Of course, Delhi must hold the Games, but why must Munnabhai not sell fruits?

The other day I came across Munnabhai after a long while. In his late 50s, Munnabhai is a fruit vendor. His fruits are famous for their freshness in the entire Darya Ganj area of central Delhi. Munnabhai is also known for his warm nature. He shares a bond with all his customers. He remembers what they bought last time; at what time in the day they had come last and what do they buy more often. One of the jolliest persons I have ever seen. Talking to him, one can forget all those worries and things which collectively increase the blood pressure.

He was back in Delhi after spending five years in his home town, Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. This time he was looking tired. “Kaise hain Munnabhai?” I asked. He kept on putting the apples on the scale without answering me. “Sab kheriyat?” I asked.

“Ye (read government) redhi lagne denge yahaan ya nahin? Sab bata rahein hain ke hamein bhaga denge…khel hone waale hain (Will the government allow us to continue with our business? I have heard that they will not, because of the Commonwealth Games),” he said, sending me in a tizzy. I had never seen that man so helpless. And I had no answer to his question, for I don’t know what the government has planned for thousands like Munnabhai who are present in every nook and corner of Delhi. Without whom the city just cannot survive. Who are away from their states to feed us. Whose faces and voices we have been living with for years. So much so that housewives recognise them from their shouts in the streets. In many parts of the city, vendors’ street-calls mark the beginning of the day. They have become us in all these years.

We have no clue what we will do if one fine day we discover that all those like Munnabhai have vanished. Will we all go to the nearest sabzi mandi? For some, it is a walking distance from home but a majority of us would have to spend considerable time , money and energy to go the vegetable market. Will we settle for fruits and vegetables sold by cooperatives like Mother Dairy? Or will shopping malls start stocking these items till the vendors like Munnabhai are kept of the picture perfect that they claim Delhi is.

Equally clueless are Munnabhai and his fellow vendors. They have not heard from the authorities. They just read in newspapers that they would have to make way for the foreign delegates and athletes who will be in Delhi for 12 days during the Games. The government schemes for them, if any, have not reached them. As you read this, hundreds of them would have boarded trains for their hometowns till the time the capital once again becomes ready to welcome them with open arms the way it has done for decades. You see, they cannot survive 12 days in this future Shanghai without livelihood.

Many of them are sole bread winners of their family. Sometimes they skip their meals so that their families back home can eat. I imagine Delhi as an ocean but the tributaries contributing to it are being temporarily cut off.
Street vendors who are left here are under a constant fear that any moment the authorities will ask them to wind up and go back. They closely listen in to their customers’ conversations for any update on CWG preparations. Every time they hear about the government’s drive against the beggars and the destitute, they think they are the next. Not having authentic information either way is hurting them more than any certainty of being shunted out.

For a moment, put yourself in the place of those like Munnabhai who are as much part of this city as the chief minister and the mayor are. Imagine waking up every morning with the fear that today you will be thrown out of the city. Imagine things that will happen to you after that. Where will you live? How will you survive? What will you tell your family? How will you feed your children?


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