Sunday, July 11, 2010

From Migrant to Man of Means

He used to come to the corner store to buy tea-leaves and sugar every day. Tired, weary, but dogged in his desperation to get the job done. He used to carry a large metal container with a tap, which he used to sell tea to the hundreds of office staff in the hundreds of offices at Patto Plaza. There were a number of tea sellers like him, but he caught our eye since he used to stop by our local grocer every evening to stock up on tea and sugar and a few meagre odds and ends he needed for himself. I think the grocer said he came from Rajasthan.

A while later, a woman began to accompany him. Definitely Rajasthani style brightly coloured saris with her pullo covering her head and shading her eyes and nose completely. She used to sit on the Patto side of the walkover bridge. She used to crochet little caps for babies and had befriended the Kannadiga woman who had spread out inexpensive wares like brushes, combs and mobile phone covers etc on a tarpaulin for office goers to pick up in their headlong rush to the bus stand or to work somewhere deep inside Panjim city. The Rajasthani woman crocheted the baby hats and the Kannadiga sold them for a commission. A small side business while her husband sold tea to sleepy office workers.

The husband of course kept office hours and returned after 5.30. He would come to the small crocheting enterprise, give his empty metal tea container to his wife to carry and together they would walk over the little pink bridge to the grocer and buy tea, sugar, grain and some vegetables.

Still later we saw them with a whole bunch of Rajasthani women, all chattering loudly and marveling at this new planet called Goa. They sat down with the crocheting wife at her place of work, a small parapet next to the Kannadiga woman selling small stuff. All their heads were covered with their pullos, but our crocheting small scale entrepreneur had her face completely open to the elements and the incurious onlookers. That was what Goa did to her. She found she needn’t hide her face here.

Recently we saw a young man accompanying the Rajasthani couple. He was an import from their home town. Now he held the tea container in his hand and he carried on the tea business.

The Rajasthani man, the original tea seller had now bought a second-hand motorbike and we saw him riding into the city. Apparently he had a proper job as a security man at an office in Panjim. His wife no longer sits on the parapet crocheting her baby caps. It looks like she doesn’t need to anymore, since her husband has a good job and also gets a commission for his countryman who is starting up the same ladder. Any bets? The teenage tea seller will get another relative to take over supplying their tannin fix to hundreds of office staff, while he gets his benefactor’s security job, once the benefactor gets a better position.

It’s the same with the unending line of boys in their late teens and 20s who come in from Orissa, Jharkhand and Nepal. They wash cars and have the cars of an entire neighbourhood pretty much under their control. They charge whatever they like and no one undercuts them. We, who feel embarrassed to wash the same cars that we drive so proudly, pay whatever they ask and feel the price is worth the chore of carrying a bucket of water to the car and wielding a washcloth.

I don’t really have the moral right to complain about migrants flooding into Goa, because a very nice Nepali boy called Shibu, climbs uncomplainingly up 82 steps to my house, takes a bucket full of water and washcloth and washes my car, all done with a big smile. If he didn’t do it, I would have to (wash the car I mean, not smile) and I don’t like doing a Jack and Jill number down the hill.

But there’s hope yet. In the Rajasthani woman who does not feel the need to cover her face any more. She shows her face with the same indifference that any Goan woman does. We take a simple thing like that as our right. The Rajasthani woman had to travel down the country to free herself. Life will be tough for her, but she can walk free among others without fear. Here in Goa. That’s why she will never go back. That’s why she will bring more and more of her family and friends to share in what she thinks is Paradise. Can’t really blame her…

The only problem exercising the old brain is this: Where can Goans go? To Rajasthan? We’re not built for hard work.

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