The first monsoon rains quenched the thirst of a dry city after a terrible summer. The pre-monsoon rains caused the peacocks to display a colourful dance amid the jungle of concrete glass structures.
The summer passed away and I survived it with the help of coconut water every day. Coconut water is one thing which I rarely used to drink in Mumbai became the source of my life here. I realized that you take things like coconut water granted in your life when they are available bountiful around you. You realize their value when you stay away from them.
The ‘Nariyalwallah’ (person who sells fresh coconut water) in this dry city hardly knows any Hindi but I formed a good rapport with him. He heard the word ‘malai’ (tender coconut) from my mouth for the first time in his life. His name is Venkat. One of the most common names in South India. He has put up his cart bellow a small Gulmohar tree. Being a regular customer, Venkat offers me one rupee discount on every coconut.
He stays away from his family some 350 kms near Andhra coast line. Early morning a truck comes from his hometown, unloads 800 INR worth coconut and drives away. He then stacks them up on his cart and the remaining ones on the ground. His life revolves around coconuts and his hand cart. The handcart has been partioned into three parts. The bottom most has been kept for storing his food materials. He cooks near the cart itself on a kerosene stove. The middle one stacks his coconuts while the upper one stacks up his personal items. Venkat sleeps on the cart sometimes with mosquito net. The cart is the hardest place to sleep and he manages to sleep on it besides a road that has cars plying 24 by 7 ferrying IT employees. The tree branches houses the mirror, glass and other cutlery items.
Venkat used to keep two coconuts daily for me from the huge stack of coconut in summers in case the coconuts finish by the end of a hot summer day. His life depends on the coconut truck arrives early morning. No truck, no business and he used to kill his time for the whole day by sharpening his knife. He is loyal to only one supplier and doesn’t trust others even if it means loss of business. He takes water from my building for which he has to give the caretaker of my building some free coconuts. He knows my preferences very well.
The adversities which I face daily are nothing compared to what Venkat faces day to day. The small cart in front my building humbles me about millions of Indians that live this daily life. The infinite labourers who have constructed the building in which I work, the ‘chaiwallah’, all survive on their fate. A small calamity like a medical illness strikes them very hard than a bolt of lightning struck down on earth. They don’t live a dignified life. Life in India is cheap. If few people die due to starvation every day in our country, we don’t care as we have become insensitive to human life. We don’t appreciate dignity of labour here. The labourer who cleans manholes and risks his life by inhaling poisonous gases never gets a pat on his back for preventing the sewer water from flooding our clogged streets.
Indians never clean the street in front of their home but we want our homes to be sparkling clean. We never have taken a broom in our hand and cleaned the filthy, dusty streets. We have never thanked the garbage collector who collects hazardous waste thrown by us because we Indians don’t take pain to segregate our waste or we don’t have the willingness to start it. We lack a social initiative to start it but this initiative exists in every science text book of a school going kid. The rag pickers do the job of segregating our waste. What would happen if those rag pickers don’t separate the metal and plastic out of waste? The role of rag pickers is looked down upon in India. In fact, they are acting as a substitute for a failed system that promises them nothing!
We have become insensitive. We prefer to keep things as they are and never strive for change. Individuals have hardly cared for the society. The feeling of oneness has never existed in India in spite of having such a diverse culture.
“Anna, give me the one with water first, and then the one that’s tender.
Paani wala phir malai wala..”