By Ashok Tirwa-9.9 SoC batch 2013-2014:
In early seventies, Rajesh Dagar migrated from Aligarh to Delhi, when Delhi was prospering and he hoped to prosper with it. Rajesh had no skills, education, money or place to live in. He had no clue of his life ahead in the city that was on board to be a metropolitan.
Forty-three years down the line, Rajesh is an owner of a three-storey building in Aligoan; build with every paisa saved from an illegal pan shop at the T-Junction of Adchini.
Rajesh’s pan shop is made of three cement slabs from a deserted footpath. Two slabs rest on eight-brick-high pillars. Another slab is inserted between the wall and the iron railing on top of it, which is his seat. The table is set up exactly between a pole and the wall of the park at the dead end of the junction. A small compartment made from a ply wood rest on the two slabs.
In the compartment there are beetle leaves, tins of flavours to go with it, tobacco, and cigarettes. Sachet of Rajnigandha, Panmasla and tobacco are showcased on the small wooden beam that run across two tiny poles fixed at each end of the compartment. As soon as these sachets are sold, Rajesh replaces them with sachets from the plastic bag deposited underneath the slab.
When Rajesh is stretching to reach the tiny beam of the plywood compartment, he is five-feet seven-inches tall, but he seems taller with flat belly and long legs. He wears well-maintained moustache, tailored shirt and pants, and polished shoes. He is 50 years old. His broad jaws and dyed hair makes him look younger.
Rajesh has been a panwalla for 30 years. Children, who grew up calling him Uncleji, are now grown ups, married, have moved and settled. His life in the junction is older than the traffic light, older than the road that later joined to be a T-junction.
He has seen Adchini’s history, and current affairs. He has seen traffic violators, drunk drivers, crooks in uniform and casual, beggars, and much more. He has seen it all.
Rajesh was 17 when he first came to Delhi. He took up odd jobs, slept everywhere, and ate anything to keep himself alive. Most of the nights he cried like a child alone in the dark. This went on for more than a decade.
“I suffered a lot.” His forehead creases as he says, “a lot.”
Rajesh had to support his wife, Asha, whom he married against the will of his father at an early age. Rajesh Dagar met his wife after his sister’s wedding. His brother-in-law introduced Asha and recommended to marry her. Rajesh’s father couldn’t afford another wedding. So Rajesh was betrothed to Asha upon the request of his new son-in-law.
Months passed by, Rajesh and his family did not confirm the date of wedding. Asha’s family was already impatient. It became worse when Rajesh was caught dating Asha. Asha’s family asked for an ultimatum. This infuriated Rajesh’s father and he called off the engagement.
“I did not know what to do,” stretching his hands on the railing and his eyes fixed on the road,” he said. “I wanted money, so I went to hunt for a work.”
He got a job in a lock factory in Aligarh. The job paid him 800.00 rupees per month. After few months in the factory, he found out that most of the workers were stealing metals and making money.
One day he reported the crime to the manager. The manager called the workers and asked them to share their earnings with Rajesh. That month onwards he got an additional 2000.00 rupees. He did not steal. His additional money continue to pour in. In less than two years, he saved 1,50000.00 rupees. Soon he resigned.
“My mother started asking about the money.” He pulled himself from the slab to push his folded knees between the bars and said, “I had to cook up stories to make her accept the money.”
His mother grilled him further and finally he told her the truth. Now that Rajesh arranged the money to marry Asha, he still had to talk to his father. It was his mother who convinced his father and the Rajesh’s family was once again ready to bring home Asha.
Asha is a small woman whom Rajesh refers to as his ‘Jaan’– the word that can pass for his better half, and his life.
Asha has an ordinary face with a cleft upper lip. Her eyes are not so bright, and there are lines running from outer ends touching the lining of gray hair around the temples. Her tiny nose fits perfectly on the face.
Asha smiles a lot. When she smiles she glows in beauty, and perhaps it the smile that enraptured Rajesh to marry her and start a family against all adversities.
Together, they have two sons and a daughter. The eldest one died of polio,surviving one lived to earn a degree in Hotel Management– he is currently an intern in Qutab Hotel. Sixteen-year-old daughter is in twelfth grade.
When Rajesh and Asha began their life in Delhi, they lived in a one-room rented apartment in Adchini. Rajesh was working in a spare-parts warehouse. Slowly, Rajesh’s health was deteriorating. The manager of the warehouse suggested him to start something and extended his help. He started his pan shop. His life started to show some sign of progress physically and financially.
“I don’t like to talk about what happened before,” he creased his forehead again, and said, “I still feel sad to remember those times.”
He stared in the space ahead.
Rajesh’s former landlord, who often comes to smoke a cigarette from his shop, intervened.
“He has suffered a lot and worked very hard to achieve what he has today,” said Vinod.
“I am losing hair,” he said ruffling his hair. “It is because of all the heavy things I carried on my head.” He laughed.
After 9 PM, Rajesh is selective about customers. The regulars are served and the rests are refused.
Rajesh winds up his day with Blue Officer, his regular brand of whiskey. After half an hour, he is ready to head home. Around midnight, he reaches home after riding several connecting buses.
In Aligoan, Rajesh has a three-storey building under construction. He and his family occupy the ground floor, the second floor is complete and the workers on the third floor are working to complete it.
Rajesh and his wife have invested all their savings to build the house, and continue to invest in it. In the morning, when he is done with his morning ritual including a quick tour of the ongoing works, he is ready to head towards Adchini with his bag.
Rajesh does not want to quit. One time police shut him down along with the others. Others who sell chai and vegetables, cobblers and the rest returned after few weeks. He abandoned his spot.
When Rajesh returned after three months, police chased him away. He offered 10,000.00 rupees, police refused to take it. Twenty thousand rupees, police showed no sign to let him take his spot.
The police said that they had their orders from ‘up’, Rajesh knew he was asking for something beyond his means. He had no choice but to go away.
Dagar and Asha had a second son by then. Asha was working as a domestic helper in the house of Assistant Commissioner of Police of Hauz Khas. Asha talked to ACP’s wife about her husband. ACP’s wife later told her husband about Rajesh and his business.
Following the story, ACP called the police station in Malviya Nagar, the station responsible for Adchini area.
Unaware of the development that had taken place, Rajesh went to meet the police with more money. As soon as the police saw him, the police told him that he had been looking for him for the longest time.
The police also told him to put back his shop in the same place and agreed to take care of the rest. He asked him if he wanted money for it. Police screamed back at him.
Rajesh Dagar was back into business. Today, he does not have to pay to the police and except for three hundred rupees to the officials of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The vegetable vendor next to Rajesh’s pan shop, whom every one callsChachaji, has to pay three thousand rupees a month.
Rajesh was away for three months without a work or income but it paid off for a long term. The incident encouraged him to materialize his dreams and continue with his pan shop.
Rajesh wish to continue with his establishment till the time he bought a car for his son, till the time his daughter finished her study and ready for marriage, and he wants to continue till he can buy a SUV-Scorpio to travel to and fro his work and home, and till the time he has life in his body.
“I have a daughter, who has to finish her school and marry her away,” Rajesh smiled and added, “and running this shop is not a hard work, and money is good.”
He survived in a business world with no rules of engagement, and without justice system to rely on to carry on the business. He is a survivor in the mayhem of illegal economy of Delhi, where many fail and vanish.