Blurry Faces of the city is a series of illustrations of the people who are living around us but are rarely noticed and acknowledged in mainstream. This is an attempt to see their lives and struggles closely, as they go through numerous ordeals to keep themselves and their dependents alive and fed; in hope for a better tomorrow.
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The ice-cream seller
A Friday night, somewhere in Noida.
Clock is about to strike 11 pm. We came out of a restaurant and started walking on the eastbound road alongside a now-slept market. On the road there are auto-rickshaws lined up with their drivers wandering around looking for passengers. Some auto-rickshaws are rushing down the road and some others slowing down to ask if we are intended to go somewhere. Some of them would try to guess the place we are likely to go and shout – ‘So and so much money for blah-blah place… Get in!’ We would answer some and ignore others. I know it is their daily practice so, it hardly makes a difference what we really say. Deal is – are we getting into it or not? Actual listening would start only after either we nod to a fixed amount or the meter is down – which would be rare thing to happen; so, mostly for us and for most of the commuters it is the first one.
Amidst this, came a police car and a policeman wearing a washed away shade of standard-issued-brown-police-uniform shouted from it on the roadside food stall vendors – to close the business. Meanwhile a companion of the his, a motorcycle-ridden policeman, patrolled the adjacent alley and then signaled one of the vendors to bring food to the police car.
This must have been a routine for these stall owners and the patrolling party too.
We kept walking towards the end of this market where there is a traffic signal – mostly ignored by all during this time of the night. Just before the signal, around a corner standing, with his ice-cream trolley, in ebony skin was a thin boy of age around 17.
He had his skeleton prominently visible. All the features of it – the cheek bones, eye-ball sockets, collar-bones, elbows. His head appeared large though – due to unkempt hairs those fashioned a brownish color owing to dust gathered in them.
One can easily be startled by an ‘apparently unprecedented’ form of living being when least expecting. Not even in figment of imagination I would have thought this structure of bones, flesh and blood; so I reacted – “What are you doing on this side of the road?! There are no restaurants or anything that’d lure people to crowd around!”
“Cars stop here, sir”, came a swift reply riding on a voice that was sure of itself but also a little sad. “They buy from me. I am here for those customers.”, he added sounding defending his ground.
“Why not move a little closer to the market behind the bus stand?”, said I; almost rhetorically.
“There is already a trolley on the northern corner. Two of us can’t sell together, we have to cover larger area, plus we have to follow a strategy of being visible at a certain place in continuation of positions – a series of trolleys placed at a certain distance from each other would form such a chain that would induce the ‘desire’ by repetitive stimulus to vision and mind”, he spoke in authoritative and compelled voice while narrating his sales plan.
He was getting into it. I’d drawn him into a conversation now. Earlier it was merely asking and answering. By this time, I had understood that he could talk more freely now. His body language suggested that he was at ease and the cover of defense that mind had created was gone.
I could see him more clearly now, for now he didn’t feel embarrassed, or offended, when I ‘stared’ at him.
Those eyes could not have been more alert and skin did not wear wrinkles and a nice bath would have had brought-out a smooth chocolaty tone instead of grainy and dusty brown one.
Teeth were surprisingly white against the common notion about tobacco eating mouths and surely one would have been able to count all the ribs if he’d took off his yellow-brown shirt.
He probably read my thoughts for he spoke suddenly, “I’ll put on some weight once my worries are over sir.”
I looked at him in awe and he went on with his story of leaving his village in Buxar (Bihar) and coming to Delhi to work in a factory that produced packaging items.
There came a mention of his father and his eyes lit up, his hands clutched the pushing-bar of his trolley harder as if they were the hands of his father whom he probably has longed to grab and cry, sharing his ordeals. It became ‘necessary’ to talk about something else to do away with the emotional overwhelm.
“So which ice-cream do you like?”, I made an attempt to change the subject but came no reply from the him. I felt a little embarassed to ask such a stupid question after a heavy moment. I, however, threw away that feeling and asked another question.
“When do you start your sale?” I asked, while pretending to read from the items’-chart hanging from the top of the trolley.
“From afternoon 3.”, he glanced at that menu chart and looked away on the road to our right.
“And when will you go home?”, I continued.
“I am waiting for some friends, the other trolley manning men, who would be going with me. It is risking life and property to travel alone on these roads due to some anti-social elements who will strip you of everything and wouldn’t hesitate to put a knife into you, so we go in groups.”, he said gravely while his forehead frowned.
The timing of this response could not have been worst, so to lighten the air I asked, “For how much did you sell today?
“Not much – only 1200 Rupees. Usually I make 2000-2500.”
“I understand that that money goes to the company. What do you get?”
“16% of my sales amount.”
“So you get it monthly?”
“I wouldn’t survive on monthly salary if it is this less! I keep my 16% every day… and I don’t like ice-cream sir.”
His friends arrived and he left with them; talking while waving hands animatedly. Sharing stories from the day. Sharing their common worries and pacifying what’s there to pacify.
Blurry Faces of the city | A series of illustrations: Words & Photographs ©sanjeevkumarpandey