3 days before Republic Day, the hawkers were cleared off the streets of Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land.

Then yesterday,

after all 52 apartment complexes around had blared Lata Mangeshkar, AR Rahman and Mahendra Kapoor off their loudspeakers since 8 am,

and every child from 6 to 60 in their tricolor scarves or white kurtas had been given a chance to regale us with ‘Saare Jahaan Se Accha’ in several degrees of competency and musicality,

and all the children had run their 100 metres and their sack races and balanced their lemons in their spoons,

and enough gulab jamuns and samosas had been consumed to finally believe that ‘Jo Shaheed Hue The Unki,’ Qurbaani had been duly remembered as entreated by the Indian Nightingale,

and everyone could go off for their afternoon siestas, believing for a few brief hours that all was well in the largest democracy in the world,

the hawkers came back.

Teja asked the fruitwala, “How much did you have to pay the police?”

The fruitwala shrugged casually.

Teja said, “You must have to pay them, regularly, isn’t it? How much hafta do they take?”

The fruitwala said, “People complain, their superiors ask them questions, so they have to come around once in a while. They come once a month or so, take 50-100 rupees. They know we are poor people, selling on the street. We also know they are poor, how much salary does a policeman earn, 15-20000 a month? How can that be enough in Bombay? If he has 2-3 children, a family of 6-8 people, it’s nothing. He can only eat, that’s all. His children have to go to a municipal school. Can he afford to send them to a private school? The fees are 2-3000 a month. That is, just the fees. Then, there are the term fees, and this function, that function, so many extras.

I send 3 kids to school. I don’t save anything, but we think, that’s our investment, if our kids can go to a good school, can make something of their lives.

But everything has become so expensive. These apples that sold for 100-110 last year, are now selling for 220-240. People don’t buy much, as it is you can hardly afford to buy vegetables, it affects our business.

It’s all right. It’s OK, saab. Most of the policewalas are nice men. Some act tough, but most of them ask only for 50-100 rupees. We also think, they need money. How much salary do they earn anyway?”

He shrugged casually, as he picked the bad strawberries patiently out of the last box, and gave me the few good ones.

“It’s Sunday. What do you expect? The strawberries are not good.”

Quite inconsequently, I thought of Ganga-Jamuna, sweet lemons and oranges in one juice, yellow and orange, sweet and tangy. Maa, tujhe salaam.

Hafta – Weekly bribe