With his stall set beneath a huge green umbrella, Laxman Singh, a 40 year old man spends his day in and day out at Balaji Bhel Puri Corner preparing chaat, one of the delicacies of Mumbai street food. To capture the essence of his sweet, sour and spicy business is a difficult task as the tempting aroma teases your senses and the man insists you to give in. Nonetheless, he describes his life from the other side of the stall a bit hesistantly sporting a nervous smile.
Laxman Singh, a migrant from Jaipur came to Mumbai, the city of dreams thirty years ago to earn a living. “When I was new to the place I was working with another Panipuriwalla, later I decided to put my own stall, for fifteen years I sold chaat by travelling on foot from place to place, calling out to people in every nook and corner, walking from lane to lane.” Mr. Singh says that it has been ten years now since he has owned this stall. Speaking about his normal working day, Mr. Singh discloses that he wakes up at 6 am every morning, refreshes himself with a quick bath which is followed by offering prayers for one hour. He then leaves for the market which is at Santacruz to buy packets of puris, sev and the rest of the ingredients to last for the day at around 8.45. Then he comes back, unloads himself, and rests for a while and goes back again to buy ration or vegetables for his household. Back home again, he settles for a simple lunch of roti, vegetable, dal and rice and later catches up with his share of afternoon nap. At 2pm sharp he starts his work which goes on till 10.30 every night. Ask him about how he manages in the peak hours of his work which he mentions is 5 to 7.30 pm and he says that he prepares everything well in advance and when the crowds gather to hog, he serves the orders as quickly as he could.
Striving to unveil the dark side of his ordinary life and also to understand the reason behind starting this business, one gets personal with Mr. Singh and he feels a sense of discomfort. He pauses for a while, immersed in thoughts and then replies politely, “I couldn’t manage my family with the money I was earning, the income was not enough because I got married and had children.” His family includes wife, three daughters and two sons. His Mother lives in the village and his Father was a farmer. “I have no problems in running my business. I just have a few age related health issues. No one has ever misbehaved with me,” he clarifies after repetitive attempts to bring out of him the problems faced by him. He says he earns a monthly profit of 6,000-7,000 and is happy about it since he has been doing so from quite a long time.
When you ask him about his desires, he smiles and shares that like everybody else he too wishes to expand his business. He wants to buy four to five shops but sadly adds that he has no money and neither is there any affordable place. When you ask him to make a quick plate of sev puri, he smiles and his shiny black eyes twinkle with a hope he refuses to express.