How does it feel to sit on the street the entire day in that scorching sun and dust all around? What are the thoughts which float in the mind of a street vendor? How frequent do customers come to purchase? Doesn’t the vendor gets conscious anxious if there are no customers?
These are just some of the questions which I always had [still have] when I used to see a street vendor on roadside. Eager and curious I was to experience their life at roadside and get answers to some of my questions.
A friend of mine who was good friends with a fruit vendor who sits on the Govandi Station road [Mumbai] introduced me to him and shared that I would like to sit with him for a day.
“Koi college ka project hai kya?” [Is it some project] he asked.
Surprised he seemed as no one ever came to him asking for this. Nevertheless he agreed quickly. I asked him his timing and promised that I will be back tomorrow at the time he sets up his stuff in the morning. The idea was to sit beside him the entire day, assist him but not interrupt his daily routine.
Next morning I kept one water bottle, diary, pen and a scarf in my bag. Excited I was to try this. I reached at 10 a.m. while he was putting the fruits into baskets.
His name is Ajay. Ajay bhaiya is from Uttar Pradesh. He came to Mumbai few days back to earn money. Right now he has replaced his brother as he has gone to village for a month. Once he returns, he will have to start something on his own.
Our day started. For almost an hour, I was observing his activities. The way he weighs fruits, puts them into polythene bag, convinces customers that the he has best quality fruits, handles bargaining etc. I requested him to teach me how to weigh fruits, tell the selling price and also the minimum price on which we can sell. He was very happy to share with me. May be he felt like a teacher for first time and was happy when he realized that he also has something to share. Meanwhile, the near-by vendors were watching us with curious eyes.
“Madam, koi project hai kya? Koi research kar rahe ho kya?” one of them asked.
“Nahi Bhaiya, bus ese hi. Ye janna chahti hoo ki kesa lagta road side fruit bechte hue.” After sometime, I requested Ajay bhaiya that I will take care of his shop and he can relax. He agreed. He turned the basket upside down and sat some meters away. I felt as if I was the owner of the shop now. And the normal business began, customer started coming and I started selling. While giving fruits in polythene bag, an idea clicked me of selling fruits in paper bag.
Few days back a friend of mine taught me how to make a paper bag with newspaper in less than one minute without using glue or any other material. I explained bhaiya demerits of polythene bag and the merits of paper bag in a simple language and requested him if we can sell fruits in paper bag with a promise that he will be making half of the paper bags. His eagerness to learn was really commendable. Slowly, while making paper bags we got surrounded by other street vendors who put their stall of vada pav, pani puri and one rickshaw wala, all curious to learn it. Some of them tried making it. The smile on their face after making their first bag was a treat to watch.
We started offering fruits in our paper bag. I also started noting down our sales with two purpose in head. Firstly to know the buying frequency of customer and secondly to see how many paper bags are we able to offer.We got mixed response. Some were indifferent towards the use of paper bag, people on bike asked for plastic bag so that they can hang it on the handle and others took a minute to appreciate our effort and blessed us. Overall, we were happy with our effort and felt as if we are a team working on some mission.
The afternoon was quiet. The number of customers dropped to a large extent. Ajay bhaiya says this happens daily. From 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., majority of the people purchased Bananas for their lunch. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. we hardly had any customer. Now that was the time for our lunch. He and his friend who sells water melon on ‘thela’ shared with me their lunch box. The near-by vendors offered me vada pav, tea and other eatable stuff. After having our lunch, we started chatting while making more paper bags.
“Where do you stay bhaiya?”
“I share a room near Govandi station which has around 10-12 people, all from my village.”
“What is the rent of your room?”
“500 per person except electricity and WiFi”
“Don’t you think too many people stay with you?”
“Nai didi, this way we save our money on stay so that we can send more to our home. Some fights do happen but you see it is fun also as daily we cook and eat together.”
Afternoon gave us sufficient time for our conversation. There were moments of silence too when I did nothing but watched the vehicles and people on road. I saw it as a process wherein when free if I go back to my place or got engrossed into phone, it would have left the experience incomplete somewhere. Meanwhile, bhaiya was also sitting either silently or talking to his friends. Our highest selling point was at 5:36 p.m., when a lady purchased 1 kg Apples worth Rs. 140 that too in a paper bag [without bargaining, yaee!]. I shared with him English names of fruits and basic etiquette of interacting with customers. He took everything in a good spirit. Meanwhile, other bhaiya who puts cart of pani puri (gol-gappa) behind us comes and asked me if I can assist him tomorrow evening for selling pani-puri. I said yes with a big smile. He also insisted me to have lunch from his shop. How could I say no to this sweet gesture?
Next day had its own excitement. Vendors became good friends. They would ask me to have water, tea, vada-pav, fruits at regular intervals. Two days made me realize how they have their own ecosystem for work, food and to support each other. Almost 40% sale on each day we did in paper bags. In the evening I assisted pani-puri wala and it took me long time just to learn how they function. Their speed is unbeatable. With one hand they make puri and with other they handle money and do calculations in head. Given the time I had, he taught me his technique of making puri. After few hours of observing and assisting, I felt like an achievement when I was able to make one plate of dahi-puri to a customer.