By Salil Gewali
How people are surviving in this lockdown period is beyond imagination. If we go deeper, we can’t help but weep for them. Even while the wound from the extended period of lockdown last year had not healed yet, the second wave of COVID has again dealt a heavy blow. Desperation among the weaker section of the community is clearly visible. Some have now begun to explore some other means of livelihood that are not permitted during the COVID lockdown. Selling green vegetables and fruits in plastic bags has come easy, nay, the only available option. Some others are selling fish from the bucket. But their humble ventures are fraught with various risk factors.
Apart from the constant fear of police , their perishable produce gets shriveled too soon. Have they really been able to meet their families’ needs by vending the vegetable on the roadside where buyers hardly move visible? It is a very serious question. This concern should draw the KIND ATTENTION of the higher authorities at the earliest possible.
Last week, when I was walking around Garikhana (Shillong) my attention was drawn by a shout — “Twenty, twenty”. The voice was from a lady selling green coriander near ICICI bank. I learned she had in fact had sneaked a chance to bring just one small plastic sack of green coriander from her village – Mawmih, in Meghalaya. She was selling a huge bunch of coriander for Rs 20/-, probably one bunch weighed about 600 to 800 gms. The amount of effort she put in to bring the produce all the way from her village is no mean task during that “partial” lockdown relaxation. She had taken a great risk. Should we not find out what all have forced her to take such “risk”?
Yet, believe it or not, I saw a few buyers coaxing that lady vendor to give away two bunches of green coriander for Rs 30/-. Instead of sympathizing with the plight of the poor, people tend to take advantage. I felt very bad. This is how the intelligence of human beings gets “shriveled” when the heat of greed overwhelmed them. The woman’s situation touched me. Since I was standing in front of her, the lady repeatedly asked me to purchase at least one bunch. It was drizzling on and off that day; the lady was partially wet with her hair almost soaked. I even thought of giving her my umbrella. My inner voice said – she needs it more than you do. Perhaps she had not eaten well that morning. Lots of thoughts crossed my mind.
On my inquiry, the woman told me she has four kids and a sick husband at home who is unable to work. I realized the family responsibility has entirely fallen on her shoulders. I got more emotional! Her condition literally moved me to tears. I immediately purchased three bunches of coriander from her and asked her to keep the change. But she did not. It was a little bigger note, so she refused outright. However, after much effort, I succeeded. The woman thanked me profusely in her emotive gesture and words. What more? She humbly requested me to take all remaining bunches of coriander. I softly declined and told her to wait, some buyers might turn up.
Finally, my last question to the lady was – why did she bring this one bag of coriander from her village to the town in this lockdown? She replied “I am having six hungry mouths to feed, and most of our vegetables are decaying these days. We are suffering a great loss, Sir….” The plight of the lady pained me deeply. When I was about to ask a few more questions, it suddenly started raining again. I handed over my umbrella to the woman and ran away from the scene.