jairam the samosa vendor


India has had one of the strictest lockdown imposed on a population of 1.3B

I had a tenant in my premises who came and told me that he wished to return with his workers to his native place as this disease was slowly growing, people were discussing it everywhere and their families were worrying about them. I pointed out to him, that his was a business related to food i.e. he made samosas (potato scones) and Ramadan was soon approaching when he could make a lot of money. He became nostalgic and repeated a horrific scene from the 1992-93 communal riots where people were hounded and killed ruthlessly by mobs. He revealed that his sales boys who used to sell these samosas in the narrow lanes of Malad east and foothills of Kandivali were being threatened and beaten up by both police and political workers as the reason for spreading virus. Societies where they sold had closed their doors to them. Jairam and his boys didn’t wait, and they could not be assured. Money didn’t matter, when life was in danger. He and his team barged into overcrowded train and left behind everything. He rang up 15 days after the lockdown asking about our wellbeing, not a bit repentant on the decision they had taken. “JAAN HAI THO JEHAN HAI “- If you survive then the world is at your beckon call with endless possibilities. His decision was naïve but practical. He sensed trouble ahead unlike us, city goers, who rarely think ahead into the future as we are all struggling to make money to run our families, pay our bills and maintain our status in society. We never anticipated what would happen next nor cared. When he left, in our country beloved leaders were busy as always devising measures to gain power and command over states to come into power irrespective of the peoples mandate or choice. No one cared as to how many died in China in January or whether a strategy be worked to prevent the day when the pandemic would come knocking at our door and then our score would be ahead of China. Everyone was still in a state of delirium that after a few days the year was ending, and planning was going for a good summer vacation. Elvis Presley could not be happier than us when he sang, ‘Everybody’s going on a summer holiday”. The migrants too, from different states of India, as per normal rituals planned year after year had booked their departure to their native place for work to till their lands to sow ahead of the coming monsoon season and to save themselves and their families the overcrowding which takes place after schools close. India had suffered its first death in January, and all felt nothing more than that. It was a long way off. Such deaths keep happening in India where most say life is very cheap and if there is an issue of unnatural deaths due to natural disaster, riots and calamities there is always the Government to compensate the victims and the news fades away. Amidst this scenario, in walked COVID-19. People woke up to the grim reality that something was amiss. Practically that day for the first time the entire country may have been before the electronic media still unconcerned that it was still a matter of few days that rich Indians would go to cooler North or abroad like was the practice in Imperial India. The middle class and migrant would leave for their native place to rest with their families. The address to the nation by the Prime Minister was of a concerned head of state asking the people to cooperate and brace for the approaching storm. The people of Mumbai as well as migrants who had pre booked train tickets as always doubted that the plans made in advance would go awry. What they never expected was that actions fueled by TV debates by certain channels, interviews with ever ready aggressive politicians with a few proactive TV channels and rumor mongers turned the lockdown into a harrow story coming true. The common man didn’t get a chance to brace himself for what was in store. Whatever may be the reason, but all human considerations were compromised resulting in the lockdown catching an unprepared middleclass, turning their lives into hell and for the migrant there was no alternative but to flee and escape the harassment and torture that seemed to have no end. While the horror was unfolding, Jairam, our samosa vendor must be relishing a piping hot samosa with a cup of steaming hot tea in an earthen cup looking at the dusty road leading to his farm.