Baba Ka Dhabha
Last fortnight a video depicting the plight of an elderly couple who used to scrape a living by running a wayside Dhabha at Malviya Nagar had gone viral on Whatsapp. It showed how badly the lockdown had effected their business. The poor couple had run out of all their savings in the past six months and there was no respite in site. Before the spread of the pandemic, there small eatery was popular with the young people who are always on the lookout for the food joints that provide wholesome meals at a reasonable price and Dhabhas are just meant for that because their overheads are little.
That is how they used to be in good old times. I doubt if any recorded history of their evolution exists, but since that is not the subject of my story, let me make a brief comment on it. Originally, they were meant to provide a clean, cheap, warm and simple food to the truckers driving on the Grand Trunk Roads, the credit of constructing which is given to Sher Shah Suri, who ruled for a brief period from 1538-45. There weren’t truckers around then, but caravans must also be following some specific routes. So, there must have been some kind of inns along the ways, like those that we get to read about in old English stories.
These unpretentious, food joints exist everywhere now, not only on the highways but on all roads and streets in every town of India. Some provide a clean, wholesome meal while others don’t maintain a good hygiene and in some the food in not tasty, but they all provide it at a low cost which is their selling point. Their profit depends on the turnover. It was all ok, till the pandemic, which struck suddenly. Nobody had expected that it would last for that long, but now as things stand today, no one knows for how long more will this uncertainty prevail. There is nothing except news about the vaccine and so far, by God’s grace, nothing bad has happened to the people who have volunteered themselves for trials.
Though government was very cautious in first imposing the lock down, and then slowly relaxing it, but still in a vast country like India, the fallouts were from bad to worse on the people of different strata. It was because a large number of people in India, eke out a living by doing small jobs. Nobody had expected a chaotic migration of daily wagers from across the nation and then their reverse journeys back to the places they had chosen to go to for earning livelihood.
So, the truth is that lakhs of people like the man who was running this “Baba Ka Dhaba” at Delhi were dying a slow death until the relaxation in lockdown halted that. Now as they have started getting a trickle of the customers for hanging on to the hope that perhaps one day, they will have their place bustling with activity like it did before the disaster stuck.
In olden days, the only source of getting stories were the newspapers. Once in a while in a Sunday chronicle, some freelance reporters would insert some stories about forgotten, dilapidated monuments, that spoke of the glory of the great rulers, crumbling slowly to dust, like anthills, or some sensitive journalist would visit the shanties for bringing to us the stories about how the poor people living on the fringes of the society, struggled to make a living in an indifferent society. How they lived in the surroundings rapidly filling with high rise buildings and expensive automobiles zooming past them. Once in a while someone would bring to us the tales of contrast of the rich and the poor and the feeling of the poor, about their dreams and their woes and the emotions the material possessions of the rich and their own penury invoked in them. But now everyone has a Smartphone in the pocket and has accounts with social media platforms having huge memberships. If one has an eye for picking up stories that appeal to a swathe of people, one can easily become popular. I think this guy named Gurav Wasan had no inkling what his good intentioned video could lead him to:-
Mr. Gaurav Wasan posts his videos at Facebook page and at some other popular Social Media portals by the name ..@swadofficial, by which I understand that he has a sizeable following.
He made a video highlighting the plight of the old couple and one has every reason to believe that he wasn’t seeing any windfall in it. In the video the old octogenarian frail man tearfully narrates the tale of his unending woes. Obviously, the video moved many people. From the video, one can make out the genuineness of Mr. Wasan to help the Dhaba owner who when he tell him that he had only earned Seventy rupees since morning, gives four hundred rupees from his own pocket and can be heard requesting to his target audience to come out and donate liberally to help the poor old couple. As it went viral beyond the expectations of both the Dhaba owner and the one who posted the video depicting his plight, they didn’t know how to react. Both the dhaba owner and the producer of the video were novice to the game of big money the nitty-gritties of how to deal with it, but there’s a saying in Hindi that aptly describes it that:- “bhagwan jab deta hai to chhapar faad ke deta hai”, so was it literally. Help in the form of cash and the orders for meals started pouring in in torrents. As Baba didn’t have his contact number on his ‘Boardless’ dhaba and as he didn’t even have a phone, so Mr. Gaurav became officiating manager of his business. Money is a dirty thing, a very, very dirty thing, I would say. That’s why often when one gets too much of it, it has to be laundered. It can spell doom for every relationship. It can kill every good intention. It can make a devil out of a man and every man wishes become one and every woman…my search for feminine gender of a devil on Google gives me many synonyms, a cat, a termagant, a hell cat, shrew, and this and that but there’s not a word for a covetous, greed woman, how ironic!
After a few days of the incident, we read that the Dhaba owner had filed a complaint with the police against the good smaritan for cheating. I do not know the quantum of money that is at the core of the issue but that is always subjective. While rich people fight for millions of dollars the poor may come to blows and even commit murder in a dispute over a few hundred rupees. In today’s newspaper there’s a news of a plumber having been stoned to death by his friends he had been drinking over a dispute over ten rupees. It is difficult to believe that the intentions of Mr. Gaurav were to cheat Mr. Kanta Prasad, the owner of the dhaba at the outset. In all sincerity his heart must have melted on seeing the plight of the old couple and he may have decided to do something to get them some help. Obviously, he couldn’t have asked Kanta Prasad his Bank Account details and nor would have he disclosed those to Mr. Wasan, with all those online frauds being the order of the day.
So, to me it seems fair enough if Mr. Wasan gave his bank account to the seekers who wanted to give donations to Mr. Kanta Prasad after the moving video posted by Mr. Wasan tucked at some chords of their hearts. Smartphone has made money transactions dangerously easy and in India, people like to dispense with the burden of sins they may have involuntarily committed by defaulting on one or many of those hundreds of codes of conduct that according their grooming and religious beliefs acquired while growing up, weigh upon their minds. For religions across the board, making some donations is accepted as the best bargain offer for paying off for the sins and with a smartphones in the hands it is the easiest thing to do.
But Mr. Kanta Prasad who had been running a dhaba in Delhi, couldn’t be seen as a pushover. On the contrary, he should been seen as a shrewd businessmen who has not “Dhoop mein baith ke baal safed nahin kiye” (literally greyed his hair sitting in the sun) as they say in Hindi, meaning that he has experience of years behind him. Running a Dhaba is a tough business because the profit margin is small and if he has run it successfully all his life, he knows pretty well where to squeeze his share of pennies from. Incidentally, this time, it’s not about pennies but about rupees, lakhs of them- a proverbial windfall and he just can’t let it wriggle out of his hands.
To be continued…..
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