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Monday, September 06, 2010

Beginning of a story?

[I have just started writing something upon a whim (a roadside vendor talking about his life and times). I don't know whether it's going anywhere, whether it will end up as a proper story. I am posting the first installment below: reader reactions will help me decide whether I should post later parts or take this off the blog...]

I sell paani-puri near the gate of a temple in a small industrial town. I have grown old doing this: I have been at it for nearly thirty years now.
            I first came here from a remote village in north Bihar, with a baraat, to attend the wedding of a cousin – he had got a truck loader’s job in a local steel plant, and had had to spend quite a bit of money to get in, and he urgently needed it back by way of dahej, so he was getting married in a hurry. I stayed on for a couple of days, looking around the town, and for some reason my eyes fell on this spot, and I got a little trolley, found a shack to live in behind the marketplace, and stayed. I am not too sure what gave me the idea of selling paani puri: someone must have put it into my head. That was thirty years ago, and I have never gone anywhere else, and now I am growing old. I have looked after my parents till they died, and married off a younger brother and two sisters, and brought up two sons and a daughter, and married off the daughter too, and built a tiny brick and tile house for myself and the wife – all by selling paani puri (they call it phuchka here in Bengal) for four hours every evening for the last thirty years. Leaving aside essential family occasions, and being sick and hospitalized once, almost twenty years ago, I have never missed a day.
            Things have changed around me, and not changed. There were many more trees around here back in the beginning, and the temple attracted much smaller crowds, and there were far fewer cars and motorbikes on the road. Jackals howled at eight in the evening as I trundled my trolley home. These days I often have to stay till past ten. I started selling paani puri at the rate of two for ten paise, now they go at six for five rupees. There are certainly a lot more smart young girls on the roads these days: they not only wear jeans and sleeveless T-shirts but cosy up to their boyfriends in public in a way we couldn’t dream of thirty years ago. And these people have a great deal more money in their pockets than boys and girls their parents’ age did. Those who came to eat phuchkas thirty years ago are their parents’ age, so I can tell.
            But so many things haven’t changed, either. Though the temple precincts are brightly lit, the road itself is still as dim as it was long ago, because the municipality forgot this street while it was replacing fluorescent neon tubes with high power sodium vapour lamps. And they still litter the roadside, though there is now an official ban on it. People of all shapes and sizes, from tiny girls to mountainous middle aged men take my breath away by how much they can eat. I wonder, too, that they can gorge on phuchka when folks are supposed to sit down for dinner – and though I shouldn’t do this, because they bring me custom, I sometimes swear under my breath when I have to go on serving them, even when I am dog tired and want to go back home, knowing that I will have to listen to my wife’s ritual complaints before going to bed, and wake up at the crack of dawn to start cooking for the next evening.
            I worked alone for many years. Then I brought over the younger of my two boys from home and put him behind the counter to help me. He is a grown man now, and I must start thinking about his marriage. He has mercifully proved to be a hard worker, and when I cannot work any more, I can leave the business safely in his hands. The older boy has been a disappointment. He has been a drifter and shirker since he was a child, and never finished school, and these days he is married and lives off his in-laws, though he likes to tell people he is a house painter. My wife has been a help all through. She looked after the family all by herself for many, many years, until the old folks died, and the children grew up and went away. She was getting lonesome after all those years, and there was little to cling on to in the village, most of the ancestral land having been sold off, and I had built the house here already (although it had only two rooms and a makeshift toilet then), so I brought her to stay with me a few years ago. Well, even that is going to be a whole decade soon. How time marches on. I didn’t have a white hair when I first arrived here: now you have to look very hard to find a black hair on my head.
            I couldn’t speak a word of Bangla when I arrived; now I can understand and speak it as fluently as my native tongue. But I talk very little, preferring to watch and listen as I work. And you cannot imagine how much you can learn about people if you quietly listen and watch. Most people talk too much, I think, and don’t listen enough, not even to themselves! It makes it easier for me that they usually think I am just a wall – no ears, no mind, no memory, so whether I am listening or not doesn’t matter. Many people will be amazed, even horrified, if I told them half the things I know about them.


Shilpi said...

Well go on...what happens/follows?
You can't stop here. Kindly post the 'later parts'.

Arijit said...

Wow,Its a nice art to write an autobiography. Please keep it up.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Yes, well, thanks, but don't be impatient, either of you. I need encouragement from a few more people in order to think that it's worthwhile to carry on...

Winning is living... said...

Dear SIR ,
It has been a wonderful story so far..please do post the later parts. It has been a great read..

Arijit said...

Well I think I have made a mistake it should have been BIOGRAPHY and not Autobiography.Extremely sorry for the mistake.

Nishant Kamath said...

Dear Sir,

I could almost see the puchka vendor by the Mandir gate talking to me, narrating his story. Many of his musings reflect your thoughts (perhaps that's the whole point of writing a story). Please do continue.


Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I would love to read more about this vendor! Can you please give him a name in the next installment? Some nice whimsical name :) I would love to read about his journey through the thiry years he has been selling paani-puris. Do continue this story Sir :)


rishav said...

Respected sir,

The story has really been very good so far.Please do post the later parts.


Arya said...

Hello Sir,

I know you do not know me, so it is my duty to introduce myself to you. I am Karnika Roy, a childhood friend of Dipayan Ghosal,who was one of your students. He was the one who suggested that I should read your blog.

Well, this is beautiful story that you have started and it will be a lovely experience to read the conclusion. I shall be eagerly waiting for the later parts. Wish you all the best for your endeavors. Thank you.

El Magick said...


I have been following your blog for the past couple of months. What i have enjoyed most is that you regularly present reasoned and well articulated opinions. Forget reasoning, opinions are hard to come by these days.

As you mentioned: this piece does deviate from what you normally have to offer. At the same time, don't you think its rather to early for your readers to judge whether they want more of this since its rather hard to form an idea of where you are likely to take this.

One thing that has piqued my interest is the device that you are using - first person. I wonder if it makes writing a story a more challenging task. Would it require you to do the same mental preparation that a method actor would? For a narrator of stories, i'd imagine, the "third person" as the most comfortable story telling device. Although the first person can, perhaps, deliver the punchier intimacy.

I, for one, would certainly enjoy you furthering this for i magine that it will echo the wit, ferocity of opinion and the humane touch that most of your writings possess.

[Don Mihsill; don.mihsill@gmail.com]

sanjukta said...

Dear Sir,
Please continue with the story. It is truly wonderful as far as it goes. I would love to know what happened in this pani-puri seller's life because sometimes they teach us far better lessons than what we learn at our homes or schools.
With regards from,
Sanjukta Saha.

Rajdeep said...

I am expecting more of the story. Reminded me of the days in class five when I used to coax two rupees from my grandfather so that I could have Phuchka in front of Rammandir gate near your place on the way back from my tuition class. I loved it, both for the thrill and the taste, despite Jogesh Dutta's silent mime comedy on Phuchka walas. I enjoyed both the comedy and the Phuchkas, and the dusk that made it easier to slip by unnoticed to the Phuchka stall, ths shadows offering some refuge from some probable neighbour spotting and reporting the incident.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

I will be keenly awaiting the next instalment. As Vaishnavi said, perhaps you should name your character. Stories from the perspectives of someone much unexpected always excite me. I am quite intrigued to see where does your phuchkawallah take us. I was also trying to picturise where is he at the moment? Request you to please key in.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

I have waited seven days, and during this time there have been many hundred visits, so only eleven people taking the trouble to chip in and say that they are interested in reading a follow-up means, I think, that there is too little public interest in this post. I guess, therefore, that it would be a good idea not to carry on...maybe I'll finish the story, but only for private circulation.

Partha Chatterjee said...

Dear Sir,

I hope I am not too late to request you to continue with the story.
It has indeed piqued my interest and I would surely read it to the end, that is, if you post it on your blog.

The last line is enough to urge any reader to read more. It's funny how I never seem to notice the silly things I do until I come to read about it in your blog, like talking all kind of rubbish in front of vendors.

Do continue.
Thank you.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

You are most kind, Partha. As I have said before, I would have gladly continued with the story if some more people had expressed interest. As it is, I feel it would be labour wasted.

My hope is fulfilled by your last line: one of my most important purposes behind writing these posts is to coax people to take a good look at themselves. So few people do! and fewer still take the trouble to say thank you, as you have done.

Dipayan G said...

Dear Sir,

It has been a nice read so far and I'm amazed by the life-like feel of the story and I'll echo the same feelings as Nishant. Usually we tend to neglect people such as this paani-puri vendor, but all the same, we do get to learn certain things from them as well and moreover we might get to know by what perspective these people see life through. I'd urge you to continue with this story and I know it promises to be a captivating read further on.


souvik said...

Dear Sir,

So far so good.But pardon me Sir,I wonder if its going anywhere.Nonetheless I am eager to read the later parts if you wish to publish.

Thank you

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I am glad to say that Macmillan India has found it worthwhile to use this post in its new series on school English, titled Joy of English, published last month.

Shilpi said...

Oh, that's very nice to know...that is.


DEBARATI said...

Dear Sir,

First of all, congratulations to you that Macmillan India published your story.
PLEASE, post the later parts. You wanted people to comment and express their eagerness to read but now, apart from the fact that not only people are awaiting for the story to conclude, your story has found its place of pride.

I don't know if you are talking about the vendor in front of Rammandir, but he is the only one whose face lit up in my mind while I was musing through your words. Even today, every time I go to Durgapur, I make it a point to have phuchkas at the same old place. Years have rolled on but even today couples and groups of people, young and old alike, swarm in with the same feeling we used to have during our days...
Makes me nostalgic.
I am more than eager now (like everyone else who has posted comments here) to read what transpires.
And yes, I do agree with Partha, this blog was quite an eye-opener. I'll make sure to be more careful next time I open my mouth.

Thanks a ton.
Waiting to read the later parts.


Parijat Roy said...

The story resembles the first part of THE MARTYR'S CORNER(in some parts). The biography of the panipuri seller is really nice and it teaches everyone that all jobs can be done with the same amount of perseverance and pride in oneself(if s/he does it with honesty).
The panipuri seller's respect,love and a sense of duty to all members of the family is an example for people who dump their parents to old-age homes on the pretext of being busy...(SORRY but I could not find any better word than 'dump').