bashful and say, “Oh sorry, sorry. It was a mistake.” That’s how public is.

Zainab: So tell me some of the slogans you shout while working.

Arjun bhai (bashful): Oh that … that happens automatically. Can’t say here.

Zainab: You talk so softly when you are here with me. On the road outside, you are a completely different person. You shout so loudly.

Arjun bhai (bashful again): Well, with you, I have to take care of riti rivaaz (customs and conventions). I cannot talk with you like I talk with everybody outside. I have to be cultured when I talk with you. As they say, ‘do in Rome as the Romans do’. There are some manners I have to follow with you.

Zainab: So, have you been to Churchgate station?

Arjun bhai: Yes. But not been there in a long time now. I have some friends there.

Zainab: Would you consider setting up business there?

Arjun bhai: Well, now see, if they (Churchgate people) come here to VT and start dhanda , what will happen? If you are an outsider, you cannot get inside someone’s home. You can be a guest, but if you step inside my home, you think I will tolerate that? So, even if these people (Churchgate guys) come and do dhanda here and pay the haftas and rents here, they will not be able to survive.

Zainab: Hmmm … You had mentioned last time that during the riots in 1992-93, you were not here in the city …

Arjun bhai: Yes, I was away, to my village then.

Zainab: All of December and January?

Arjun bhai: You know something, I don’t keep track of days of the week. I don’t know which day is what. I only know Saturday and Sunday – Sunday, because there is very little public at the station, and Saturday because the pace of the station is easier.

Zainab: So, these days, you have reduced your dhanda space. There are some other guys who sell toys at your place and you have shifted a little. I also see the photo of Goddess Durga at your (former) place of dhanda ?

Arjun bhai: Yeah, the other people are also of the same owner. They sell toys. I now keep only to handy baskets of socks. It is easier this way because when the Municipality van comes, it is easy for us to run off. As for the goddess photo, it is the picture of Sai Baba. I believe in all gods. I pray once in the morning, at home, and then when I am setting up dhanda . I used to do the same when I was in Hyderabad, managing the gulla. I used to light incense sticks then.

Zainab: You stay at Kurla nah?

Arjun bhai: Yeah, in my boss’s kholi .

Zainab: The station is there is very big and crowded.

Arjun bhai: Crowded, yes. Big, not really. The bridges are so narrow, what to tell you? Everybody pushes. Nowadays, when the ladies log are pushed, they shout back angrily at you. If I happen to push a woman accidentally, she will glare back at me and shout. Nowadays, ladies log shout a lot, they back answer, are aggressive.

I am soon going to set up a new business. I am going to my village and after coming back, I will start on my own. I will leave my boss. He knows that I have a sister here, but he does not know where she lives. I will give up his job, move in with my sister and start on my own.

 

It is 10:30 AM, time for Arjun bhai to go. “You will go to the godown now, to pick up your goods and set up dhanda ?” “Yes,” he says, adding, “The lady there is a nice woman. She is from my village only. I say good morning to her everyday. And I tease her a bit. She says to me, ‘Arjun, tum kab sudharoge? (when will you mend your ways?)’ I tell her, “ Mausi, main bigda hi kab tha? (Aunty, when did I ever go astray?)!!!”

 

We shake hands and depart.

 

xanga

  1. April 7th, 2005 at 08:58 | #1

    Well, so this was a story of one from the roadside sellers….people struggling out in mumbai for their bread and butter but still happy  and don’t want to leave…..

    “This is the way food is served in this city. Just go in and get yourself food!”

    there must be some other people as well who are inspired from the Amitabh’s movies — “I don’t want this life of slavery”

    One thing that i would like to ask is that How much arjun bhai is earning these days?

  2. April 7th, 2005 at 12:41 | #2

    I love your blogs Zainab, they are so colourful, I can really imagine the scenery.

  3. April 11th, 2005 at 17:10 | #3

    woooooooooo women u can really write

  4. April 11th, 2005 at 17:14 | #4

    on sencond though it was very beautiful,has a simplicity and irony to it:)
    take care zainab
    peace

  5. April 12th, 2005 at 06:11 | #5

    Hi , why did i ask that question?

    well its because

    1. some people flew from their home to earn good money. Upto what level they are successfull?

    2. how much a roadside seller is earning in mumbai?