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Monday, September 07, 2009

The Child who sells 'Chana Jor Garam'

I have seen Raju, the chana jor garam-seller, a number of times walking long distances to sell this mouth-watering and spicy Indian snack.

It's not easy to carry the weight and walk for kilometres across the City but he does it to help supplement the family income. He buys the packets of chana jor (zor) garam from a whole-seller and then sells them in cones, sprinkling the masala and adding chilli and mashed tomatoes-onions.

Raju doesn't know his age. Says he must be 11 or 12. "If the day's sale is Rs 200 then I save Rs 70. Sometimes the earning is up to Rs 100". On an average he earns between Rs 2,500-Rs 3000 per month.

But the young kid has never stepped into a school. His father is permanently ill and can't go out. His mother works at an 'aata-chakki' and gets around Rs 2,000. Together the mother-son somehow run the household that comprises Raju's younger siblings, who also don't go to school.

In a way, Raju, is lucky. He belongs to a poor family but helps in running the house. He has tremendous self-respect and ekes out his living. He wishes that if he had money, he could get his father treated.

Still, in a country where millions go to sleep with empty-stomach, the boy doesn't sleep hungry and though there are other problems, the mother-son manage to pay the Rs 500 rent for the 'jhuggi'. He can buy small things for himself and his family.

But it's not easy to earn the 'meagre Rs 70' either. Every day is a struggle. The alcoholics take the 'chana jor garam' and don't give money. They take the Rs 10 cone and give him Rs 5. He can't even argue with the bullies who often snatch the 'snack' and refuse to pay, even raising a hand when he pleads.

"Kai log paisa nahi dete", he rues. Though he is sure that when he grows old, nobody will be able to snatch it. On rainy days, he can't sell much and has to save the stock from getting wet. He prefers fares, gatherings and matches where there is a sudden sale.

It may not be legal for a minor, especially under 14, to work. And it's mandatory for a kid to go to school. Whatever, the boy beams with pride when he tells you about how he takes toffees for his younger siblings.

Mature for his age but enterprising, Raju and his family live in glittering urban India where swanky cars and prosperity brought by MNC-BPO-Software firms hides these struggles. His family hasn't a faint idea about any government-run welfare schemes.

His siblings also won't study. "My mother says that it's useless and we don't have money to pay the fees and the cost of uniform and books". Is there any counter argument?

This dreamy-eyed boy wants to earn money for his family and live a decent life. However, the struggles of this boy and those like him, do instill a sense of guilt in our hearts. There are all sorts of injustices but what about this injustice--if someone is born in a poor house, for no fault of his own, it's a near impossible task for him to cross the ever-widening gulf and fight with destiny.

The post is just part of the series on tea vendors, ice-cream sellers, samosa-sellers et al. See some of the earlier posts on how the ordinary Indians, who are a majority in this country, lead their lives and run their households.
1. The groundnut sellers: Do elections matter to Pandit Ji and Aslam?
2. The candy-seller on cycle: Magic of mithai-wala
3. A samosa-seller's nap under the tree shade
4. Chacha's qeema-stuffed samosas
5. Tea shops in India: Shrinking and Vanishing