Fifty-two-year-old Mohammed Rubin runs a wayside eatery in a small kiosk. He says that he wasn’t always in the eatery business. For 15 years he worked in Saudi Arabia, in the shipping business. When he returned to India, in 2013, he decided to start some business. For almost three years, he suffered. Whichever business he did, failed. It has not been easy being a small time businessman. He had a diamond shop. But, the extreme loss that he suffered there brought him to the streets. He has no complaints and accepts all this as the will of the Almighty. From the job of a supervisor, in air-conditioned cabin, in the Middle East to the streets of Chennai is a difficult journey. He has grit and determination in him. He never says die. Shail profiles him, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
“We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly.” ~ Anna Thomas, film screenwriter, film producer and writer.
The first question that 52-year- old Mohammed Rubin of Kayalpatnam town in Tiruchendur, Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu asks of me, when I introduce myself is, “why don’t you interview people sitting on the platform making a living.”
“I at least have a shop (tin kiosk) on the platform,” he says.
His colourful shop looks new so I ask him when he started this eatery.
“Just some months back,” he says.
I am surprised because like several other people, whom I had spoken to over the past several weeks, I had expected him to have always been in the same place.
As if to clear my confusion he said, “See, I wasn’t always in the eatery business. I have worked for 15 years in Saudi Arabia in the shipping business. When I came back to India, in 2013, I decided to start some business. For almost three years, I suffered. Whichever business I took up failed. It is not easy being a small time businessman. You know, I even had a diamond shop. The extreme loss that I suffered there brought me where I am today.”
Where was your family, while you were away working in Saudi?
“My family was here in India. My wife’s parents were here as support so there was no major problem.”
How different is this job from the job you held abroad?
“There I had the work of a supervisor, sitting in air-conditioned rooms, travelling in air-conditioned cars, having an assistant always with me. Here, I am without an air-conditioner, sitting in this shop in the midst of traffic, bearing the heat of all this cooking. So, yes, there is a vast difference.”
Does it hurt that you are no longer working in those surroundings earning much more money than now?
“Of course, it does. But, I had to come back to my motherland and most importantly, after coming here I had to work to take care of my family. The Almighty seems to have decided this work for me, so it must be good.”
But having nothing to do with food except eating it how are you finding cooking and running this eatery?
He introduced me then to his assistant, Rajendran of Trichy district and said, “It is all because of him. I knew nothing of cooking but his 15 years of expertise in the cooking field has been helping me run this eatery successfully.”
“Will you have a glass of tea?” Mohammed asks of me. “Tell me how it is.”
I see him use a brass cup to measure the tea. I ask him of his preference for the brass cup.
“From the time I came to know that if hot tea is kept in a brass container it is useful for the pancreas I have been using it.”
I promise to get myself this cute mug!
The tea is just right. No flood of sugar, correct amount of milk and a satisfying tea taste.
‘Nice,’ I tell him.
What about your family? Are they living with you?
“Yes, my wife, her parents and my three sons. One son has completed his engineering and is working. One boy is still studying in college. The middle son is mentally challenged so he could not study.”
What about you? Have you studied?
“I could study only till the 8 th grade but I have no complaints. The Almighty has always helped me. See, today, because of my experience in the shipping industry, in trading, sales and the like I am able to speak a host of languages and it helps me in my business.”
I see him interact with the North Indian customers in flawless Hindi, sometimes cajoling them to try out something new, sometimes politely asking them to not bargain.
He has regular customers too who come for a smoke and some edible knick knacks. Ranging from the young to the old, the youth to the middle-aged, women, girls and boys, all keep coming to his shop even as I talk to him.
What about hygiene in your shop? After all, it is located on a busy road with lots of traffic, dirt, dust and grime, I ask of him.
“I believe in making tasty healthy food at affordable prices so that customers keep coming to my shop. I can very easily increase the profit amount on my dishes but if my customers are going to fall sick then, there is no use. I will only lose my customers.”
What do your customers have to say about the food you dish out to them?
“They are happy. In fact, they are the ones encouraging me.”
What about this place? Do you pay money to the government for the space?
“No, my owner (and he points out to a grey-haired shirt tucked inside his pants fiftyish kind of man sitting nearby) was kind enough to rent out this place to me. I pay him monthly rent. Just imagine! Getting a space in a busy area in Chennai is so difficult. Because of this location, I get a lot of customers from the offices nearby.”
What do you have to say about this demonetisation, I ask of him?
“See, what the government is doing is good. People are suffering no doubt. But, the problem is like the cyclone. Initially, there will be discomfort but later, in the long run, it will be useful. This the public understands. Just that some things could have been made easier for the poor.”
You said that you suffered quite a lot trying to run businesses when you first started out?
What could the reason be according to you?
“See, the government is doing what it can but most of the time it is only benefitting the rich people by giving them loans for their business and denying the deserving and much needy people with loans. It is not helping the small time businessmen like me.”
What are your plans for the future?
“All I can say is that I am aware that people have become rich starting from scratch. I too can do it if I am destined for that. I am working hard. I am honest and willing to do hard labour to earn a living for my family.”
Anything in particular, you observed after your experience abroad and back in India?
“Nothing beats our motherland. This is the place which gives us respect. I have observed how foreigners are treated abroad. Finally, it all boils down to ‘Taai Naadu” (mother land).”
Finally, three things that you think our nation needs?
“One, the poor must be helped. Two, the government must not be corrupt. And three, if you love your country, your country will love you back.”
My conversation with him has taken a long time in between the regular arrival of customers who seem to like his food very much. I ask him to pack a bread omelette for my son, pay him and promise to visit him soon.
And, by the way, the bread omelette was delicious!
Photos by the author.
#StreetLives #Kiosk #Chennai #SaudiArabia #Customers #Government #Omelette #People
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