Category Archives: Humans of India

“My wife doesn’t know I work as a driver in Chennai” – Humans of India #8

“I just came back from Ramanathapuram in the morning today, Sir” told Sivakumar, my Uber driver as I started a conversation with him. The roads were jammed on the eve of Akshaya Tritiya with 48% of the Chennai women on their way to jewellery shops, that night. 

Siva didn’t seem satisfied with his job as an Uber driver. “Targets are given for 3 days combined. At times like this when I spend 2 days at home, I won’t be able to meet the targets even if I work overtime. Life was much simpler back home in Ramanathapuram”.

We went back into his past. Siva is a Class XII graduate. He worked as a clerk in a transport company for many years, before taking up driving. As a clerk, his job was to maintain records of lorries and their goods going to different parts of the country from Ramnad. “It’s low margin business, Sir. If you have to transport few tons of goods in a lorry from Ramnad to Delhi, the tolls and entry charges itself will cost 40k. I was earning only 8k a month. I got a good reference to work as a driver in Dubai. I immediately grabbed the opportunity. The earnings there was pretty good. I had to come back to India after I met with an accident that injured my hand. I bought a second hand Scorpio with my savings and some loan amount to use it for transport of fish in my home town. That is a good business there.  But after a few years, the car condition deteriorated due to over use and I had to sell it off. That’s when I came to Chennai to work for Fast Track Call Taxi”

Siva is married and has a wife and 2 year old daughter. “Why don’t you get your family here in Chennai?” I asked. “We have our own house in Ramnad. They are comfortable there. I can’t afford a rented house for 3 here. Moreover my wife doesn’t know I work as a driver here. My father in law wants to start a new business in Ramnad”.

His family thinks he is working in some “Private company”. “My daughter will start going to school next year. I need to save as much as possible before that so that her education isn’t affected”.

My destination arrives. Siva’s journey continues. 

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Humans of India #7 – Curious Singaram

I have known Singaram for 7 years now. He works as a night watchman in our apartment in Kilpauk, Chennai. Going by his white hair and appearance, he should be in his mid 60s.

Over the last 7 years that we have stayed in our current apartment, there have been many different day watchmen, but Singaram has been a constant for RAMS Flats, all these years. If you have been to my place in the night even once your life, there is a good chance Singaram knows you by name. 

I have come across quite a few curious men in my life, but none as curious as Singaram. It’s almost as if his head would burst if he doesn’t have all the information about anything you do or anywhere you come from. 

He would ask the most obvious of questions as a conversation starter. For example, if he sees you carrying a suitcase or backpack and leaving the apartment, he would ask “Enna thambi, ooruku poreehalaa?”. What sir, are you going out of station?

If you give an answer and don’t make a move in say 2 seconds, you are trapped into the Singaram web. You can only come out of it after answering 46 other questions. Sometimes one gets a feeling he has gossips for dinner. He probably can survive on gossips, without food and water. He feels so happy to be a knowledge repository of sorts, of all details of the apartment residents. It’s almost like an unwritten KRA for him. 

He would come everyday to our home in the evening to mark his attendance in front of Thatha. He always has a bright smile on his face. Night watchman job is not a very interesting or engaging job. But he has no regrets. He enjoys what he is doing. He likes interacting with people, by nature. It’s almost as if he has accepted his life’s reality and has decided to live with it, with a smile on his face. 

Genuinely nice guy in general. If only he could ask lesser questions 🙂

Humans of India #6

A recent Facebook post by my Marketing Professor turned Twitter friend, Jayshree Sundar triggered me to write this post. She had posted yesterday about one of her domenstic helps who had come back after years to meet her over a cup of tea, and about how well-to-do she has become over the years. 

That reminded me of our own maid, Renuka, who worked as a maid for 7-8 years at our place. This was from 2002, I vaguely recollect. Over the initial years, she bonded really well with the family. Her husband was employed as a construction worker. She used to earn 300-400 INR a month from say 10 households. 

Fast forward 10 years. Both her sons have completed their under graduation. The younger one is doing his post graduation currently. Her elder son is married. He was a school topper. My mom went along with him for his undergrad counselling. My dad got him his first job. Over the next few years, through his hard work, he would stabilise himself in the company, earning 30k+ a month, a big deal for them. He would ensure his mom doesn’t have to work as a domestic help anymore. They would go on to buy 3-4 lands and construct their own houses and rent them. Fairytale much?

Renuka visits our place often. She stayed at our house, like a family member for 2 full days, last month when my Thatha passed away. She was very bonded to my grandfather. (Who wasn’t?)

Such stories make me think about our own luxurious (relatively) lives. About how much more we could do, with our time. About how little we probably are doing. 

There is inspiration all around us. We just have to “see”.

P.S: I do not have a picture of Renuka handy. Will probably add it sometime later. 

Humans of India #5

Arjun’s food cart in Sector 44 is always busy. All through the day, you could find him busy making Maggi, Bread Omelette, Tea and other snacks with unbridled enthusiasm. I am his camp constant on a daily basis, for my daily cups of Chaai and occasional Maggi.

Today in the evening, surprisingly, his cart was deserted, and I felt I could use this opportunity to know his story.

“I’ve been in this business for close to two years now. I hail from Muzaffarpur (Bihar) where my parents and siblings live. I currently stay at my Mama’s place here in Gurgaon and run this business”, he smiles.

Arjun is 20 years old and is already supporting his dad, who was caught in a debt which he was unable to repay. So Arjun had to leave his education after Class XI to take care of his family.

“I shouldn’t have left my education after Class XI. I was very good in academics in my town. I scored 67% in Class X, one of the highest then. Now, it’s been a two year break. I am writing my Class XII Boards on Feb 24, for which I am travelling home on Feb 21. I will clear the exams, I am sure”, he says with glittering eyes.

Does he find time to study?

“I take care of the shop from 10 am to 10 pm. Your yourself know I don’t have anyone to support. I am kept busy throughout the day, with little rest. When I reach home at 10.30, I am completely exhausted. I try to find some time in the morning for my studies.”

How is the business doing?

“Mondays and Tuesdays are a bit down. People do not generally eat egg on Tuesdays. So Maggi sells. On other days, I sell upto 50 plates each of Maggi and Bread Omelette. Cigarettes, Snacks and Tea sell anyway. When the guy opposite me shuts his shop, obviously my business goes up.”

Arjun

Arjun

What does the future look like?

“My friends who studied Class X with me are now in their BA First year. I want to study too. Let’s see what the future holds. For now, I want to learn basic English and apply for jobs here. I am weak in English”, he blushes.

“Immediate focus is on Class XII boards. Let’s cross the bridge when it comes”, he signs off.

To me, the thing that makes Arjun stand out among his peers (other shopkeepers) is his attitude towards work, his attitude towards life, his confidence in himself and his never fading smile.

Well, all the best Arjun!

Keep inspiring us.

 

 

 

Humans of India #4

Vishnu Kumar, the security guard in night shift at my office had become a good friend of mine, over the last few weeks.

Yesterday, when I greeted him with a “Goodnight bhaiyya” and was about to leave office, I saw the familiar face of Hari Ram, an ex-Security guard at Shopclues, smiling back at me. He wasn’t in his uniform. I was curious to know more about his whereabouts these days.

We conversed in Hindi throughout, but is translated to English here. 

Hari Ram: “Sireenivaas Sir, you know, I am a teacher now.”

Vishnu Kumar: “Show your ID card to Sir, too. You haven’t left a single person alone.” *grins*

Me: *reading from the ID card* “Tuition teacher at Mera Parivar! Wow! When and how did this happen?”

Hari Ram, the tuition teacher

Hari Ram, the tuition teacher

Hari: “Mera Parivar is an NGO Sir. My cousin introduced me to it. I teach maths to Class VI – Class VIII kids. There are 150 students in all, and 4 teachers. All these students are studying in Government school. Unfortunately, the standard of teaching isn’t great there. So this tuition is aimed at providing them with good quality education. And, it’s free of cost for them”

Overhearing our interesting conversation from a distance, Jeet Singh, another security guard, joins our round table. Throughout the conversation, Hari was my English translator, in case I threw a blank face to anything Vishnu or Jeet said.

Me: “That’s great Hari. So you no longer work as security guard?”

Hari: “I had taken a break so that things could settle in. I will join again by the end of this month”

Me: “Great! *looking at Jeet and Vishnu* What do you guys do during the day?”

Vishnu: “I just sleep throughout the day. In the night also, there is not much work. After you leave, I switch off all the lights in all floors, and sleep, till 6 am in the morning.”

Me: “If you are anyway sleeping for 8 hours in the night, you could do some job during the day also right?”

Vishnu: “Not like I don’t want to. I haven’t got any opportunities.”

Me: “What have you studied?”

Vishnu: “Engineering, till second year in my village. I wanted to complete my engineering, but you know fate takes it’s own course. My father had a deep fracture in his left leg, making him bed-ridden for months together. I had two elder sisters who were to be married. Mom stays at home. Who will earn? I had to”

I had, in the past seen Vishnu operate the computer to transfer some files and do other basic stuff

Me: “You can work with the computer right?”

Vishnu: “Yes Sir. Of course!”

Me: “Let me see if I can find you a day job”

Vishnu: “That will be the biggest help anyone would have done to me and my family, Sir”

Vishnu had become a bit senti. To lighten things up, I changed the topic.

Me: “So Hari, where are you from?”

Hari: “From Kherli, in Alwar district, Rajasthan. These two guys are also from a nearby place, Bharatpur”

Jeet takes off from there.

Jeet: ” Bharatpur fort (Lohagarh Fort) was impregnable by enemy forces. Aurangazeb tried once. The British tried many a time. They couldn’t move a brick. You search in internet if  what I am saying is true or not”

It was indeed true.

Jeet: “There’s also Ghana Bird Sanctuary, which attracts tourists from all over the world”

Me: “Oh, that’s awesome! I have been to Rajasthan, but only to Jaipur, Udaipur, Ajmer and Pushkar. Will visit these places someday.”

Hari: “You should. It is a beautiful place, Bharatpur,”

Jeet: “Where are you from, Sir?”

Me: “Chennai”

Jeet throws a blank.

Hari: “That place in South man, which was initially called Madras.”

Jeet: “Oh, so you are staying alone here, away from family. Much like our stories”

All three have a hearty laugh at this.

As Vishnu goes to switch off the lights at office, Hari gives some career advice to Jeet.

Hari: “Look man, you’re new to this field. Don’t get stuck here. You’re still young. See if you can get a better job somewhere. There’s no job that’s as mundane as this. I am saying out of experience. 10+ years. It’s not even good for your body, sitting at the same place all day. Working as a labourer is better compared to this. At least you give some exercise to your body that way.”

Jeet: “It’s not like I want to work as security. I am not getting any other job. I will try.”

Me: “You knew these guys from before, Jeet?”

Jeet: “Of course! Vishnu married my sister last year. We are all relatives”

Me: “Haha, nice nice. Hari, what about your family?”

Hari: “They are in Kherli. Wife, three kids, I will send my daughter for PMT after her 12th, and my son for Computer training. Second son is just studying in Class IV”

Vishnu comes back and starts another random conversation.

Vishnu: “I used to be awesome at Maths in School and College. The only subject in maths I hated was *some hindi word I didn’t understand*”

Me: “Sorry, what subject?”

Hari: “That subject where you have x-square + y-square and all”

Me: “Oh, algebra!”

Vishnu: “Yes yes. That is one subject I fail to understand even today, after all these years. Apart from that, I used to score 75+ out of 100 in all my maths tests.”

Hari: “I would regularly score 45+ out of 50 too.”

Me: “Awesome! So Vishnu, you shouldn’t waste this talent. Make use of it. I will get some books sometime next week.”

Vishnu: “Sure. Also, did you know Hari has an awesome memory? Ask him about your two wheeler’s number”

Hari: “Oh sir’s number. It’s 5091 Black Activa. Radhika mam’s is XXXX, your old roommate Hari’s number was YYYY.”

Me: “Wow!”

Hari: “Hehe! Just to make our mundane job more interesting. Anyway Sir, I have to leave now, go home and cook my dinner.”

Me: “Same here. Bye! Let’s take a picture”

Jeet: *pointing near the reception table* “Lighting is good here. Let’s click here”

Vishnu: “It should be a selfie”

From left to right: Jeet Singh, Vishnu Kumar, Hari Ram and yours truly

From left to right: Jeet Singh, Vishnu Kumar, Hari Ram and yours truly

Me: “I’ll share it via Bluetooth with both of you.”

Hari: “Bluetooth why. Whatsapp the pics to us!”

Talk about mobile internet penetration in India!

Note: If you have any contacts that can help get Vishnu a job in and around Gurgaon, please reach out to me at snitinsrinivas@gmail.com

Btw, if you’re new to the “Humans of India” series, you might want to read them all, here.

Humans of India #3

With rain pouring heavily yesterday evening, I decided to leave my two wheeler at office and take an auto back home.

Two street urchins (who looked 15-16 years old) sharing the front seat of an auto approached me.

We conversed in Hindi throughout, but is translated to English here.

Me: “Queen’s Plaza, Sushant Lok. 40 rupees.”

Street Urchin 1: “Get in. Just tell me the directions”

I get into the auto.

Me: “You look very young. Do you have a license?”

SU1: *turns back* “No.”

Me: “How old are you?”

SU1: “17.”

Me: “And you?”

SU2: “Should be 15 or 16”.

Me: “Is this your dad’s vehicle?”
SU1: “Yes. He drives throughout the day. Now, he is very tired and lying at home. We take care of the auto post 8 pm”

Me: “What’s your name?”

SU1: “I’m Munna. He’s my younger brother, Akash”

Me: “You guys go to school during the day right?”

Munna: “No longer. We cannot afford it now.”

Akash takes on from there.

Akash: “Munna went to school till Class V. In Class VI, he wanted to shift to a better school. The fees they asked for two years was 15000. Our dad couldn’t afford that much. We had to stop schooling then. 4 years ago. It never really took off from there. Now we’re comfortable doing what we’re doing.”

Me: “What are you doing now?”

Akash: “Outside Gate 2 of Ardee City, we have a Tea Stall. My brother and I take care of it during the day, while our father drives the auto. In the night, our papa takes rest and we take care of the rides from 8 pm till 11-11.30 pm.”

Me: “That’s good. You’re working hard. Why don’t you think big? Why don’t you go to school now, if you can afford it?”

Munna: “Sir, to think big, you also need big money. Our mom had a heart surgery and half of my dad’s income is spent buying medicines only. Our mom can no longer work. How can our dad’s income alone take care of our studies, mom’s medication and regular expenses? We have got used to it now. There’s no way I am going back to school now”

Me: “Can you read English?”

Akash gets all excited.
Akash: “Yes, yes. A bit. See that board there? It reads ‘Gold Souk'”.

Munna smiles.

Me: “Where are you guys from? Natives of Delhi?”

Munna: “We’re from Malda district, 12 hour journey from Kolkata. We rarely get to go home. Once a year, may be”

Me: “Even I’m like you guys only. I’m from Chennai, but get to go home only once in three months”

Akash: “Oh, Chennai. We’ve never been to any place south of MP”

Me: “You like to travel?”

Munna: “Of course! There are lot of places around our home town in Jalpaiguri we’ve seen. Very good places”

My house arrives. I ask them if I can take a picture of/with them.

Akash smiles and agrees.

Munna: “Why sir? What will you do with it? You’ll send it to us? Actually, I’m feeling a bit scared. We are less than 18 and driving auto without license. What if police figure us out with that photo”

Me (smiling): “No problem. Do you know what day it is, tomorrow?”

Akash: “Our nation’s Independence Day”
Me: “Happy Independence Day in advance”
Munna: “Same to you, Sir”.

Humans of India #2

I was walking back home after doing my weekly groceries shopping at Queen’s Plaza, a small market in our locality in Gurgaon.

“Would you mind having hot Dhal Kachori, Sir? I serve Idlis and some drinks too.”, an old man, told me in Hindi, with gleaming eyes and a child like smile on his face. I was already tired from a long day’s work and had made up my mind to go back home and hang up my boots for the day at the earliest, but something in the old man’s face told me I should visit his store. And so I did.

I ordered a plate of Idly Sambhar and started digging the Whatsapp chats for the day I had missed, not in a mood to strike any conversation with the shopkeeper. Through the corner of my eye, something in the menu card of the shop caught my attention.

“Please make your day useful. Help a mental girl enjoy today”, read a sign board.

Rashika Maharishi's Home Kitchen

Rashika Maharishi’s Home Kitchen

The old man saw me seeing the board, and started a conversation. He somehow figured out I am not a local guy and tried his best to speak in English to make me feel comfortable.

“Dhal Kachori, very nice. My daughter-in-law make. You try and tell”, he said, in a dialect Prabhaker (from Shantaram) would easily relate to.

The shop’s name read “Rashika Maharishi’s Home Kitchen”.

“So Rashika is your daughter-in-law?”, I asked him.

“Yes yes. *smiles broadly*. She is my beta ka bahu (daughter-in-law). Very good in studies. She completed B.Sc in Home Science and won three awards during college”. When he told that, I could see his chest puff with pride.

“She makes the food, and I sell them. She makes tasty Kachoris, Samosas, Idly and Kheer. Very tasty. B.Sc in Home Science. Three awards during college”.

“Oh, really nice”

“Yes, yes. My son is working as trainer in Delhi Airport. I am retired. My wife no more. My daughter became mental when she was 2 years old. Head on collision with a car. That guy didn’t even stop to react, just sped away. Just like that. Since that day till today, my daughter hasn’t changed. I have taken her to many doctors across the state. Sab ne haat kada kar diya (Everyone told there’s no scope). She is in her twenties now and will live just a few more years. But I am very proud of her. I will take care of her to the best of my ability, till I breathe my last.”

My eyes welled up. The best part was that the old man didn’t narrate the story in a sad tone. He was smiling all through. He just accepted his life’s truth and decided to live with it.

“Your Idly ready sir. Sambhar very nice. Eat and tell me. Made by my daughter-in-law. Very good in studies”, he smiled.

“What else do you have?”

“It’s already 9 pm. Samosas have sold out. I just have two pieces of Dhal Kachori”

“I’ll buy it”

The old man. I'll ask him his name, next time

The old man. I’ll ask him his name, next time

While he was packing the Kachoris, a lot of thoughts ran through my mind.

All of us have so many things to feel grateful about. Yet, more often than not, we end up feeling depressed about things we don’t have or things that don’t go our way.  And then, there are rare gems, like this old man.

I told myself, “The next time I even think about fretting over a long stressful day at work, I will remember this gentleman, and stop fretting”.

“Welcome again to my shop, Sir”, he said, handing over the parcel of Idly Sambhar and Dhal Kachoris, with the never fading smile, that takes to his face, like fish to water.

Humans of India #1: Thatha

Why look outside when you have inspiration within your house!

My Thatha (Grandfather) has had one of the most positive influences on me, all these 24 years, and still continues to.

He, in more ways than one, reminds me of all the traits Professor APJ Abdul Kalam stood for; loved by all, down to earth, treats everyone with an equal eye and extremely dedicated (to work, self and family).

In his prime, he can make even the most serious person in the room laugh out loud, with his funny one liners and jokes. Some of them make me laugh even now, after having heard them like a 1000 times.

He gifted me my first bicycle when I was in Class III (or IV).

He likes to see people around him happy and derives his own happiness out of it. For example, he would always keep a handful of chocolates in his front pocket. Whenever the newspaper boy, milkman, maid, kid from the opposite house or any guest comes, he would give them a chocolate to see their faces beaming with a smile from ear to ear. A man of few words, he uses such small gestures to show his love.

With an elephant-esque memory, he manages to remember every little detail possible. Some day, he’d come up to me and say, “Today is A’s brother’s friend’s husband’s birthday.”

Till a few years ago, he used to have a very rigorous and busy daily schedule, even in his retirement life. He would cut newspaper clippings of interesting tidbits and compile them in a book, read journals and books, call his friends and relatives or just sit and write “Sriramajayam” endlessly.

When I was a kid, I would wait for him to reach home at 6.45 pm sharp, to get hold of something he’d have bought for me that day.

These days, I don’t get to talk to him often, but when I go home after a hiatus of three months, nothing would have changed between us. He would jokingly ask me, “What have you bought for me this time?”, kiss my hand and then we’d chat our way to glory!

IMG_3537

If you’re new to my Photo Diaries Series, you could start here.