The Wallah’s in my life

I saw my fisherwoman (machchiwali)  first 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 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 and soon to Foreign Retail Brands.  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 and FDI in retail do not drive these people out of business. I grew up with them, as I am sure many of you did.

42 thoughts on “The Wallah’s in my life

  1. Very well expressed Sir. I guess the difference between the Government and individuals like you and me is that the Government is made of individuals who have lost their souls.

  2. Sunday Mornings !!!! I Remember holding a fifty rupee note tightly in my hand, and standing in one corner for my turn in Shivaji Market( pune) Mutton shop, Where dozens of upside down hanged freshly cleaned lambs , and a 50 yr old where ahmed chacha used to just smile and hand over my steel dabba( no plastic bag where then)…… communication …just a touch and smile and every thing said… today’s as time stands ahead …no such smiles and no such emotions … FDI will give my son a AC shop but not that smile.

  3. As beautiful writing as all the eatables and wallahs you mentioned in it. Many may not have the same experience with their wallahs and may tell you that they are so with you because you are a celebrity. But I know it is only partially true. Much of it lies within each one of us if we want to develop such relations.

    Anyway, I wonder after reading your article how the foreigners can really beat us when we can bring rather their super market to our mobiles lol. IT Jugaar.

    Brave and clever beat the enemy with their own weapon!

  4. mesmerizing as always with the addendum of intellect.
    thank you, sir.
    Always enjoyed reading you.

  5. Sir,
    (First) Great article,Sir. Well said!

    (Second) Since you have highlighted the plight of a fishermonger, I say: It has pained me all along to see the pathetic pattern of mediocrity / defeatist-mentality repeat itself. A fishermonger-mother will brainwash her daughter into selling fish irrespective of the child’s desires, capabilities and intelligence. In India, dominating parents FORCE their dependents into the line-of-work they themselves started and/or have themselves been shoved into by their parents! Thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty, hardship and festering resentment.

    (Third) Having said that, my humble point of view is that the opening up of FDI in retail will, hopefully, ignite a think-out-of-the-box panic where these simple folk could consider “supplying” the outlets with produce. In turn, my optimistic mind hopes that related-industries like packaging, transporting, storage-facilities would also be set up on local land and create jobs for Indians in India!

    (Fourth) It is up to brilliant celebrities, like you, Sir, to inject HOPE, POSSIBILITIES, IDEAS into the closed minds of simple day-to-day Indians to break free from the “taker” mentality and risk stepping up higher. Indians, as a people, are versatile and are blessed with sharp intelligence. It is up to the Upper Crust to encourage them to “step out of the boat”!

    With regards,
    Dinkie Desouza

  6. “Neither prejudiced by the past, nor in the fear of future. The moment, only the moment.”

    Your lines only & how the above article proves the double standards. Yes I agree, while writing one has to project that he or she is some different perfect guy.

    Where else in the (developed) world you will find the mess of street side vendors selling smelly things like fish? Any hygiene, care for the other vegetarians? Where is that…?

    All these kind of stupid thinking only has kept India in mess of today. Where there is no order. No system. Just plain chaos.

    It’s hopeless to see that the well travelled people has this kind of downward thinking.
    Time to grow up & start living like a developed society.

  7. Definitely, the personal touch and the warmth that has grown over the years with these “Wallah’s” can never be replaced by the Malls in their Air conditioned environment or FDIs whatsoever. I own a privilege member card of a big retail and they some time make that effort to bring that personal touch or warmth but in vain! I received an SMS and an email saying that since I am special to them, they had arranged a special preview for people like me on the starting day of their new arrivals launch with an exclusivel counter. I was enthuastic about the special invitation and went to the mall and made my purchases. When I reached the counter, I found there was no exclusive counter as told and ahead of me there was a big queue and the retail shop was selling those previlege cards to all these customers. I realised, it was just a gimmic to pull me into their store and make me shell out money, forget the warmth and special treatment.

  8. hi shekher,
    india is a big market ,and in any circumstances business of these guys wil nver suffer,
    Coz no matter how many stores gets openedup..they will nvr b able to giv u door stepdeleivieries and personalised service..they also wont be able to massage egos ans these guys does by being his mater voice..
    And super market will nvr go crazy for u evn if u let cate kissin there bricks nd mortars.. 🙂

  9. Real pity. Education, search of modern life, needs took us away from the simple and personal moments. They sometimes made us even look at them with disdain and condescence. But it is these that sustain over the years. Losing it would be losing a big valuable part of us. A day before, I had a chat with a childhood friend after a gap of 16 years (thanks to technology, mobile and facebook). Our lives have become vastly different, but it looked like we are still the same. It was easy conversing with him for two hours after so long. While it often becomes difficult to hold on for more than a couple of minutes with those who you went to post-grad school to. I guess once you become something, you stop being yourself. May the thread continue. May the time remain. Amen.

  10. Shekhar, the sentiments are shared, but as with life its all about progress.. Its not about the WalMarts and the Carrefours making these people redundant, its about how these people make themselves wanted.
    Its all about education, which should ideally be the govt’s primary focus. We all enjoy this personal relationship with our vendors, but then, there is also another breed who looks for highers standards for the money they paying.
    Living in Dubai, we have the biggest of biggest Dept stores, yet my mother calls up the vegetable guy, who calls her mummy’ji, for her food and he is on our door steps in a bit.
    FDI isn’t a bad word, Rajeev Gandhi was blasted when he introduced computers to India, .needless to say we are now a super power in IT.
    The only constant in life is change i guess…

  11. Sir, plz send your Bai to Lokhandwala Garden on Tuesday/Thursday or Saturday from 9-11 AM. Ask her to meet Kedar, a poor village guy, regarding her back pain. Kedar is an expert in Sujok therapy. I got rid of my recent back pain through him. Also he works magic for diabetics. He can come to your house too- his phone number is 9370114326

  12. so true sir! The picture of “hometown” differs from ur apartments greatly because of their presence in it. Once they disappear. every other place will be the same,with no strings attached!

  13. dear sir,
    this FDI in retail market and airlines..will it be a beneficial for the indians? i think by what i hav read , they will be having the 50% share and profits and definetly we will be having cheaper products..but we are paying to the foreign companies …what will happen to all these local traders? why cant the indian companies provide us the goods at the same price? why dont india hav a retail chain outlet like walmart? will there be a oppurtunity for an indian walmart to open if these big foriegn companies will open?
    please enlighten me with your knowledge because i know i am bad in understanding these things.
    good day sir.

  14. Very touching article, Sir, of how small things in life matter a lot. This is just one story, I can imagine the plight of millions of kiraana walaa, fruit sellers, fisher men ect. As they say, we are privatizing profits and nationalizing losses.

    Thank you. 🙂

  15. Yes defenately this new professionalism is going to effect the emotional bonding between the two . Well described …!
    Hope it remains uneffected & the govt gives a thought to it…..

  16. The fisherwoman, her daughter and the others (the milkman, the vegetable vendor, the fruitwallah) all aspire to their own lives and cease to be endearing to the condescending intellectual elite. Something has to give way or else our love for tribal culture will keep the tribals forever languishing in the forest. Our love for the fisherwoman and her daughter will keep her running between the dhow and shore. We all must face the new world.
    In the mean time, the individual who struggles in the new world, will find, as you observe, the cellphone his best friend. I cannot help but remember Naya Daur, with Dilipkumar in the lead, depicting struggle between the tonga and the motorbus.
    My neighbourhood fish-vendor now supplies fish (home-delivery) and his wife who used to labour with the wet weight over her head, now cooks and supplies special fish meals, home delivered, at a price decent for her. Thanks to the cell phone. Both he and his wife carry their own separately.
    The largesse of love with free curry is gone for good. 😀

  17. No offence, but this is why they say that the emotions of men are stirred more easily than their intelligence. I have no clue what FDI will do to people overall, but the argument has to be a logical one, not an emotional one. Or, preferably, a combination.

  18. Great post,Shekhar ji!

    Been years since I had fish,but yes the young Bhaji wali with the beautiful name Sapna,comes by every morning with fresh pudina,hari dhaniya,palak, methi(chinna mentha)and I’ll say the rest in Telugu-thota kura, ponnaganti gura,gongura…:) Some of them I can’t figure out but Ma buys them and I eat the green stuff on and off:)
    She was a huge help in sourcing some greens and a kind of gourd(all chopped up with some onion and the juice of half a nimbu to be downed as quickly as possible) I needed to have as part of Ayurvedic treatment for my then persisting ovarian cyst which had turned into a Polycystic condition!

    This in the morning and then the juice of maat ki bhaji in the evening. That was an unforgettable experience and it took a lot of will power to have that chopped up salad every morning-I vowed to stay off onions for the rest of my life.Talk about crying over chopped onions!
    Everytime I helped her with her heavy basket which she would carefully balance on a cloth wound up in a circle on her head( not to speak of the plastic bag she carries in one hand) I would remember the story of Krishna and the gopis and their matkas.Of the one where He helps to lower the “burden” from their heads but NOT to put them back on. Would feel slightly guilty placing the burden on her head but then ,haha, Kanha is something else,wouldn’t you say?

    Still ‘growing up’ with our Wallah parivar and thank God for that 🙂


    P.S.Bought fresh Indian corn today from the fruit wallah(he was selling black grapes and apples) and that’s going to be my dinner tonight(pressure cooked with salt and turmeric and a pat of Amul butter) Corny Delights ! 😉

  19. Very touching, and wonderful. But also points to the privileges of a successful movie maker who could live where he grew up.

    It is true that just as many upper middle class folks who grew up elsewhere have entered Mumbai, as those who grew up in Mumbai have left for other places – so why is there reduced demand for the services of the wallahs and wallis Shekhar so admires? Because we want their services without being willing to pay the appropriate price. And even if some of us are willing to pay the right price, there are not enough folks to turn the tide. Economies of scale, cheaper and more efficient transportation mechanisms, just in time inventory management, and …have all ganged up against these social institutions and friends Shekar so admires. His loss is real, but the benefits of the changes are large too.

    Social and institutional change is the only permanent thing.

  20. The world is not same as it was 10 yeas ago, the world will not be the same 10 years after, and will not be the same 10 years, thereafter, either! Yet, something remains the same throughout, what we call the soul, a witness to all change, which itself does not succumb to change, i remember a zen story:

    A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”
    “It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.

    A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!’

    “It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.


    The vedas say, क्रतो स्मर कृतग्ँ स्मर क्रतो स्मर कृतग्ँ स्मर (Isavasya Upanishad, 17)

    Remember the deeds done onto them and remember again and again feel, gratitude, for all that has been done onto you. And, express a sense of solicitude, concern, care of their wellbeing.

    Nothing is more pleasing for the soul than the feel of Gratitude.


  21. Dear Shekhar, appreciate your emotions. no one wants these people killed. The service these individuals provide is invaluable and therefore ingrained in indian culture. This cannot be replaced by FDI compliant super markets. There is no danger to them. Please consider these before going on an on relating to your anti-development agenda. Please do not preach what India does whilst living outside or globe trotting. you want best of both the worlds, i guess.

  22. Shekharji,
    you made me bit disappointed..
    You are a very good filmmaker no doubt..but also a very good charted accountant practiced in place like London.
    you have written this article you really want FDI in retail if not then you would have put the economic behind it is going to bring the slavery and how we are going to loose our independence, freedom in few decades (yes, independence, I am conscious about what I am saying )…take it from me…the potential threat is ahead…FDI in retail is one step towards it..

    India is going to get only slavery, exploitation and will loose freedom too..

    the concept of ‘Tanati Phouja’ was very glamorous initially and very soon we lost our freedom.
    Tanati Phouja – means the army of east india company whose salary will be paid by indian rulers but will work according to the will and power of east india company. the ruler who pays salary do not have any control over this army even if his existence comes in problem due to his enemy…wake up..

    some of the arguments in favor of FDI in retail are good..we have listened..what to with our own people we will decide…if globally one planet, one nation, one currency being implemented and all the respective government, political agencies work only as trustee, volunteers then there is no problem..lets have a UN resolution that all have equal rights and responsibility on all the natural resources exists on this planet..

  23. I have read this article before! Was it from your archive?I don’t recall where from! Is this a re-post ??

  24. Incredible India!!! We as Indian has the pleasure of these people who will help us, feed us, dominate our lifes and become a part of life, I stay with my aunt in Chembur and she still buys the daily usage from the same vendors from the past 20 – 25 yrs and she loves to talk to them listen to their stories from personal life and give them suggestions as she was a teacher by profession so she loves it. Younger generation have a problem they love super markets and they buy their daily stuffs from their or may be they dont have time to enjoy the special bondage from these sabzi wallah and all the wallah you have mentioned.

    We will miss all the wallah’s in the near future.

  25. Thank you for the “Ganesh Chaturthi” wishes and blessings,Shekharji!

    Was thinking of requesting you for a signed copy of “God shines His light on Venice” pics last night then hastily brushed the thought aside.Don’t even know if you would do that…And here you are sharing pics of Venice again:) Wondering if I should read that as a sign. It would be such an honor if you could consider this request.

    About that Tamil song I shared-I found that serendipitously on Youtube the other day! Had heard it on tape among other Tamil hits way back in the late 80s. My sister’s bro-in-law(in Chennai) had recorded the songs for us.The magic and wonder of music, even if one doesn’t know the language!

    To also let you know I thought you were brilliant with that TED talk on creativity.Wow! Are there more of these?

    HAPPY GANESH CHATURTHI to you and all your loved ones!


  26. We are living in our “biocentric” spider’s web full of relationship threads of one kind or the other while the younger generation has broken free.

    We as a man are now moving towards being a Free Man after Cave Man, Nomadic man and Settled Man.

  27. OMG! Was that for me? I sent that sad smiley when I came back to your blog and didn’t see my comment”awaiting moderation” and was really really sad! Then after I hit the send button(or submit comment) miraculously it turned up-and I felt slightly foolish.

    Getting a little hopeful here ,Shekharji- about the signed photographs…P-l-e-a-s-e,please,please say you will .There’s a little story behind that as well.A dream of mine some days ago of vast limitless skies and seeing a huge hand and lips ,fluffy clouds tinged with pink moving across the sky and me taking pictures of that breathtaking sight on my camera-phone!!! But those two photographs speak to me in a way I can’t explain.So.

    For someone who’s been in danger so often in the last 20 years of losing that wondrous feeling as a child,watching “Mr. India” restored that to a degree(really, because when I started to watch it I was doing so as an adult until I relaxed and let go and decided to simply enjoy myself) But back then in the late 80s right out of college, I wasn’t like this.Was full of hopes and dreams and that magic and and the wonder of meeting Life round the corner…(at the risk of sounding cliched but all true)

    Am so sorry I didn’t see the blog after 5pm.Was reading a book and just finished a while ago.


  28. Can’t believe I am writing in Shekhar’s Kapur’s wall…think I will die if Shekhar Kapur actually reads this!

    But what a wonderful post…hats off!


  29. Hi Shekhar,

    I have not read your article which is posted above but I have seen your work and presence in India Got Talent where I found you have so much emotions about our country and even I was also found tears in my eyes when I saw performance of prince group. Even I am following your upcoming film project The Sadhu. I was fantasy lover through my childhood where I used to create stories and characteristic. Now I am working on a Indian Mythology based script which connect to present. We can see that There are many characters and plots/concepts exist in world cinema & game-world which are based on Indian Mythology. I want to discuss my concept and plot with you. I am not revealing my characters and story plot in this comment. But I can send my whole plot to you via e-mail. Here I am sending my contact details and hoping that I will get a positive response from you. I know there are more thousands people in your blogs who could have many great ideas and it is very difficult for you to response them all. I don’t want to change world but I want to give them a reason to think. So I am waiting ……….


    Vishwadeep Chaudhary
    +91 7668876444

  30. Have the Big Bazaars and the Reliance Freshs put the Indian “wallahs” or kiranas out of business?These are also multibrand outlets that are sourcing from farmers and producers of raw materials.The same goes for the foreign players who come in after FDI.

    The stance taken by political parties is an eyewash and a move to appease the lakhs of votebanks.Also the politicians are under pressure from Indian retail giants who fill their coffers with black money needed for poltical campaigns and elections.

  31. Your style is so unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this site.

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