Just at that turning between Market Road and the lane leading to the chemist's shop he had his 'establishment'. At eight in the evening you would not see him, and again at ten you would see nothing, but between those times he arrived, sold his goods and departed. Those who saw him remarked thus, 'Lucky fellow! He has hardly an hour's work a day and he pockets ten rupees - even graduates are unable to earn that! Three hundred rupees a month!' He felt irritated when he heard such glib remarks and said, 'What these folks do not see is that I sit before the oven practically all day frying all this ...'
At about 8.15 in the evening
he arrived with a load of stuff. He looked as if he had four
arms, so many things he carried about him. His equipment was
the big tray balanced on his head with its assortment of edibles,
a stool stuck in the crook of his arm, a lamp in another hand
and a couple of portable legs for mounting his tray. He lit
the lamp, a lantern which consumed six pies' worth of kerosene
every day, and kept it near at hand, since he had to guard
a lot of loose cash and a variety of miscellaneous articles.
He always arrived in time to catch the cinema crowd coming out after the evening show. A pretender to the throne, a young scraggy fellow, sat on his spot until he arrived and did business, but he did not let that bother him unduly. In fact, he felt generous enough to say, 'Let the poor rat do his business when I am not there.' This sentiment was amply respected, and the pretender moved off a minute before the arrival of the prince among caterers.
Though so much probing was going on, he knew exactly who was taking what. He knew by an extaordinary sense which of the jukta drivers was picking up chappatis at a given moment - he could even mention the license number. He knew that the stained hand nervously coming up was that of a youngster who polished the shoes of passers-by. And he knew exactly at what hour he would see the wrestler's arm searching for the perfect duck's egg. His custom was drawn from the population swarming the pavement: the boot polish boys, for instance, who wandered to and fro with brush and polish in a bag, endlessly soliciting 'Polish, sir, polish!' Rama had a soft spot for them.
It rent his heart to see their hungry hollow eyes. It pained him to see the rags they wore. And it made him very unhappy to see the tremendous eagerness with which they came to him. But what could he do? He could not run a charity show, that was impossible. He measured out their half-glass of coffee correct to a fraction of an inch, but they could cling to the glass for as long as they liked.
He lived in the second
lane behind the market. His wife opened the door, throwing
into the night air the scent of burnt oil which perpetually
hung about their home. She snatched from his hand all the
ecumbrances and counted the cash immediately.
After dinner, he tucked
a betel leaf and tobacco in his cheek and slept. He had dreams
of traffic constables bullying him to move on and health inspectors
saying he was spreading all kinds of disease and depopulating
the city. But fortunately in actual life no one bothered him
very seriously. The health officer no doubt came and said,
'You must put all this under a glass lid, otherwise I shall
destroy it some day... Take care!'
doubt violated all the well-accepted canons of cleanliness
and sanitation, but still his customers not only survived
his fare but seemed actually to flourish on it, having consumed
it for years without showing signs of being any the worse
Source: Adapted from (Pre-2013 Revision) CPE Handbook
|A Rama prepared
a limited quantity of snacks for sale, but even then he had
to carry back remnants. He consumed some of it himself, and
the rest he warmed up and brought out for sale the next day.
B All the coppers that men and women of this part of
the universe earned through their miscellaneous jobs ultimately
came to him at the end of the day. He put all his money into
a little cloth bag dangling from his neck under his shirt,
and carried it home, soon after the night show had started
at the theatre.
C No one could walk past his display without throwing
a look at it. A heap of bondas, which seemed puffed
and big but melted in one's mouth; dosais, white, round,
and limp, looking like layers of muslin; chappatis
so thin you could lift fifty of them on a little finger; duck's
eggs, hard-boiled, resembling a heap of ivory balls; and perpetually
boiling coffee on a stove. He had a separate alluminium pot
in which he kept chutney, which went gratis with almost every
D His customers liked him. They said in admiration,
'Is there another place where you can get six pies and four
chappatis for one anna?' They sat around his tray,
taking what they wanted. A dozen hands hovered about it every
minute, because his customers were entitled to pick up, examine,
and accept their stuff after proper scrutiny.
E They gloated over it. 'Five rupees invested in the
morning has produced another five...' They ruminated on the
exquisite mystery of this multiplication. Then it was put
back for further investment on the morrow and the gains carefully
separated and put away in a little wooden box.
F But he was a kindly man in private. 'How the customers
survive the food, I can't understand. I suppose people build
up a sort of immunity to such poisons, with all that dust
blowing on it and the gutter behind.'
G He got up when the cock in the next house crowed.
Sometimes it had a habit of waking up at three in the morning
and letting out a shriek. 'Why has the cock lost his normal
sleep?' Rama wondered as he awoke, but it was a signal he
could not miss. Whether it three o'clock or four, it was all
the same to him. He had to get up and start his day.
H When he saw some customer haggling, he felt like
shouting, 'Give the poor fellow a little more. Don't begrudge
it. If you pay an anna more he can have a dosai and