the old water man

He leaned against his cart forlorn and dejected. No one seemed to want to drink his water today. He was a wizened old man who could barely stand, let alone push his cart. He had been coming to this very spot, year after year, actually at each Durga Pujo. He always placed his cart in front of the biggest Puja Pandal, next to the temple and every year he made quick business. Something had changed. This year he was alone. The usual food carts were absent and with no one eating food, no one needed to quench their thirst.

He was not aware of the new court ruling that now banned selling cooked food on the streets. He was illiterate and no one in his home spoke to him, let alone share with him the on goings of life. He felt like a burden and looked forward to leaving his son's home early and spent the whole day out, even if he had sold all the water he had in his cart. He kept a rupee or two for himself and dutifully handed the balance to his daughter in law. At least that way there was no recriminations. But today, when everyone would be expecting a killing, he would return empty handed. he did not even want to think about what would happen.

The old man is part of what is known as the informal economy, the hawkers and street vendors; people who come to the city looking for jobs and then not finding any create their own. It is estimated that there are over 4 lakhs such vendors in Delhi. They make barely enough to live and have to pay huge bribes to be allowed to function. According to an NGO they pay over 600 crores annually! This was one of the reasons for the new law but what it amounts to is punishing the victim and not the perpetrator.

In the last ten days or so we have seen furious activity along side the main road in Govindpuri. All street hawkers are targeted by the police. Some try to slink into the nearby alleys. Others have just closed shop. Wonder how many new families now go hungry at night. Street food has been an age told tradition in Delhi and the hygiene factor is not really one that I buy. A hot samosa may send my LDL cholesterol flying but has never given me a Delhi belly. The idea of a cold samosa makes me lose my appetite.

Many of the parents of our children run food stalls. That is how they have survived for years now and looked after their families. They feed the poor and the middle class with affordable and healthy food. Such people cannot afford the swanky fast food joints which seem to be getting a thumbs up all the way and which are proliferating by the minute. The new order will make the list of unemployed swell. And with no new jobs on the anvil where will these people go. Are we just going to watch the death of an age old tradition and say nothing?

Just like the old man, many across the city are slowly seeing the end of their journey So help them God!