The Andawala

I know this image is supposed to be funny, but when in peak pandemic lockdown, there was nothing else available, I could always count on my anda-pavwala.
I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the country but in Mumbai you will first hear them before you see them. All of our urban Mumbai ears are fine-tuned to tring-tring of their cycle bells as they wheel in their wares- eggs, sliced bread, khari, butter (small round puffs), rusk and warm, aromatic, fresh laadi-pav, that look like the six-pack abs of a gym buff.
I still experience mild panic over those difficult days. I had seven people to feed and in 2019 when nothing was easily available- bread, butter, idli rice, rava, poha- all the breakfast staples, I would cry at the sound of the pavwala in the early morning hours or at dusk. It meant that he was still alive, still plying his wares and I could still feed my family.
The ubiquitous nature of eggs meant that I could use them for breakfast or as a salad or as anda curry for dinner or baking if one had the energy, ambition and ingredients. And warm Pav always feels like a treat even when it had become a staple.
I have never seen someone work as hard as my anda-pavwala. Because most of his brethren had begun their long trudge homewards to UP, he remained to serve more areas than he would have normally. I used to spot him wheeling his heavy cycle through the unrelenting summer days, growing thinner and darker as the sun beat down on him. He would come and deposit his earnings with us and have us wire the funds to his wife’s account. He got his dead brother’s daughter married off. I wokely shouted at him that he needs to spend that on her education so that she becomes employable, independent. And he replied, poor Muslim girl, UP, independent? Her safety is more important than her independence, he said. He borrowed money from us and insisted on paying back every rupee even though we wanted to gift him some of it. I still remember the sweaty, careworn notes he used to hand over every few weeks, I remember thinking this money was sacred.
He kept my family fed because of his work ethic and perhaps with a lack of choice of the poor. I don’t think we realise who really keep our country going- it’s those who we don’t notice, the small people, who go about their lives and work quietly and only death comes in the way of that or hate or bigotry.

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