The ‘Summer of Sixty Nine’ is the only summer which presumably everyone enjoyed, otherwise, all the other summers that we experience seem to haunt us with heat strokes and sun burns. And, for lazy bones like us, it brings added chores to the routine; One has to bathe everyday, (Don’t look at me with suspicion please), apply sunscreen before we step out and wear sunshades to attract eyeballs.
For some people like us, summers of Delhi are the most dreaded season, but for others, they are the source to earn food and way to live life. Those water-vending machines with a shabby looking operator, flood the city as early as in March. They brave the sun and stand all day long to do the ‘godly’ job of quenching thirst for just 50 paise per glass.
In the busy Central Market in Lajpat Nagar, there stands a kid all of eight years with his water vending machine. As we approach him, we notice that he is observing me just like I was observing him. Too smart for his age, and full of wit, the child was an easy game for convincing him to talk to VP.
VP: We are from an online newspaper. Will you tell us about yourself?
Kid: Oh sure! You want my interview?
VP: Yes, we will publish your name and photograph as well.
Kid: There he is, my Uncle, please publish his photo too…
(His Paternal uncle has his machine just in front of his)
VP: All right, we will. What does he do?
Kid: He is also a water vendor.
VP: Good. What is your name?
Kid: Lal Babu
VP: Lal Babu! Who gave you this name?
Kid: Amma. She lives in our village.
VP: What does your father do?
Lal Babu: He is also a water vendor. My Dad and I do the same work in summers.
VP: In summers? What you do in winters?
Lal Babu: Selling water is not a profitable business in winters. My Dad sells hand gloves and woolen caps here in the same market.
VP: And what you do?
Lal Babu: I help him around.
VP: So you don’t go to school?
Lal Babu: I do go, but today is my holiday.
VP: Who operates your machine then, when you go to school?
Lal Babu (confused and nervous so does not answers)
VP: Tell us truthfully, did u go to school?
Lal Babu: Yeah I did, but today I did not. I had a holiday.
VP: Where does your Dad stand?
Lal Babu: He stands in the same Market.
(He explained us the way to his dad’s machine and we were there in a while after we finished the session with the child. His Dad told us that he did go to school but he is a very naughty kid. Instead of going to school, he used to change his way and landed to at the roadside to pass time with other street side children. This was very hard for us to believe because the kid was apparently more then interested in being educated and in fact he apparently, lied to us due to guilty conscience).
VP: So how much you earn in a day?
Lal Babu: About Rs. 300-400
VP: That’s quite a good amount.
(I wondered if even I could take up the same job!!)
Lal Babu (chuckles): No, Didi. You are educated. Your work is better. All of these earnings do not go into my pocket. I have to earn and give at least Rs.400 to Malhotra Seth.
VP: Who is this Malhotra Seth?
Lal Babu: He owns this machine and gives us water soda and stuff.
VP: Oh, so it is not yours?
Lal Babu: No it is all Malhotra’s. We have to give him a fixed amount everyday and above that, the remaining amount belongs to us.
(Every water vending machine you see in the city belongs to a rich businessman who invests in these machines and gives them on rent. A water vendor can never purchase and run it alone because they need to have a license for doing this work, which comes for at least Rs.60, 000-70, 000. This is sans the patronage that these powerful people provide them as legally they are not allowed to operate.)
VP: So how much you get in your hand?
Lal Babu: I get only Rs. 40-50
VP: The money belongs to you?
Lal Babu: Yeah, a part of it. I first give it all to my Dad and then he gives me some.
VP: What do you do with the money?
Lal Babu: I eat samosas, dhabe ki roti and kulfi.
VP: You like them?
Lal Babu: A lot.
(Meanwhile, there comes a bully-like person. He warns Lal Babu to get his ‘rehdi’ aside. Lal Babu puts a good defence. “Kuch bhi kar lo, rehdi nahi hategi bhai” These words out of an eight-year-old’s mouth, baffle me.
We sensed that the kid needs to get back to work now and so we bade him goodbye but on a sweeter note. We gave him a chocolate and the smile on his face was so overwhelming that it made my day, and I too, was smiling for the rest of the day. While we were leaving, he reminded us, “chacha ki photu le lena aur jab chape toh mujhe zaroor dikhana”.
Compiled by: Monica Verma