The Outsiders

Gautam Kumar Das

They rush on riding the local trains from remote rural areas of Canning, Lakshmikantapur, Diamond Harbour to keep Kolkata afloat from dawn to dusk. They are Kolkata-outsiders. They may be fish- or green-vendors, rickshaw pullers, tea stall owners or daily wage labourers like painters or construction workers. Those outsiders’s rustic simplicity makes almost all the urban Kolkata people feel quite at home. On contrary, a few city people often feel scandalized by their rustic manners towards them. Their day-long toil in the city is their profession; it is a labour of love. They earn their daily bread from Kolkata edging out of their original native places on daily basis. These Kolkata-outsiders are the bread-winner to their family members. They continue their services for Kolkata from dawn to dusk, still they are regarded as city-outsiders. But Kolkata people never forget their services as because the city becomes stagnant without their presence. They are next of kin to Kolkata despite they are uninvited and uninviting to this rolling megacity.

Dinu is an example of such outsider who earns his living by selling vegetables in the market. He sets several examples to his co-vendors for his honesty, soft-speech and modest manners. After his arrival to his scheduled place for vending, he sorts out first all the distorted broken vegetables and gathers hindering them at his back. Fresh, big-sized ones are displayed before the customers. Homemaker women never taste of vegetables from Dinu who have a keen desire to purchase less-priced greens vendered after eleven and onwards. Dinu finishes his sale eleven before reaching the noon and usually moves to catch his schedule Canning local by 11.30 and takes the wynd towards his home at Homrapalta from Ghutiari Sharif station by 12 noon. Monday is his off-day. On that day he usually goes to his daughter’s house to see his grandson. Dinu, aged about fifty, has been crossed off the list of slow-goers vendors of the market place because of cross purposes among others and sole performance of his own. Although a few customers are in habit of blaming him for not giving the exact weight of content of vegetables or taking high prices for the greens. Then there is silent reproach in his listening those rebukes. But contrasts to their words, those customers are bringing reproach upon themselves by purchasing all their required greens only from Dinu.

Tale of Kadan da is quite different. He breaks the silence of the market place coming from Gocharan of Lakshmikantapur line. Kadan da is an owner of a tea stall. Nobody sees him wearing a shirt even during winter time. After opening up the shutter of his shop he takes a full glass of country liquor without mixing a drop of water. He starts his work promptly and takes only half an hour to make ready of the very first cup of tea. The morning-walkers are his first-phase customers followed by the vendors and their helpers after a while. Kadan da, aged about sixty, with long white beard and bald headed used to beard the local short stature political workers in their limit for discussion about political issues inside a tea stall. If this alarm is not working, he uses some unpublishable slang keeping his eyes upon the roof of his shop. This sets strong measures against their discussion on political issues. And I was wondering to see that those local political workers simply leave the place after taking the second cup of tea from Kadan da. Unmarried Kadan da was passed away a year back as he was not a clean liver with ill-habits of limitless drinks. Now Geeta di, unmarried sister of Kadan da carries on the tea stall. Geeta di hangs up a framed photograph of Kadan da on the wall of the shop where the actual name of Kadan da is written at the bottom of the photograph as Mrityunjoy Gnguly that I come to know for the first time.

Palan Chatui is an inhabitant of Netra area of Diamond Harbour line and he sells banana in the market. He is a typical frivolous and fickle one. One day I took half dozen bananas from him and tendered him a one hundred rupee note. During returning the remaining amount all the currency notes from his book pocket were scattered over the banana displayed for sale. Being a man of scatter-brain, Palan might be disgraced I thought. As I nothing have to do, I sympathized him with consoling voice, ‘recollecting of those notes will take a lot of time.’ But Palan replied, ‘tidiness of these currency notes in order is also a duty-bound work to me.’ I simply surprised hearing Palan’s such philosophical words. Palan rephrases the fallacy about him and has become a philosopher to me using his non-technical but logical terms about his duties in this materialistic earth. Who dares saying - Palan is a school dropout and a mere  banana-seller?

Another Kolkata-outsider is Manik, a rickshaw puller. He is shy and coy but modest one. Manik hails from Taldi village under Canning PS where he is known as Rafiq to all of his mohamedan community. But after getting down from the Canning local in the early morning of every day he used to change his name from Rafiq to Manik. He is very much obedient to the aged people of the locality. Manik helps all of them by buying flowers, aromatic sticks, sweets etc for worship of Lakshmi–Narayana etc. For buying and bringing all such items for god’s worship, he takes only the price of materials he bought. He does not take a single penny as rickshaw fare as transport charges because of his simple logic – no ride, no fare. Despite knowing all the facts about Manik, the aged people allow him to bring all such things even for worship of god. Manik overcomes all the narrowness of communalism and religion by his faithfulness, honesty and his emotional weakness of humanity despite an illiterate and a rickshaw puller.

Gajan-singer Bachan of Magrahat works on painting of all sorts. He works under Kurpa, a plumber. Kurpa manages contract of painting works of houses and flats and Bachan and other co-workers toil hard to finish that job. Once Bachan and other three labours were engaged on painting at a neighbouring house. One day the key of the main entrance gate of that house got lost which one was used by Bachan and other co-workers for their outing to take food from the rice-hotel in the street during noon time. After searching every nook and corner, the key was not found. The landlord suspected that the key was thieved by Bachan as he was dexterous and smart than the rest. The landlord had the duplicate key, naturally there were no problem to keep the entrance gate closed. On suspicion upon him, Bachan stopped humming of his gajan song during the remaining part of the work. He became distressed at heart. Three days after the finishing of the work the landlord of the house discovered that key hanging from a ring of the portico. The landlord informed that discovery of key when Kurpa came for taking payment of the painting works already done. Hearing from the landlord Kurpa said, ‘I trust Bachan more than that of my right hand.’

Sometimes the tale of these outsiders is quite different. Very few of them manage a shelter by the side of a canal or adjacent to the railway line. It is not difficult to manage to make a low hut thatched with the snatched sign-board or large-sized polythene banners. Then they take their better halves from the native places who start working as house-maid to the city houses or flats. Gradually somebody of them starts a tea stall where tea is sold at day time and country liquor has been served from the evening with the crisp snacks made of pulverized pigeon-pea. Earnings of liquid money changes their life styles. The small huts of the slum then is equipped with the TV and shows of porn movies are going on as night ripens using the power by hooking from the street lamp-post. Then they try to uplift the status of their own through affidavit of titles perhaps by the suggestions of a flat-dweller ‘Babu’ where their wives are engaged working as house-maid. In this way ‘Mondal’ becomes ‘Mitra’ followed by ‘Munda’ as ‘Mondal’ and so on. They manage to become a voter card or ration card holder by spoiling some money to the local political workers. Then they are seen bullying and blustering in the area. Local political leaders use them for various purposes off and on even on the day of general elections. The situation has certainly changed their tunes. Their changeable ways puzzle the city dwellers. They are not then at all the Kolkata-outsiders, they are very much the limbs and organs of the city of joy.


Vol. 48, No. 49, Jun 12 - 18, 2016