Gone are the days when people would take a rickshaw for travelling to the local market, so the rickshaw pullers are left to sell vegetables
His eyes look up towards the sky, and hers look down to the narrow road below her house.
His eyes are scouring the skies, rather, the balconies of the affluent homes in FE Block of Salt Lake City in Calcutta for prospective buyers of his fruits and vegetables.
Her eyes look down to the road below to check out which of the hawkers are selling good fruits and vegetables.
For she can only order them from her first floor balcony, drop a bag with the money and then pull of the stuff that the hawker puts in the bag.
The dramatis personae are Mrs Krishna Chakraborty, resident of FE Block; Amal, former rickshaw puller; Bimal, former rickshaw puller; and Kamal, former rickshaw puller.
This is the story of social reductionism effected by a virus, the most destructive so far known to humanity.
In this story, Biren, the oldest vegetable seller in FE block of Salt Lake, who has been there since 1986 at least, has made a silent exit, for he sits forlorn with his vegetables cart near the municipal school, along with his wife, but not many people come to buy from him.
Not many people come out at all, unless they have to buy medicines.
And why should they, if they are getting to buy vegetables and fruits sitting in their balconies in the same block!
“What breaks my heart is that Amal, Bimal and Kamal were all rickshaw pullers before Covid,” says Mrs Chakraborty, adding, “but nowadays no one uses rickshaws.”
Not that they travel in cars, but because people are just not moving out of their homes.
“I used to visit daily the Anadamayee Ma Bhavan in our block’s first lane, and since our home is in the third lane, and I am old, I used to take a rickshaw. But now no one goes anywhere, not even to Mother’s Bhavan, so what will the rickshaw wallahs do? They have started remodeling their rickshaws to run them as carts for selling vegetables and fruits.
“It breaks my heart to see this. My daughter came to meet me this morning from her home in Lake Town. And she was shocked.”
“One of these days, I found a young man selling milk. I called him: “Doodh”. Not Amal Bimal or Kamal. For he was only too new, so “Doodh” I called. I asked what he had and he said Amul Gold milk and bread.
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“They were both expensive, but I did not want the man to go without buying anything. He beseeched me: “Ma’am…” Mark the words, for earlier, they would address us as Mashima or Kakima, but this man addressed me as Ma’am.
“Ma’am, please call me up when you need milk, he beseeched. He wrote down his name and mobile number in English. In English.
“So he must have studied at least till Class 12. And now this man without a name I know is forced to sell milk and bread. This is our new normal.”
The rickshaw stand by the side of the block’s Community Centre has been replaced by a shop selling tea, bread and omelets, along with some cheap biscuits and some ghoogni.
And for that the rickshaw wallah who runs the shop has to agree to his previously home-bound wife to come out on the streets to help serve customers.
Some of these new hawkers have put up mikes and run their hawking using a recording on their mobile phones.
Yes, they have mobile phones, which they had bought when they were ferrying people in their rickshaws, but as they aver, it is difficult to get the recharge with the small amount they now make selling vegetables.
That is because there are too many rickshaw pullers-turned vegetable sellers. Too much of competition to survive!
Mrs Chakraborty asked one new vegetable seller: “Were you a rickshaw puller earlier?” He said: “Yes, but what to do? Now no one uses rickshaws.”
Gone is also the pleasant banter between buyer and seller which marked a relationship of yore. Mrs Chakraborty, or her next door neighbour Mrs Rina Das, would know the vegetable vendors by name.
They would ask them about their children, like how he or she is doing in school; or ask why the man had not been coming for the past two days, for which the answer would be “Wife was unwell.”
And the next day Mrs Das would ask: “Ki, bou bhalo achhe?” (So, has your wife recovered?).
That is why when Biren’s daughter passed her college, there was tea and sweets distributed by her father to all his regular customers.
But these ladies do not know Amal, Bimal or Kamal. They just call them out as ‘shobjiwallah’ from their balconies. Their families are not inquired after. Neither their children’s studies. Nor their wives’ health.
Corona doesn’t like social life.
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Maverick story teller, the author just loves turning around what people write into stories.He has worked with several magazines, such as Sunday Mail, Mail Today, Debonair, The Sunday Indian, Down To Earth, IANS, www.sportzpower.com, www.indiantelevision.com etc. He also loves singing and cooking