Laxmikant Tambe* had studied until class V and became a motor mechanic soon after, to earn a living. In 1979, he suffered from a chest injury and got admitted at a hospital when he had some major realisations about himself and the world. He came here, to Mumbai, in 1985 from countryside Maharastra and has been selling vadapav since 1995. Before getting into this business, he had a job in BEST for 14 years, from which he retired in 2014. I met him about a month ago, as a part of an activity during the India Fellow Induction training.
Tambe has a wife, a son and three daughters in his immediate family. The daughters are all happily married. His son was earlier working as a cook at an international school but now he sits at the vadapav shop helping his father as due to Covid-19, the school is shut. This shop was closed for 4-5 months. But tambe tells that he doesn’t face any issues in getting the raw material now. He also shared that his family was hit hard in the initial months of the pandemic. One of his brothers got tested positive for Covid-19, and consequently all his 17 family members had to be institutionally quarantined which highly added to their misery.
About the place where he has set up shop, he tells that he has not bought this land but rather, he is grateful to the construction of the bridge that gave him this place for free. BMC (Bombay Municipal Corporation) tried to intervene a couple of times, to chuck him out, but now he has got it legalised by getting a Gumasta license, the Shop and Establishment license, a primary proof of survival of business in Mumbai. “Yahan pehle kuch nahi tha, bas dada log aur gundey the par hum log dare nahi!”
When the municipality survey happened, a woman surveyor helped him a lot, he recalls gladly. But it wasn’t that easy. The bank would give him a loan of upto Rs. 5,000 only, and he had to work hard to arrange for the rest of the amount required in the land legalisation process. “Abhi photo pass mile na mile koi farak nai padta, jageh hamari ho gayi hai!”
He boasts that the shop comes alive in the evening.
“Din ka ek aadh hazaar ho jata hai, aur saath aath sau rupye ka maal pe kharcha.”
When I asked why he doesn’t keep the perishables in the fridge, he said that it costs him around 3,000 rupees worth of electricity bill, so it is better not to use it. He went a step ahead and suggested to never buy a second hand fridge. Around this time, his only son and the heir of the Tambe business Mr. Sagar Tambe* joins. He was a man of many dreams and a few words.
“फिलहाल बिज़नेस लॉस में जा रहा है| दिन का कम से कम तीन-साढ़े तीन हज़ार तो होना चाहिए| कहीं जॉब करने से per day के हिसाब से 800-900 रुपया लेबर है, यहाँ लेबर तक की भरपाई नहीं हो पा रही है| पर खुद की जगह है और इतने सालों से यही कर रहे हैं तो, कुछ नहीं तो घर का खर्चा तो निकल ही जाता है. जॉब की कोई कमी नहीं है पर 12 घंटे, 12 हज़ार के लिए कौन काम करेगा|”Sagar
Sagar strongly believes that if you have a skill set, then you don’t have to sleep hungry at night. When I asked him to give me some useful tips to set up my own business, he said that he values a good work ethic and hard work more than anything else. He had a strong business sense, a grip on what he was doing and how it should be done.
“Mera maal acha hai. Hamesha sochta hun ki meri family bhi yehi khayegi, to quality matter karti hai. Aur sabke liye bhao ek hi rakhta hun. Madam pata hai, aur munafa hota, agar ye dukan kisi school, college ya office ke saamne hota, kyun ki wo log khali garnishing dekhte hain”, sagar says.
“Aaj vada pav ka rate badhne ka kaaran hai ki jo chiz 15 saal pehle das-barah rupye mein milti thi, jaise batata, abhi 30-40 rupye ka aata hai. 15 saal mein vada pav ka daam 8 rupye, matlab har saal kareeb 50 paisa, upar se mirchi ka rate 80 rupye kilo alag. Businessman sochega ki agar do ka chaar nahi bhi ho raha to atleast teen rupye to ho”, he adds.
After having this conversation, I realised that the common man is aware of what he is doing and to a large extent, as to how it should be done. At times, they may not be aware why they are doing it other than the fact that they have to survive than thrive. And that’s a ‘why’ big, and important enough, in itself?
*Name changed to protect identity