Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Ever since I took up cooking, one might say that I have been obsessed with getting the perfect, freshest produce for my recipes. What started out as enthusiasm gradually resulted into a by-product of comfortable camaraderie between a consumer and provider. I developed a trustworthy, loyal relationship with the family who are now my go-to for greens.
The father always insisted on wrapping up my coriander despite the meagre twenty-step distance I have to cover to get back home. I haven't seen him in a while though, and in lieu of him, his sons seem to have taken over. The elder one always greets me with a welcoming smile - recognising me from afar in spite of my layers of masks. And the younger one probably knows more about my cuisine preferences better than some of my closest friends.
Today though, they didn't greet me in their usual friendly demeanor. There was no exchange of pleasantries, no asking me what's on the menu tonight. It was strictly business, in and out in five minutes. They looked tense, and seemed to be communicating with somebody across the road about an imminent.. danger? On top of the clearly visible apprehension, a man approached them, saying just two words to make announce his presence, and the elder one immediately handed over some cash from the day's earnings, saying something in hushed tones. I don't mean to presume the worst, they could simply owe him for instance, but I don't think I need to spell out the more probable, actual scenario.
While I didn't question them about it all so as to not cause any awkwardness, I do have a theory. Since the past few days, all the street vendors in the area seem to be clearing out their spaces at a fixed time of the day. From a brief conversation with the locality's peanut-seller, I gather it is because of the municipal corporation, and their 'rounds'. Everyday at 4, all the hawkers maneuver their carts into smaller by-lanes, safely ensconced and hidden away from any inspection.
It's not that I do not realize that illegality of costermongering, nevertheless one can't help but sympathize with offenders. My limited knowledge and internet research could not get me authentic, fact-checked answers regarding the laws and licensing that revolve around this practice, so I am unqualified to comment on who is in the wrong here. But I will say, when my mother wants me to run down and get chillies for her gravy immediately before it burns, that little family makes it possible. When it's after hours on a chilly night, perfect for a cup of tea with salted groundnuts, the man keeping warm by the very fire that gains him his livelihood makes it possible. When I'm out of cash or forget my wallet, these very people insist on getting their payment at my leisure, even if they haven't made a single buck that day.
As an educated, privileged population, it might be very easy for us to pass judgement on what is black and white by googling away on our eight-hundred-dollar phones. But the fact of the matter is, when you are haggling to save twenty bucks on a cauliflower, some of which you might even discard, somebody has been saving up that money to buy their kids a chocolate bar. My father taught me very early on - don't ever get wronged, but where you can let go, do; chances are somebody will always need something more than you do.
And you know what? From where we're standing, somebody always does need something more than we do. Heck, they need things we couldn't ever imagine being scarce in our lives. Even if it's just twenty bucks off of a goddamned cauliflower.