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People are still reluctant to give this profession its due respect
KOCHI: For Lal (name changed), a street food vendor, life was agonising some years back. Night after night policemen came in and trampled the food he had so fondly prepared. He stood and watched helplessly as his hard labour went down the drain. And it happened not once, but many times, in a short span.
“They harassed me in all possible ways. Once I was even beaten up in the lockup,” he says nonchalantly. But his resilience and love for serving food proved too strong. Or maybe by then the police changed their ways. So he continues to run his thattukada, right in the heart of the city.
Street vendors, especially thattukada operators, bear the brunt whenever the city faces a law and order issue. For, then comes restrictions in their functioning and they are forced to close business early before they can make a decent income.
Mr. Lal says that street food vendors are the first among the targeted lot whenever a new police officer takes charge in the city. “We are looked up on as the cause for nuisance and our shops as hubs for anti-social elements. That’s why we are asked to shut shop early whenever there’s some problem,” he complains. Mr. Lal attributes this to the wrong feedback being given to the new officers by his subordinates.
However, Basheer, arguably one of the oldest hands in the business in the city, says that the attitude of police has changed for the better of late. “Policemen, especially newly recruited constables, these days are so straightforward. They don’t even take a tea for free, let alone asking for bribes,” he says.
But the alleged harassment by police is only one of the many hassles they face. “Our acceptance level has increased compared to the olden days. But people are still reluctant to give this profession its due respect,” Mr. Basheer laments. He must know for he has been running his thattukada near the busy South Railway station since 1972. That being the case he waxes eloquent while talking of his regular customers. “I have got a personal bonding with them and even know their eating pattern,” Mr. Basheer says proudly.
Benzy, who has been running the popular eatery Rappai at Palarivattam for the last 14 years, agrees. “We need not ask many of our customers what they want. They just wave at us when they come in and we know what to serve them,” he says.
Manoj George running a thattukada near Kacheripady for the last eight years laments about the high attrition rate of employees that hits his business often. Mr. Basheer, however, is blessed on this count as his most trusted employee, the head waiter as he calls him, has been with him for the last 25 years. He pays him a handsome amount of Rs. 500 a day. Mr. Basheer’s other nine employees have also been with him for periods ranging from 10 to 20 years.
The present economic crisis has not spared these street vendors either. As people cut down the number of dishes or order one chicken piece less they hear the resonance of the global economic meltdown right at their shops. “Business was bleak last month. Hopefully it will be better this month,” Mr. Benzy says. Mr. Basheer who has been paying income tax regularly since 1996, says it is imperative that the situation improves at the earliest. For he is supporting not one family but those of ten others working for him.
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