Twenty-eight-year-old Salman is from Bhadohi, in East Uttar Pradesh. He was just 8-year-old, when he came to Chennai with his father. He and his six brothers are all in the business of selling carpets and rugs, a business that their father did. But, life is a faraway land is difficult. Though he had little education, he has good manners. He values hard work, is god-fearing, detests drinking and bad company. He, with his brothers, looks after his aged parents, who have gone back to their hometown village. He misses home. Life is no magic carpet for him. Shail profiles his trial and tribulations, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
“I loved the Little Lulu stories, where she would fantasize that her bedroom rug would turn into a pool of water, and she could dive down into the centre of the world.” ~ Lynn Johnston, Canadian cartoonist, known for her newspaper comic strip, For Better or For Worse.
Meet Salman, aged 28 years, hailing from Bhadohi district, Uttar Pradesh. He has been living in Chennai for the past 20 years, having come here as a kid. He is in the carpet selling business having taken over from his father who, ages ago, started off doing this work travelling from city to city, until he finally settled down in Chennai.
So, how does it feel being far away from home in another city?
“See, I am in this place because I need to earn a living and because of the kind of work that I do, I had to come to a place, which was consumer friendly. Since my father found Chennai, we settled down here.”
Don’t you miss home?
“Of course, I do. I miss the different seasons. There is no winter here. I miss being in my village. There, everybody knows everybody else. More than anything else, me and my family are unable to attend weddings or funerals. And, when you are not around for your relatives, surely they will think twice before coming forward to register their presence in your life.”
So, do you have customers from the South or the North?
“Of course, from the South. North Indian customers are very few.”
How is your daily schedule?
“Well, me and my brothers, we all are into the same business so, we take our goods and travel throughout the city. Some of us have pushcarts, while some like me stay put in one place. I have been in this same place for the past eight years. I come here around 11 in the morning and go back by 6.30 in the evening. I don’t own a shop so there is no point in sitting here after dark.”
What about your family?
“I am married. I have two children, a boy and a girl aged 4 and 3 years. They are going to school.”
What about you? Have you studied?
“Yes, I have studied up till 8th standard. After that, I discontinued my studies. It is not that my parents did not want me to study. Just that I did not want to study anymore although I do understand that education brings tehzeeb (culture, refinement) in one’s life. I have seen so many uneducated people, who become rude and indifferent.”
What about your wife?
“She is passed the tenth class in Hindi medium.”
So, how does she find life here?
He said this hesitatingly wondering how my reaction would be because here I was a woman with no purdah and was freely talking to a stranger.
If you would have to talk about Chennai city what would you say?
“It is a city of sukoon (peace) and I am not saying this because I am working here or living here. In other places I have seen how women are not safe after evening. Here, nobody will openly tease or try to misbehave. I am the guarantee for this quality of Chennai.”
Anything else about the place?
“Well, in my place, in the North, a lot of untouchability is practiced. If one uses a glass, another person will not use it if he is of another community. Here, in Chennai, that is not there and it feels so good.”
Anything you dislike about the place?
“People drink a lot here. And after a person is drunk, nobody can guarantee anything.”
So, these carpets and rugs that you sell, how do you go about procuring them?
“See, the owner is a Rajasthani who gets it for us. He lives in Chennai too. We are paid to run his business and if we make any sale we are given commission for that.”
But, what about last year, during the floods?
“There were no sales at all. Luckily, in the rented house that we live in here, water did not come in. And, since we are paid for running the business, we managed our day to expenses with that.”
How often do you visit your village?
“Once a year. Earlier when there were no children and later, when the children were not attending school, we used to go back to our ancestral village every three or four months but now, of course, that luxury is not possible.”
Have you ever felt the need to do some other business?
“Yes. I have. That is apart from this business, something which both the rich and the poor can buy from me. But then, I have two problems – lack of manpower and lack of money. And then, when our bacchey (children) were born, kharchhey (expenses) also increased. So, there was no point in thinking about anything else.”
What do you expect from life?
“See, I don’t want a bungalow or a gaadi (car). If I can live a life which is peaceful, where I don’t have to put my hand to beg, I will be content with that. Baaki upar waalah (the rest, the One Above) will see. And of course, I want a life without any museebuth (trouble). See, it is always better to ask our God for whatever we want from life because He is the one who has created this world. Why ask another human being for something when he himself has been created by God?”
You mentioned about life without trouble. This ISIS thing, has it affected you in any way? After all, being a Muslim can bring some problems sometimes?
“No, thankfully, whoever has spoken to me or to my family members has never raised this issue. I suppose they realise that we are just out to earn our living and have no other agenda.”
So, do your parents live with you?
“No, now that I and my brothers are married, they have gone back to the village and come here once in six months.”
But, what about food? Do your parents work?
“No, my father is 72 years suffering from diabetes and blood pressure, while mymother is 65 years of age. We are seven brothers, all here in Chennai. There is an arrangement wherein, each one of us sends five hundred rupees to our parents every month.In the case of medication or wedding in the family, we collect money amongst ourselves and send the amount to them.”
Looking at my surprised expression, he continued.
“See, our parents are not our parents anymore. They have become our children. Their bodies and brains have become weaker so we need to take care of them in whatever way possible. And, they have the right to demand from us. After all, they fed us and brought us up with so much trouble. Can we not do even this?”
Anything you want to tell people via this interview?
“Live harmoniously together. Don’t waste your time gossiping. Be polite and carry on with your work and don’t fight.”
As I began to put my writing pad away, he said, “One more thing I want to say. Many people here tell us that we have stolen their jobs and that we should go back to our land. What land? The whole land is our country whether it is in the North, South or anywhere else. And here, we are working hard and earning our money. We are not stealing your money or begging for it. If you work hard even you will get jobs. So, please consider us as citizens of the same country.”
What more could I say?
Here was a real life hero Salman, a lovely example of a perfect citizen of the country, taking care of his family, his parents, working hard with his values in the right place. What else do we need?
Photos by author
#StreetLives #CarpetSeller #People #BusinessOnStreet #Chennai
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