May 23, 2018, 10:59 am IST

Magnificent India

Magnificent India
The  Honest Dhabavala of Delhi

The Honest Dhabavala of Delhi

By:  Vijay Sanghvi, Jul 04, 2017

Ravi was stunned by the statement of his elder son. In the 55 years of life he was never run down as much as now by his own son. He had denounced the vocation of his father even after knowing that Ravi had been running his dhaba with total honesty and without having borrowed even a rupee from anyone. He did not use inferior material in the making of his food items nor did heever over charge any customer. Yet his son denounced it as a low grade vocation that did not enable him to have friends in his college. Middle class girls and boys derided him as the son of a dhabawala as if he was plundering the pockets of others. The capping insult was his son asking his wife, “Why can’t father find a better work?”

Ravi had come thirty years ago to Delhi from Bihar after his school leaving examination. There was no possibility of getting a decent job in Bihar then. Even in Delhi he could not find employment but found an empty space adjoining the walls of the Radha Krishna Mandir. It was obviously a Municipal plot not put to any use. With the capital he had brought with him, he set up a dhaba to serve eatables to poor clients, mostly public vehicle drivers and construction workers. His charges were moderate and dishes tasty to have regular clients.

Every morning at five thirty he visited the nearby Okhla vegetable market to bring a load of fresh veggies on his cycle. He laboured alone to prepare the food to be ready by eleven every morning. His clients came at both at noon and mostly at night. Hence he had work up to eleven every night after spending an hour to clean the utensils. After three years he got married to a daughter of one his regular clients and before the age of thirty six, he had two sons. His earning had enabled him to buy a small flat in nearby Amar Colony. He got both sons educated in Mata Gujari school where theGurudwarawas managing the school affairs. It charged token fees but provided quality education.

His elder son after reaching tenth standard used to come to the dhabato help his father a few hours a week. The frequency of his visits began to taper off and after joining the ShahidBhagat Singh College, he ceased visiting the dhaba altogether. He began demanding pocket money at home rather than help at thedhaba. Following the elder brother, the younger one also stopped his visits to the dhaba. His wife could sense the growing tension between her husband and two sons. Ravi would not allow his wife to come to help at the dhabathough she earnestly felt she ought to, as the heavy work had its impact on her husband’s health.

After her son passed the second year in commerce in college, one day she insisted that her sons should help their father as he was unable to handle the work load and their demands for pocket money prevented him from hiring help.

As she goaded them a few times, her elder son burst out in anger. He told his mother in clear unmistakable words that he would never join such a lowly work. He told her that all his friends called him son of adhabawala and never gave him any respect. They virtually shun his company as if they were ashamed to be seen in the company of a dhabawala’s son. Ravi was listening to the heated argument without intervention. He stepped in only when his son asked his mother why Papa can’t find a better job. He was hurt beyond repair. He told his son, “Look, for thirty years I have done an honest job. I have fed thousands of men with fresh and tasty food they can afford to pay for. I have never cheated anyone nor did I need to borrow even a rupee from anyone. I cannot hire help as your demand for pocket expenses has been on the rise for the past five years. How does such an honest work of feeding hundreds of men be a stigma? Who are your friends to denounce you and me? Their parents work in government offices and take bribes for doing their work? Which one is lowly vocation, theirs or mine? But you have come to follow their thinking. You cannot change now nor can you choose another father?The only course open for you is to find your place in the world. You will get your pocket money but from your mother till you are able to stand on your feet”.. After Ravi had poured out the fire from his heart, he walked away and came to the dhaba to spend the night. He did not go back to his home as long as Santosh, his elder son was there. The younger son also followed his elder brother and both went to Mumbai on work. Their going away came as relief and he could go home again.

But soon another catastrophe struck him. On complaints from residents around, the Municipal Corporation demolished his dhaba in order to repossess its own vacant plot. For five years, it has remained unused. Ravi shifted his work to an area closer to the Gurudwara. He now sits under a large umbrella as cover over his head and two other large umbrellas for his clients. He serves them alooparatha and chhole in paper plates and bowls to eliminate the drudgery of cleaning them. But he insists that customers put the used plates in the barrel provided. He has built a new clientele for he now serves food only for those who are in a hurry to finish their noon meals. However some of residents who have tasted his varieties have found use. For their parties they place advance orders. Guests find them tasty and the hosts refused to reveal where they got them from.

Ravi says he was disappointed that his sons did not learn to appreciate what he had done for them. But also realizes that they cannot be blamed for their value system. It is the product of a new culture that has emerged in our society. Today money made even by dishonest means is respectedand honest jobs like feeding the needy poor are at a discount. Millions of vegetable vendors supply food that ultimately lands in plates in most households but the man who supplied it stands condemned like a leper. Notions are different now. Even honest effort to serve society as a byproduct of service to society is treated as lowly. If a rich man ran a free boarding, he will be hailed as a great donor. But a poor man who ensured that the poor can get meals at affordable prices is rundown.

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