43rd recipient of livelihood bicycle: “……my wife told me to bring a photograph of you after meeting you…. because,….’
Name : Basant Kumar De. (45)
Profession- Paan (beetle leaf) seller.
Basant is from Odissa (Orissa), lives in Null Bazar, Mumbai, sells Paan leaves in Bandra west area. He is in this profession since 22-25 years.
Basant arrived in Mumbai in 1993, under the most vivid circumstances, stuff that movies are made of! He was a young boy aged around 15, living in his village at Odissa, and one night he was watching a Nautanki (travelling drama, song and dance show) that was performing in his village and he fell asleep watching the show.
When he woke up, early morning, he realized he is traveling in a Truck!, and the truck is travelling in a area he is not familiar with! He raised an alarm and the truck driver stopped, and was shocked to find him (a stranger, a boy) on board his truck. Though he could not understand Hindi, Basant was smart enough to tell the driver that he has originated from the same village from where they got the consignment of paan leaves.
The driver and cleaner soon realized young Basant had fallen asleep at the back of their truck watching the drama show that they too had been enjoying last night in his village. The truck was carrying paan leaves meant to be delivered to Mumbai, and had already crossed the Odissa border and was moving towards Maharashtra. The truck driver decided to continue on his journey and assured Basant they will take him back to his village on his return trip from Mumbai.
The driver knew some families staying in Mumbai (from Basant’s village in Odisaa) and he kept Basant in their care, while the truck was in Bombay delivering the consignment.
However, during the return trip back to his village, Basant decided he wants to continue to live and work in Bombay because his father was too poor to do anything for him by way of his education or food needs, and so at Busawal (near Nasik) Basant jumped off the truck when it stopped someplace, and he escaped into the darkness of the jungle.
At daylight, he emerged from the jungle and hitched a ride back to Nasik and began looking for work in Nasik. He was not meant to suffer in hunger and die, because of his spirit of survival which was evident in what he thought while the truck was carrying him back to his poor family and village –“Main idhar (Bumbai) aaya hoon toh kuch toh karoonga, bhooka nahin maroonga!’ (Now that I have happened to come to Bombay, I will do something here itself, I will not return home to my village to starve to death!)
When he reached Nasik, he worked at a tea stall for Rs 20 a month for about 2 years. Then he found his way to Bombay and traced the people the truck driver had sold the paan consignments to, and began working for one of the suppliers, wholesalers, of paan leaves. It’s evident he succeeded, because he made a family and life thereafter, selling the very same leaves that accidently had carried him to Bombay!!!
‘Wow! That’s taqdeer, the power of destiny!’, I thought fascinated hearing his most fascinating story!
Basant worked for the whole-supplier (Manoharji) for around 10 years, and because he served him loyally and worked hard, his master (Manoharji Babulal Sitaram) encouraged him to start his own wholesaling-line of paan leaves, by offering him an interest free loan of Rs 10,000; thus made him financially independent! My salute to Manoharji, because he also gave Basant money when he needed it to get his sisters married! Truly an angel!
Though Basant has faced many financial challenges even thereafter, he has not looked back in regret since that day when he travelled on that truck accidently, as his paan leaves selling profession has fed him and his own family, and his many brothers and sisters too! He told me, ‘Yes, I earned money, but I could never save money, because I was the one who bore the expenses of my four brothers and two sisters, even though my family earned little from the farming they did back in the village. (Main apna kuch khaas banaa nahin saka.) We were rich people when I was a child, but were financially ruined when my grandfather cheated my father of his land and inheritance, by making him put his thumb impressions on some documents.”
He told me he is highly respected in the trade for his skill in ripening the paan leaves, he does it with the help of 1000 watt bulb; its dicey, because too little heat or too much heat ruins the delicate and moist paan leaves, and the ripening process takes about a month or bit more; he said is very proud of this acquired skill, and he smiled when he said that. When does the leaf reach the correct temperature that makes it ripen and not get ruined, he comes to know the correct temperature by simply placing each leaf on his cheek!!! “What an awesome and natural thermostat his cheeks have become, I thought and looked at them in amazement! (But they were as regular as mine! ;))
Both his children, daughter 14, son 4, are studying in English medium convent school; and both are first class students, he beamed in joy. He told me, ‘I want to educate my daughter to very high standards, I want her to do what I could not.
They (both my children) can speak in English, (he smiled) and though I cannot speak it, but I can now understand what they are saying.’ (he smiled even more.)
About the leaves he sells he had to say that he cautions people from adding tobacco in banarsi and culcutta paan leaves, while having them, and assured me it’s a medicinal leaf if it’s had without the poisonous tobacco; its very good for digestion and one must have a paan leaf after every meal, he advised me.
I asked him about his most challenging or difficult period in life; he said, it was around ten years ago when he fell off the local train at Dadar and came under the train, but somehow escaped the wheels and did not get dragged because some vegetable vendor pulled the Stop-chain immediately. (He carries 100 Kgs of paan daily on his back before he places it on his bike’s carrier, so that weight unsettled him.)
The hurt he received from the fall was not the painful part of the experience, the most painful part was he had to sit at home for ten years without working, and that made him feel miserable, that he is not able to work and yet is a burden on the family’s scare food supply for ten years. Nd because he could not ride his bicycle for ten years, he gave his profession of selling the leaves to someone else and in return took a small commission from that man’s daily earnings for introducing him to his customers and for using his bicycle too, that meager income kept his family going for ten years. He is able to ride now, and sells the paan leaves himself riding shop to shop.
Just before he left, he told me, “Last night when I told my wife and children about you, that you are donating a new bicycle to me in exchange of my old one, she told me to bring a photograph of you after meeting you; because she wanted to see for herself who is this kind man doing something for us that no one has ever done for us in our life till now. Honestly, I too was very keen to meet you, just so I can see your face, because we had only spoken on the phone, as I could not believe this can be true, that someone like you exists. We pray for you.’
He was so dam sincere in what he had just said, I tried hard to assure him, (in-between hiding my tears quite well), that his sincere kind words and prayers for me actually do not belong to me, because I am not the donor; I am just like that bridge between the water well and the thirst, I told him while accepting his sincere gratitude and prayers on behalf of the donor of his bike.
Even long after he had left, two thoughts lingered in my consciousness, – his vivid road journey to Bombay in a truck delivering paan leaves, the very leaves that eventually fed him for life by becoming his profession!, and, his wife asking him to bring home a photo of me, the alleged donor!. Naturally, I never gave him a photo of mine, but only after he had cycled too far away I realized how stupid I really was, for not having logged on to FB when Basant had asked me for my photograph to show his wife! Because, I felt I should have logged on to FB and shown him a picture of Javed Mahadik, the kind donor of his wonderful new bike.
Basant gave us his old bike in exchange, which we donated to a samosa seller.
And thank you to Kohinoor Cycles (http://kohinoorcyclestores.blogspot.com/) Siddharth Vora (https://www.facebook.com/siddharth.vora.58?fref=ts) for the good discount and service.