In praise of Hawkers

In light of all the hatred, directed towards hawkers and other people of the street, I want to stand up and publicly cheer for them. Because they provide us with tasty egg rolls and chana, because they are always quick in their service and mostly friendly to their customers, no matter how drunk. To them I want to say a big THANK YOU!

They didn’t go to any hospitality management school or learn etiquette at high prices but seem to have buckets of both (along with one exclusively for onions). Those people who wish to see them removed seem to lack any human aesthetic and no poetry, they only like the sleek, polished new exteriors which cost a lot of money to install and maintain. When spaces are created without thinking about the street people, they will make use of the spaces created as best as they can, and that is their Beauty: their ability to adapt to change.

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They are usually hated because they are low caste and, don’t believe in the lies, even in our (tribal) society, we have some what internalized that discrimination – pohjait (inferior jat) – which we brandish readily at the poor. Most of these people (non-tribals particularly) still reside in areas which traditionally housed the servants of the powerful, (in and around the marketplace Iewduh, for a Shillong example) from the old days moving into the new age of tyranny.

Secondly, they are hated because they are poor and unkempt. These people are always working in order to make some money for their families so they have no time to try out L’Oreal or foreign perfumes. They probably have only a single change of clothes which they have to wash once a week when they are not working.

Then they are hated because they dirty the marketplaces. In fact, markets are usually polluted more by the bigger stores whose refuse might even include chemical discharges and almost always large quantities of plastic wrapping etc. Hawkers normally have garbage which is biodegradable.

Finally, in Shillong, they are hated most often because most of them are dkhar (non-tribal). But worse, because they are poor dkhars. No one talks ill about the ones who come in jets to set up a mining company in Jaintia Hills, nor the ones who run away with years of subsidies from the Byrnihat industrial area.

These hawkers are workers who have no time to conform to one person or one government’s pronouncements, you may ram them out of the way yet again they emerge from the noise and rubble (alu chop in hand). You can try to disregard them from the process of planning but it will never be a success unless you involve them in it.
Their strong minds and stronger backs deserve applause.

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Avner Pariat Written by:

Avner Pariat is a poet and chronicler of Khasi Jaintia Hills.

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