Arvind Adiga, this year’s Booker prize winner, sees one kind of Indian entreprenuer. I see another. I think it’s a case of my finding the bottle half full rather than half empty. Anyway, here’s the kind of person I see every day, because he has set shop just outside my compound wall.
His’shop’ – a dining place that serves hot drinks, fresh nimbu pani [lime juice], breakfast, lunch and knick-knacks for in-between hunger pangs – is just a tin box 2′ x 5′ mounted on two wheels. The total contraption stands all of five feet, give or take a few inches. The overheads are next to negligible as he uses twigs and leaves collected from the roadside to cook his heavenly-smelling kurmas and sambars. He fills water for free from neighbours and manages the show for the day – cooking, cleaning, et al – with four pitchers and a bucket of water, besides two jugs of drinking water from which all his customers drink directly – without sipping the vessel, of course, in true Indian tradition. Streamers of glittering paan sachets decorate his drab ‘ootadha angadi’ [Food shop] and he also stacks the ubiquitous cigarette though smoking in public places in India has been banned by law since a couple of months.
He is always cheerful, keeps the place clean and cooks up delicious fare, apparently, as evident from the increasing numbers who patronize his ootadha angadi. He winds up after lunch to go home and attend to the needs of his children who will get back from school. His wife is his partner in business as well, though she plays a minor role as he does most of the cooking and cleaning.
Just as Ganga, India’s most sacred river, is also the serene Alakananda and the bubbling Mandakini and not just the polluted, faecas-carrying gutter Arvind Adiga sees, so too is India standing on the shoulders of the millions of nameless entrepreneus like the ootadha angadi man outside my compound wall, who have, perhaps, not yet engaged the author’s attention.