My first job paid me 100 Rupees per month but that was not my first earning in the real sense. My first earning was when I made kandils (Paper lamps) for Diwali but that was a collective efforts and went to a common earning pool which we spent on a party after diwali. So technically my solo earning was Rs 100 per month. I was in my first year diploma I guess. I don’t remember.
The job was of the courier kind. I had to transfer false teeth from the dentist to the person who made false teeth. I was employed by the person who would make those false teeth and it involved 2 hours of my evening time. It was an easy job except that the dentist were in far off places. During fights when everybody threatened that “Daat todkar haath main dunga”, I actually carried the daat (teeth) with me. The job lasted during the summer vacation of two months.
The second job was as a news boy. I did the job during the third year diploma. I would distribute newspaper to buildings and housing complex every morning. It paid me 200 Rs and I was proud of the job because for that whole year, I did not take any pocket money from home except for the Railway pass. I could manage everything transport to my college supplies and occasional eating out in that 200 rupees. Dad had retired a year before that.
I loved that job. Even though it was tiring and I had to get up at 5:00 in the morning every day, it was a good job, a kind that makes you happy. I would walk from my home to the station for about 30 minutes to reach the Borivali Railway station by 6:00 AM. The newspapers would start coming by 5:30 AM. You sit on the streets in front of different shops. Each vendor had his own space to sit and sort his papers. Each vendor would have 5-6 boys under him depending on the area with each boy having one line. A line is a group of 4-5 buildings or about 90-150 newspapers.
Every day the newspaper come from different publications and also includes periodicals and magazines. We wait till we got all the newspapers. Sometimes the papers are late from the publication themselves. The newspapers are to be delivered before the people start for their office and this is very critical because people can get really angry when they receive their newspaper late. A newspaper is an ideal companion when traveling to work.
The vendor whom I work with along with his two brothers would occupy the small portion in front of a saree showroom. He was a fast speaking guy always in a hurry, small in stature but tough and ready for a fight any time. He had a rickshaw which he used to take us to our ‘line’
Till all the papers arrive, you are treated with tea and if you are lucky with snacks. Now the margin in newspaper is very low so we did not expect breakfast everyday. A newspaper which sells at 2 rupees on the stall, the vendor gets it for Rs. 1.50 or 1.60. The newer the newspaper, bigger the margin. Laws of economics. Simple!
So if Times of India had a margin of 30-40 paise, a lesser known paper would have a margin of 50-60 paise.
Each newsboy would have a list which would have the room number and the newspaper name in short. Every newspaper had its own code name and the same codename was used by all vendors. When you have to arrange all the newspapers and deliver them in an hour before Mumbai would start its insane day, spelling out the newspaper name in full was too much of a wastage of time.
So “The Times of India” was called “Times”, “Maharahstra Times” was called “Mataa”, “Gujarat Samachar” was called “Gujarat” and “Bombay Samachar” was called “Samachar”, “Economic Times” was called “Eco” and “Loksatta” was called “Satta” and “Indian Express” was called “Indian”.
The newspaper would be distributed to all boys depending on the ‘line’ and then every boy had to arrange the newspaper in the sequence he was going to deliver them. Once the newspaper are arranged, the vendor will take you to your ‘line’. If you have a cycle, you get the advantage of starting early and finishing up the job early. Anyway’s you look at it, the job does not go beyond 8:00 AM. You cannot afford to go beyond 8:00 AM.
The Sundays were different. Sunday is hated by every newspaper vendor. Some people only buy newspaper on Sundays. The Sunday newspaper has extra special Sunday supplement. Both this factors increase the weight of the newspaper and that makes the job all the more difficult. The only good aspect is you do it at your own pace. There is no rush.
The rains also created problems. It was not only difficult to arrange the newspapers but also difficult to distribute them. You could be wet but not the papers.
The job was kind of fun. Although the profit was very less, I have seen vendors still doing it. I have been seeing some of them since ages waking up at 5:00 AM and sitting at that very location every day, 363 days a year. The amount of knowledge you get is unbelievable. Every newspaper is at your disposal and you can read it even before the readers who pay for it. Just getting lost in the newspapers on the footpath when Mumbai is waking up gives a feeling of strange happiness, feels privileged. The advantage of having that extra newspaper to take home. For the year I did the job, I had a lot of raddi (old paper sold as junk) to sell at the end of the month thanks to the extra newspaper. Then the added advantage to buy newspaper at vendor rate. The happiness of saving 50 paise because you work as a newsie makes you feel special.
Eating Jelebi-fafda with that half cutting chai with the other boys gives a strange sense of camaraderie. I left the job just before my exams. Years later I went and met the vendor there. The boys had changed but the urgency was evident. One of them had already arranged his newspapers and was ready to go. The vendor asked me tea. I declined.
I had moved on to a new job!
To be continued……