Saturday, 24 December 2016

All in a day's work

Rohit Shetti
All in a day's work

The young boy's eyes lit up and he made a run for it as if his life depended on it. It perhaps did. Wearing a somewhat soiled shirt, he had a small bag in one hand and with the other, he was trying to make his way through the crowd. At KR Market in Bengaluru, a bus had just arrived and threatened to move within moments - in which time, the boy had to scramble through people and a muddy, uneven remnant of a road and make it to the bus. I don't know what the boy's destination was, or whether he was going home or for work. It was morning and I was waiting to board a bus to Yeshwanthpur. All I could sense in the brief moment when his eyes widened was that what mattered to him was what the day had in store for him and how he was going to lead the day's struggle. However calculated they may be, I only had guesses to rely upon. 

There are other times though, when I don't have much guess work to do. Like one morning when I went and sat in the last seat of the bus beside an elderly, but a rugged looking Sardarji. The bus was bound to Peenya and this man kept asking me and the bus conductor whether there is a market in Peenya and what's beyond Peenya. With my knowledge of the city, I said that Yeshwanthpur is a better market-place than Peenya and also that Malleshwaram in the evening is quite a buzz. I found out that he was a balloon-seller and he had two more companions, both of them much younger, who were sitting in the seat in front of us. This curious elderly gentleman was looking for areas in the city where he could have a good sale of balloons during the day.

When I asked him 'Din mein kitne gubbarey bechte ho?', he was pleasantly surprised to hear 'gubbarey', because they're called balloons in Bengaluru and other places in South India. Nevertheless, I was also surprised to learn that the Sardarji and his family lived in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The trio had been in Bengaluru since about fifteen days and had a train to catch the same night. It was their last day in the city and they wanted to make the best of it. He told me that on good days, they sold about a thousand balloons and on average days about five hundred. Just when I began thinking how hard it would be go out everyday into unknown places and sell balloons all day and late into the evening, he proudly added that they made about ten to fifteen thousand rupees every month and he was quite happy with that. This trip to Bengaluru was just about okay, but they were happy to go home, rest for a few days and venture into a different part of the country again.

The day's plan was made. They would go to Peenya and return to Yeshwanthpur after a few hours and later spend at least a couple of hours in Malleshwaram before making their way to catch the train back home. When we finished planning this, it was time for me to get off the bus. All I could do was hope that they had a good day.

In the year 2015, I have travelled to quite a few new places and spent time in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar among others. The frequent traveling, which has sometimes been punishing, has definitely made me richer in terms of experience and added dimensions to my world-view. Yet, the bus journeys to Yeshwanthpur have been perhaps the most interesting and afforded me time to reflect and observe. I've come across many people like the young boy, the balloon sellers, sellers of plastic toys, construction workers, old women selling flowers and vegetables and fighting with the bus-conductor for every damn rupee, every damn day. And of course, the odd drunk man who would liven up the bus with debates of whether he should be allowed to continue in the bus or not, without speaking a word himself. The bus rides also have people fighting for seats, people arguing heatedly if the bus stops a few meters before or after the designated bus stop, people who always want to get off at a signal and lest I forget, a variety of bus conductors - grumpy, helpful, smiling, rude, angry, philosophical and cynical.

The city-bred, English educated, elite professional that I am, the thirty-odd minutes of my bus journeys to Yeshwanthpur hav given me glimpses into lives of people who have little more to think about than the day's struggle. It is so strikingly similar to thousands of people in UP and Bihar that I see, struggling to make ends meet - rickshaw pullers, boys at tea-vendors, shoe-shine boys and families living on railway platforms and the streets. Come night-time, the streets and pavements are strewn with countless sleeping people who have made the night-sky their roof. I will not go into the systemic issues and the politics of survival in India at this time, but suffice it to say that this is India, its citizens and these are their lives and it hardly resembles the discourse on TV and facebook. As an eventful and tough year comes to an end, I realize that it is perhaps the turn of the day and making it better than yesterday that matters more than the turn of the year.

Merry Christmas and a have a great day, day after day!

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