Forced to leave Mumbai, Pandey now struggles as a tea-seller in Kashi
Vijay Shankar Pandey, who used to run a chaat business at gate number 3 of Kamala Mills, had to vacate the place after a fire broke out at a pub on the premises
Varanasi: A devastating fire at a pub in Mumbai's Kamala Mills on December 27, 2017, changed Kashi-based Vijay Shankar Pandey's life forever. A street-food vendor, who used to sell bhelpuri at the Mill's gate number 3, went jobless after the local municipal corporation removed all the vendors from the entrance. Pandey's chaat business used to support his family in Mumbai and an ailing mother in Varanasi. Finding it hard to get an alternative place for setting up shop, Pandey and his brother Shrinath, with whom he lived in Mumbai, were forced to return home.
While Pandey managed to get a driver's job in Varanasi, his brother struggled hard to find a permanent job but failed to get any luck in it. However, even Pandey eventually lost his job and couldn't find another one. So he started selling tea at Assi Ghat.
When all goes awry
On a sultry evening, this reporter spotted a weary Pandey going up and down the steep stairs of the ghat with a kettle and 'shigdi' in one hand, and a bucketful of cups and masala in the other. "Sir, maine aapko kahi dekha hain (I have seen you somewhere). Aap ACB (Anti-Corruption Bureau) office me aate jate the kya (did you frequent the ACB office in Mumbai?)", he asked as we struck up a conversation.
The 34-year-old, who had joined his brother in Mumbai some 10 years ago, said, "I used to sell chaat at the Kamala Mills gate. The business went on well for five years but after the fire broke out inside a hotel there, the civic authorities removed all the vendors from the Mill's entrance. We lost all that we had." Pandey used to stay with his brother and sister-n-law in a rented room at Elphinstone. "We would earn enough for our mother and ourselves," he added.
He further said that his brother and sister-in-law had left home, and even his eldest brother did not support the family. Hence, he was the only person looking after his mother, who stays in Basantpur, as his father passed away a couple of years ago. Pandey shares a room with some of his friends in Varanasi. Even though they have outsourced a bigha of agricultural land they possessed for cropping, the returns they get from it are far from sufficient. He also said that his mother hardly received the pension given to widows under a government scheme.
No permanent place
"We came back to Varanasi when we did not get an alternative space for our chaat business. I'm told many people returned to their villages from Mumbai. I tried to find a sustainable job here. But finally I started selling lemon tea," he said. Speaking about how hard it was to sell tea, Pandey said, "I come here at 4pm and start running up and down the stairs carrying the heavy stuff in both my hands. Bahut thak jaata hun (I become very tired). Hence, can't even take up another job in the morning." Pandey said that the vendors who work at different ghats in Kashi could be saved extra physical effort if they were given permanent places to set up shops.
"I hope your khabar (news) takes our message to the prime minister and the local administration. We are locals who don't want to leave this place in search of jobs and get taunted and abused in places like Mumbai," he added. He also mentioned that many people taunted and ridiculed him for doing a job that was not respectful enough for a person belonging to an upper caste. "I tell them, karma pradhan hain aur use karte rehna chahiye (work is greater than anything and we must continue doing it, come what may)," he concluded.
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