The hawkers mostly come from Azamgarh or Bijnore in U.P. The business is sometimes a family one, passed over from father to son, and sometimes sold to a relative or a village kinsman for 10 to 50,000 rupees, when a hawker gets old and wants to go back to his village. The business consists of a cycle, boxes to carry the biscuits, and an established client base, a route of bakeries who buy their daily supply of bread and biscuits from the hawkers.
Mamu’s Bakery in Dharavi is where they get their ‘kharis’ – the salty puffs that go so well with tea. They pick up ‘pav’, ‘toast’, ‘butter biskit’ and other varieties of biscuits from other bakeries in Dharavi, like Raj Bakery and Bismillah Bakery. The hawkers earn 4-5 rupees on each kg. of biscuit or bread.
Mamu also allows 25-30 hawkers to live in his compound with his bakery workers. Mamu’s father settled here in 1911, and ran a tannery. After his father’s death, Mamu supplied wood to illicit liquor breweries. But when the police began to clamp down on the illicit breweries, he started the bakery in 1983.
The hawkers start their day at 4 or 5 am, load their wares on their cycles and set off on their rounds, which can be from Dharavi up to Colaba, between 20 to 40 kms. in total. They finish their supplies at around 10 am, stop at their last point to have some breakfast, wash up and pray, and then come back around noon to sleep at Mamu’s. Most of them do another round in the evening, starting at about 6 pm. They come back at 10 pm, eat in a cheap hotel and go back to sleep.
I asked Akeel Ahmed who services 45 shops, in Barkat Ali Nagar, Dinesh Nagar and Sangam Nagar, near Antop Hill, if it was not difficult to balance the cycle with about 40 kgs, weight of the biscuits and bread on it, in the midst of so much traffic. He said it’s quiet in the mornings, but there’s a lot of balancing to do in the evening round.
What all of them are proud of, is that whatever the season, they are always on time, 7 days a week. After all, Sunday or Monday, everyone begins their day with tea and ‘pav’ or ‘biskit’.