The ‘Wallah’s’ in my life or when Cate Blanchet kissed Suresh

machichi wali.jpg
I saw the woman in glasses (on the left) 25 years ago.. Early in the morning she was running on the Juhu beach in Mumbai, sari and all, balancing the basket of fresh fish on her head that was tilted at a slightly awkward angle – probably the best way to balance the uncertain load on her head. I was told by her later (as she would deliver fish to my doorstep), that she ran to be able to get the fish to her customer in the freshest state possible. But I guess also to beat the competition. Over the years every time I got to the beach in the morning at the right time – I would see her run with the catch that just came off the fishing boats. How does she keep that fit, I thought ? And then a couple of years ago, I would never see her again. I wondered if she now had a different beat. Or something had happened to her.
Then today I saw her again. I asked her why she did not run on the beach any more and she showed me her swollen foot and leg. I asked her what was wrong, and she laughed and said “Age, Baba” something you would not know about yet (as if !). The she introduced me to her daughter (in the picture) who now does the same run. Anyway I wished her well and left. Later this evening she and her daughter turned up at my apartment in Juhu fully dressed up. They had cooked for me ! The most delicious Soorma Fish Curry you could have. And enough to feed me and many of my friends in an impromptu dinner party I quickly arranged.
Pity that we are losing these friends to the Super markets. Over the 20 years I have visited Mumbai off and on, I have had the same Milkman ( who beat me at football on the beach and would drag me to his house every festival for his mother to feed me to extinction), the son of the same fruit seller who’s charming negotiating skills taught me a thing or two of how to negotiate with Studio heads in Hollywood. And the family of the same sabzi wallah. I even have the same Bai who comes searching for me always to see if I am back. She has a bad back so I tell her to stay at home and I pay her salary in any case. But she insists on coming and supervising the cleaning of the house by a new, younger Bai. “This is my house”, she says proudly” Your mother employed me and only she can ask me to stop”. Well, my mother passed away many years ago, so I guess the Bai is here to stay.
And then I have Suresh who follows me around the world insisting that I need someone to look after me. he has been doing that for almost 15 years now. When in London, his cooking skills made me the most popular person in London. Friday nights in my house in London would be famous as Fish Curry nights – where Suresh would cook up the most amazing food for 30/40 people. If you want Suresh to go into deep colours of red, ask him to show you his picture with ‘Cate Memsahib’, where Cate Blanchet has her arms around Suresh and planting a firm kiss on his cheek. As a thank you for all the meals he fed her during the Golden Age shoot.
The other day the son of the Fruit Seller heard I was in town and came to say hello. He told me his story of woe. The police will not let them put out stalls in the street anymore, the shops are too expensive and the supermarkets are eating into their business. But they are now hitting back back with technology. Mobile phones !
Now I have everyone’s mobile phones. And if I am flying back from New York, I can phone my Fish seller, My fruit seller, my Vegetable vendor and my Bai – all of them a day ahead and tell them exactly what I need delivered to my doorstep as I arrive.
I hope the supermarkets do not drive these people out of business. I grew up with them, as I am sure many of you did.

52 thoughts on “The ‘Wallah’s’ in my life or when Cate Blanchet kissed Suresh

  1. Dear Shekhar,
    Reading this post brought tears in my eyes. The way you connect with everybody makes you so special. Hope to meet you someday soon.
    Thanks again for this post.

  2. Hi,
    I am going home my home after 3yrs and will meet all wallahs in my life. i miss it all i miss my country,my city ,my home, my identity , my life.
    thanks i appreciate their un dying loyality and love

  3. Can supermarkets or online markets ever match the personalized, customized service of the ‘wallahs’!
    Every time my parents visit me for an extended stay, my phones work overtime – no, not because they are chatting with neigbors, friends and family around me. Between their domestic maid, gardener, watchman, ironman (who doubles up ‘keeping an extra eye’ on home), there’s enough and more stuff they are all calling them about and over-eager to ‘report’. From their mobile phones! One of them even sent them an SMS saying “it cheaper to SMS…madam know how to?” (apparently he had spent a week figuring out how to do that after they got him ‘connected’, and was so proud of his achievement!) There’s no dearth of everyday drama in India to report – a heavy downpour has brought down one of my mom’s favorite jasmine creeper. [Clumsy] ‘maintenance’ digging activity on the road has cut off an electricity cable under, disrupting service into the house (!). Result – water motor cannot be turned on the next morning when the domestic maid shows up. Electricity cable fixed, power back on. But water motor does not work. Why? — 2 days of water motor out of commission – and there’s an air bubble in the pipes. Plumber hailed. Air bubble extracted…motor fixed. Raw green mangoes hanging from the mango trees – street children threw stones to get a mango or two. Accidentally hit the window. Window broken. Phew, the everyday snippets of drama never ceases. Gosh! Whatever would my parents do if they did not have these loyal, genuinely caring folks around, AND if they did not have cell phones! And of course when they return home, even at 4 am, the milkman shows up with FRESH milk, so they can settle in comfortably starting with that sip of freshly brewed coffee (yes, FRESH milk as in freshly milked…no, they do NOT live in rural India, but have managed to continue the tradition of having fresh milk delivered…in fact until a few years ago the cow actually used to be brought to the gates!) How much more organic could one get? This is Incredible India!
    “For care in English, press 1, for care in Latin, press 2…” – no, India is not yet entirely there, or at least so I’d like to think. Technology and personalized care with the human touch still co-exist (be it in banking or baking, or anything in between). I hope India can continue to retain that unique flavor…
    As for the deep colors of red, I can’t help sharing something that floated into my Inbox as the ‘District Collector vs. Volvo Racer’ — the script is in a regional Indian language, but we don’t need to understand that. Taken during the welcoming of the Volvo Racing team in Cochin, Kerala, the last pic. is hilarious — talk about cultural differences / sensitivities (and insensitivities), body language and the power of the unspoken word!

  4. I think the way you have been treating all friends of yours consistently over all these decades is referred to as “Daivi Sampathi” in Bhagavadgita; Kudos to you!
    Capitalism has made deep inroads into even small indian villages and small business vendors will disappear sooner or later in this scenario. Bollywood has bastardized to the xtent that they dont care about backstabbing their own family members, forget abt all these small vendors who have been lifelines of bombay for generations to come and go.

  5. What a wonderful journey through emotions and time!! Thank you for sharing Shekhar.. Have a Happy Birthday!

  6. I have this fruitwalla bhaiya, he always pays the cab wallah whenever I am short of money, and then adds it to the bill.
    It use to happen a lot when I was in school.

  7. Love my India. The personal touch we find back home is nowhere in this world. And who better than you Shekhar to bring those memories back.
    And this subject of supermarkets need a strong documentary or a movie from you.

  8. The beauty and charm of India!! Look at the serenity that reflects in their faces despite their tough lives. Waalas rock! If only there would be some able leaders with the depth to recognize and harness the potential richness of such a splendid society.

  9. Dearest shekharji,your desi attitude strikes the chord and gives life to these wallah’s …i think those who care about them are more soooo happy with them and are attatched more or less in the same will definitely get difficult for them but they will survive .your graciousness needs no mention you

  10. Shekhar,
    I think it is quite fantastical at this point to reverse the fangs of materialistic, over-indulgent culture of consumption that have set in. The indians are on a track to learn the hard way to get back to their roots.
    Having said that, any attempts have to be at the grass roots, such as media etc. Movies are probably the most powerful medium to convey these hearty messages as you have posted. Movies that are the inverse of sadistic ones as Slumdog Millionaire, which would be earnest and benevolent in their intent, which could touch on these elementary aspects that are unique to Indian society, which would rise above the usual gibberish messages from pseudo-intellectual movie makers capitalizing on caste, gender and communal conflicts. Recognize and magnify the good aspects of our ancient ways.
    It is a simple fact that a majority of indian women and men, even in the lowest class/caste have never smoked or consumed a drop of alcohol in their entire lives. This is a big factor in the propagation of good genes, sattvic qualities, selflessness and serene culture of indian society. If these basic aspects are emphasized rather than other pseudo-intellectual bull, then there is hope.
    On the other hand, if the current trends continue with the malls, alcohol, piercings, splitsvillas, propagation of lust, adulterated foods, over consumption et al, the descent into great suffering cannot be thwarted. Some other nations – read “western” – are already experiencing this to a high degree with a sizeable amount of the population resorting to powerful medications just to lead normal lives, but are camouflaged well by a veil of hollow glamour and wealth.
    The other extreme of islamic fundamentalists is also not a winning model.
    Hence the flocking to the simple, ancient ways of india which offer a far more balanced way of life.

  11. I guess, you have to be rich and generous to earn loyalty!
    The “wallahs” in my life could care less for me as I haggle with them so much. 🙂

  12. you have a very keen heart Shekhar; it is so filled with wonder, insight & awareness; i am in awe of you some times when i read your thoughts! Kudo’s to your evolution as a human being..

  13. no matter how many malls swamp us and over power us, the daily interaction and old endearing relationships will sustain. And the only reason they will sustain is becos of our own individual sense of benevolence, personalization, ease, earnestness and depth

  14. Sir,
    It was really toching to read this article, which really shows what shaker is really from inside. Thanks a lot for the article i loved it which also took me to my old days a good nostalgic feeling.

  15. Dear shekhar…
    ur narration is no nice to read…..
    No wonder that makes u a great story teller,
    best film maker we have,and the heart you have to look at the the things the way ou do…its all so touching.
    Of course many of us have had similar experiences,
    The wallahs as u call then…. the amount of self respect they have, though they are sick, they would ask money for medicines, but will get back to work as soon as they feel a bit better and they never take the salary if they are not in a position to come for work… the perfection that they have, the amount of care they take of us, our house as if its a part of their lives….and the happiness they find in our happiness, the way they mourn on our sorrows….and the way they look forward to each day with all the entusiasm and hope, never complaining, we have got a lot to learn from them….
    nice post, thank you for the same

  16. OOPS !!!!!!!!!!
    made a blunder in my comment above…
    it should have been ur narration is ‘SO NICE’
    extremely sorry.
    please forgive.

  17. I think relationships is still the basis of all transactions that happen in the country. Is it the high population density that makes it impossible for people not to interact and get to know each other more personally here? 🙂
    Organised retail chains/supermarkets for all their cost efficiencies, will not be able to match the EQ of the personal relationships these people build with their select circle of clients over years, so guess their livelihoods are safe for a long long time to come!
    Pl. accept belated B’day wishes. May the wise thoughts continue to spread and touch more & more lives.

  18. Couldn’t agree more. I greatly enjoyed this post!! (one can make a film around this theme…the beauty of smaller creatures losing out to the efficiency of larger ones).

  19. wow,its been reeeaaallyyy looong since i read something so soul touching like the ‘wallah’ para, ..does anybody even think beyond supermalls now a days?? i havent heard any, ..
    but theres also the other side of this story which has just swapped sides, if u have seen the ”itne paise mein itanahich milega” (dialogue said by a bai-servant in a typical mumbai household), , this just makes us realise how much we have to butter them up to get our jobs done, as they are in maximum demand off late than ever.
    loved ur thoughts ,and look forward for more..

  20. Coincidence it is , that i have come across your web page after watching your interview on the FOX History last night(curiosity, may be!). And here it is another unraveling conversation into your personality that i stumbled across, that makes me appreciate the use of your word “Destined” in a more profound way. Keep exploring!!!!

  21. Oh What a sweet article. How lucky you are that you have these people in your life and that you can help them too. I do hope that in time the world will realize the beauty of local living. It might have to go full circle before we realize that we had the best in the first place, sold it, lost it, and then want it to come back again. We’ll such is life.
    By the way, really love reading your point of view. Also following you on twitter.

  22. dear sir,
    i have always admired u, mr.Ratnam n the yesteryears legends like mr.Dev Anand, late. Raj kapoor,late.Gurudutt for their films.u all hve inspired me to for being a film maker one day just to show my views to the sociey, the way time has brought the change since the world war era.etc…
    ur this article shows tht a film maker is the closest person to the he can feel the pain n can work for the remedy.

  23. Very touching and beautifully written. Lovely story of folks from the not so privileged classes. I started following you on Twitter a few months ago and chanced upon this blog today. Guess every day my admiration of you increases. Waiting for more heartwarming stories and your infinite anectodes of wisdom! Look forward to reading more.

  24. Dearest Shekhar, you are blessed to know people with such generosity of spirit and it brings me joy to read of them – and of the value they bring to your life. I am surrounded by cynicism and skeptics and so to read of the value you place on human kindness and loyal companions, I feel a renewed sense of happiness at this. I am coming to spend some time in Darjeeling later on this year as a volunteer to teach at a small village school in Pashok – I hope to support and bring value to people in the same way that you are doing.
    Best Wishes, Cat x

  25. Respected Chander Shekhar sir,
    I am one of your fan, do have your cell no. with me, wana hear your voice, wana talk to you don’t know why I am not calling you? I know who you are, what you are but you don’t know who I am? I am fan of Suchitra mam too! Though there are only few albums of her but I like her singing & acting too! Now also I am confused what to write? My email ad is mentioned, if you want to communicate with me, & of course if you will get time. No need to say but you are having very good personality. I want to meet you & see you once. I am residing in Mumbai. I don’t know what to talk to you but still want to meet you if you wish! I am not fond of films, but Mr.India & Bandit Queen are my one of the favourite films.Definitely want at least to see a person who is having brain, wealth, creativity & personality too. As a person I don’t know how you are & don’t want to rely on other’s opinion.
    Will wait for that golden day to meet you.
    Warm regds.

  26. Hi Shekhar,

    You have been on my favourite filmmakers list since ‘Masoom’ & this post of yours just completely warms the cockles of my heart.

    It is a pleasure reading your warm, wise, compassionate blog that sparkles with the intuition & intelligence that is so you.

    Best Always,

  27. Heartwarming, Shekar! Its nostalgia and life in one go. They are the real people who teach us a thing or two. Schooling is but a necessary evil.

    Glad that you wrote this piece.

  28. Dear Shekhar,

    And now I know the reason behind your success…..
    I sincerely thank you for making me realize the importance of the ‘wallahs’ in my life….
    Though have been constantly in need of them and using their services….a mistake or two made me raise my temper on them….
    Human values..indeed play a major role in building up a great character like “THE WRITER” of this blog..
    I regret of reading this post so late ….
    Anyways….Deer Aaye Durust Aaye… 🙂 😉 ….
    Now mark me as a regular reader….as your articles like your movies are unbeatable !!!!


  29. I was going through your blog. I thank you for making us realise the importance of ‘wallahs’, without them our day to day working will get affected.

    Really touching and these are the wealth we earn in our life.


  30. Dear shekhar,
    I am so deeply touched by your loving words.u have a heart of gold and those who have u as a friend in their life really fortunate.when u cried in the show india got talent for that little girl , u made me cry n so many u think u can make a movie on what u wrote.i think it will touch a lot of people.

  31. you come across as an amazingly transparent, genuine and loving human being….and humble…and ofcourse with a unique creative streak…proud of you, as an Indian!

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