Not Only A Paanwaala
Not Only A Paanwaala5 mins 415 5 mins 415
Ramjee Prasad Gupta sat crossed legged on his haunches, somewhat similar to the way lord Ganesha sits. It is a regular roadside make shift shop, stack of cigarette packets, dangling chewing tobacco pouches, plastic jars with toffees and small pile of betel leaves. The only difference, his shop is a roofless, sleek wooden one, bright red colored, and has narrow shelves with sliding glass cover.
“I sit for 12-13 hours daily on the hard surface, how many of the young guys can do so?” he said briskly with a tinge of challenge.
The shop is nestled under an old tree on the footpath of Russel Street and has a circular canopy, a promotional umbrella, which partly protects Ramjee from the glaring sun and rains but completely from the bird droppings. A small tea shop, almost in shambles, run by an old woman and her son is his immediate neighbor.
“I share a room with the ATM guards, there, not far away” He said pointing towards Park Street. There must be some dingy room hidden behind the glitzy shops where he spends his nights far from his family, fighting Kolkata’s notorious pesky mosquitoes.
“And I have my food in hotel” By saying so he means having his meals from the roadside eateries which offers filling food at reasonable prices.
“When I was young I use to have half a kilo soaked chana for breakfast but that was long ago” His eyes had a faraway look. In his early seventies, Ramjee earns just good enough to sustain himself in the city. Money is no more required to be sent home.
“I’m on my own now, if I go back to my village, I will have enough to eat. But I have to ask money for my luxuries. Eight hundred rupees every month for my Khaini and four quarters of rum that I consume every month” He quips. He has a large family, four sons, one daughter and an old wife. The eldest son works in Mumbai, the next one in Surat, the third one takes care of agriculture in the village and the youngest son is in college. The daughter is happily married.
“All my sons contribute money to the village household, even the youngest one, he takes tuitions and is a bright chap” The proud father spoke with loneliness in his voice.
“City life is ‘bekar’, you know my son who takes care of the agriculture contributes the most, the other two sons from Mumbai and Surat supply the least, and they aren’t left with enough money”
Two of his sons are also married and their wives live in his village house. His wife is the one in-charge of the village household.
“She is as tough as old boots, up by 4 in the morning, tends the cows, milks them and sells half the production. The remaining half is for the family but she keeps aside full one liter of milk for herself” He laughs at the recollection.
On asking how he landed in Kolkata, he had an interesting story to narrate.
“I must have been around 10-11 years old when I ran away from home, worked in a paan shop in Bura Bazaar for few years and then started my own paan shop in Kalakar Street” He spoke with pride and a spark in his eyes. Born in a farmer’s family in some village nearby Sasaram in Bihar, Ramjee was the third one born in the family with five children.
“My brother slapped me one day and the decision was made. I asked for twenty rupees from my mother and left home. The train fare from Sasaram to Kalkatta was twenty rupees then”
He slogged for hours as an assistant in a Paan shop and it was only after six years that he visited home. His elder sister was married in Kolkata; his brother-in-law found him and informed his parents.
“Those days telegram was sent for urgent communication, the mobile phones were not there. My father came to meet me, I didn’t go back home then. It was only after six years when I had my own shop I visited my parents” He was now speaking with great excitement.
“I use to pay 1.2 lacs a year towards the rent of the shop, had two assistants and you won’t believe, I deposited seventy five thousand rupees in my bank every month, after all expenses”. Ramjee visited home every two years and bought land, cattle and built his own house. He was successful and invested his hard earned money wisely.
It was during his hay days that one Marwari offered the hand of his daughter for marriage.
“I said NO, my Banaras ka baba had advised me to stay away from ‘Paraya nari and paraya dhan’, I always followed his sermon and prospered in life”
“You are a Bania and so is a Marwari, they why don’t you accept the proposal” His brother-in-law had advised but Ramjee was a man of principles. He was determined to marry the girl his parents chose and so did he subsequently.
But how come he left the flourishing business behind and settle for an uneventful shop so far away from Bura bazaar.
“My assistants left, they have their own shops now, and I couldn’t manage the huge rush. I had no option but to close the shop” He said with regret.
“I asked my sons to join my business; they joined me but sadly left in a week’s time. Didn’t I say- it is not easy to sit for long hours in a Paan shop”
The spirit and determination for success that Ramjee had is missing in his own sons. His only regret in life “Only if my sons would have supported me in my business”.
Ramjee has nondescript personality but he is indeed extraordinary, a self-made, successful man.