Archive for July, 2005


July 5th, 2005




July 3rd, 2005

The Candy Man


His name is Mishraji. His home is in Madhya Pradesh, in Central India . Mishraji mans the khomcha , the knick-knacks stall at Byculla Station on Platform Number 3. He is a simple person with his khaki coloured uniform and white Maharashtrian conical topi (cap). “I am standing here from 5 AM in the morning until 2 PM. I have a lunch break from 2 PM to 5 PM. From 5 PM , I am standing at the stall till 8 PM. At 8 PM , someone comes and relieves me for a while. It is then that I take a twenty minute to half hour break and go to have tea. Then, from 8:30 PM till 11 PM , I am at the stall. I keep standing all day. If I sit down for a moment, I will not be able to stand up.”


Mishraji tells me his story of how he landed in Bombay . “One day, I was beaten up at school for a little mischief. They beat my up so that badly that I decided to run away. How can they beat a little child with such ruthlessness? I came to Bombay in 1984. I used to roam around at the railway station idly. At that time, the fine was five rupees. Then it increased to ten rupees, later fifty and now, two hundred and fifty.” Mishraji secured his first job at Kandivali Station. “There were three khomchas at Kandivali then. Also at that time, we used to sell paan at the khomchas which used to make our job very tough. Each khomcha would be manned by three persons. One would make paan . The other two would manage the rest of the sales and keep a watch on customers and the goods. Kkomchas would be packed with people at all times. After sometime, paan was banned and when Madhavrao Scindia became railway minister in the ‘80s, even cigarettes were banned. Now each khomcha is manned by one person.”


Mishraji continues with his story, “Once I started working and earning money at Kandivli station, I learnt the tricks of the trade and decided to leave and go out to work. I started working in a wholesale factory at Bombay Central. But life was tough there. I decided to come back to the railway station. I then moved to Grant Road Station. I used to draw a salary of three hundred rupees which was a lot of money. Daily I would spend three rupees on lunch. Three rupees was a lot of money then. I completed my education and degree by studying here and appearing for exams in MP. After some years, I went back to my village and stayed there for six months. On my return, I started working at Kalyan station and was then posted in Surat and Gujarat for some months. I worked in a chemical factory in Ahmedabad. One day, the smell of the acid and sulphur got to me and I was hospitalized. After that, I promised not to work here and came back to Bombay in 1998. Since then, I have been working at Byculla Station!”


Mishraji talks to me about how the early times at the railway station were. “Rules and regulations were very strict. If our nails were slightly longer, we would be fined twenty five rupees and suspended for two days. If we did not wear uniforms, we would be fined for fifty rupees. Now everything is free. See, I can stand here with two of my shirt buttons opened.”


Mishraji works for eighteen hours a day. “ Maut aur dhande ka koi samay nahi hota (there is no fixed time for death and business),” Mishraji says to me when I ask him about what times in the day does he do booming business. “With regular customers, we know the kind of goods they patronize and what they are likely to pick up. After so many years of service, I can tell you which public will buy goods worth one rupee and which public will buy hundred rupees worth saaman .”


Mishraji speaks with a tired tone. It appears that life is monotonous for him. I wonder whether I can equate Mishraji with a call center worker. I ask Mishraji whether he thinks the railway station is a ruthless place. He says, “I cannot say that the railway station is a ruthless place. It is what you make the place to be. Some people come and they talk lovingly. You feel nice. Some people come, touch different things at the stall, waste time and don’t buy. But what can you do? All five fingers of the hand are not of the same length,” he says philosophizing. “People come, point out to what they want and I give it to them. It is like automation!”


I will end Mishraji’s story here today, but there is a lot more to say about him. I wonder what would happen if the khomchas at the railway station were replaced with supermarket kind of machines where you simply put in the money, press the number of the item you want and pop! the item comes out? What kind of a value does Mishraji bring to the railway station or does he bring any value at all?