It is after 3 nights of driving up and down the station road in Borivali that finally Maggie, a roughly 20 year old guy has finally agreed to talk to me about the issue he is facing. He, and many others like him, wish to peacefully run their small business on the pavements, however, they are not allowed to do so. They have been dealing and negotiating with the authorities. But why do they have to do that? Apparently, the new law doesn’t allow them to conduct businesses in the vicinity of certain stations. Maggie therefore, has been hiding his stall behind a bus stop to escape the eyes of the ‘Sahab’ who reportedly will be out on a round tonight.
In Mumbai food, smokes and refreshments of all sorts are never unavailable. One of the major reasons for this is the community that has been serving Mumbaikars while they return from a late-night party or from a night-shift at their office. ‘Annas’ have been a part of the food culture for so long that they have created a niche for themselves in the food markets of the city.
Most of these nocturnal culinary czars have come from down south, which gives them the famous connotation of “Anna”. They usually belong to the rural parts of Southern Indian states like Tamil Nadu, whereas people from Karnataka and Telangana monopolise the house help industry.
Maggie is a 20 year old BMM dropout from a suburban college in the city. Though he is the son of one of the Annas, he hopes his life will not stay confined to a cycle stall, selling idlis, chai and cigarettes. Product diversification and extension of business has been on anna junior’s mind. For the same, he wants to advance the business by opening a roadside stall.
“It is a vicious cycle”, says Maggie when asked about the current situation between the hawkers and the authority.
“We have nowhere else to go. The authorities have to follow the orders that come from above, but since we have been here for years, they let us be. When pressure rises from above, they become strict, but then things come back to normal in a month or so”.
“Don’t you wish to get rid of it forever?”
“How do we do that?” asks a perplexed Maggie while pouring me a cutting chai.
“By doing something legitimate”, I retort.
“Feeding people is illegitimate? Having a cycle stand, outside a station, that feeds hungry people all night might be wrong in the eyes of the law, but our religion and our gods tell us that it is the most divine business in the world.
There are a few of these annas who stand in immediate vicinity and there seems to be no sense of competition amongst them. Borrowing coffee powder, cigarettes etc, when they are out of stock is a common phenomenon. “But you are competitors.
“What if he eats your business” ? I try to provoke Maggie in hopes of a good reply, and he doesn’t disappoint.
“I don’t mind him eating away a few customers from me but at least we have each other’s back. Ultimately he is going to travel back home with me during the harvest season. He is going to be the one I go to when the BMC guys seize my cycle and vessels”. This obviously reflects a lot about how communities which migrate, depend internally on each other.
“In my father’s times, they were pretty laid back in their attitudes. Most of them slept and killed time through out the day and came out to work only at night. Me and a lot of junior annas (winks) have bigger dreams and do not wish to settle for less. Hence we have our own struggles, like finding a day job to make an extra buck or trying to gather funds to set up a morning business (which is even costlier to run by the way). I just hope the night stall idea works out soon” says Maggie with hopes in his eyes.
What comes up as a surprise is the reason Maggi gives for many of his cousins wanting to follow his father’s footsteps. They all wish to come to Mumbai. He explains, “This city is judicious. Pays you for every minute you toil for and that also irrespective of your caste or creed”. Annas seem to have evicted casteist discrimination and found solace in this judicious chaos and embraced it with all their heart.
When i finally ask him about the pressure to pay the “hafta” to the police, he sheepishly smiles and asks me to not pay for the chai, “this one’s on me” (winks), and goes back to attending customers eagerly waiting for their idllies and chai!
Contributed by Dhyanesh
Picture Credits : 24hourwatch.com