Neelam, Kulcha Maker, Manimajra

We are from Amritsar. We moved to Mohali in 1996. Livelihood makes people shift places. There is an adage that you move somewhere if you have to pay someone's debt there. I must have owed some debt here.

We are from Amritsar. We moved to Mohali in 1996. Livelihood makes people shift places. There is an adage that you move somewhere if you have to pay someone’s debt there. I must have owed some debt here.

We moved to Manimajra two years ago. Earlier, we had a food cart in Mohali. I used to prepare food and set up the cart every day, but the Urban Estate Officers would impound our food cart almost every week. The clay oven would break, even the cart would get damaged. We would not get it back for a week or more. To make a new clay oven and repair the cart, it would cost us three thousand Rupees. That would mean a week without any income. Finally, we decided to move into this shop in Manimajra. We are secure. We can operate our cart without any fear.

In Amritsar, my husband (Balwant) and his elder brother ran a restaurant. My husband studied in this area, and his sister lived in Chandigarh. So, we decided to move here. I have been working on the cart since the inception of the idea. I do not have any other occupation, I do not have children. We earn and spend on ourselves.

I start work at 6AM and stop at 11:30PM. I serve both kulchas and rotis. He wanted to serve only kulchas but the customers wanted roti. We also serve pranthas to our customers. We serve chickpeas with kulchas, and mixed vegetables with roti. Once, we cooked black chickpeas, but nobody tasted them. No one eats clay oven roti either. Everyone demands the tawa roti. Other shops in the area serve the clay oven roti made of maida (refined flour), but I serve tawa roti made of atta (coarse flour). I can make ten rotis in ten minutes, one roti per minute. The pranthas keep going on till 11 at night. That’s because I have registered our shop with Zomato company, and they demand paranthas till that late at night. At times, the order is prepared for customers who live far from here, like Zirakpur, or Khudda Lahaura. We prepare the food, their delivery boy delivers it. We keep the shop open throughout the day since customers do come at odd hours also. Why should we close it either? It is double the effort to clean everything, close and reopen after the odd hours. So, we just sit here like that.

A few years ago, the business was not profitable. We registered our shop online. This Diwali we were so busy that we could not celebrate the festival. We could not light the lamps. As the Goddess wish.

I don’t know how to open the text messages on this phone. I know how to use the internet though. I do not know English. We have a customer who lives nearby. He read the messages and told me that somebody has written ‘Very Good’ for me. Some girl had written, “I found the pranthas, the way my mother used to make.”

I know few other things too, I can knit sweaters and sew clothes. But I do not have spare time any more. The readymade garments do not suit us. We used to get the tailored clothes from Mohali. Now we get them made in Manimajra. We are not very social except for a couple of families that we know. I do not have any friends. Even in Mohali, I did not venture out of the house much. I never socialized even when I was young. It is not my thing, I just like to be at work from 6AM to 11PM.

The government is not supportive. It rips us off. The gas cylinders have become costly. If you don’t have one thousand rupees, you can not get a gas cylinder? Forget me, does a poor person carry thousand rupees? Some people say that I think too seriously. How can I not be serious when I had to shell out one thousand rupees for a gas cylinder. You must have one thousand rupees at the time of getting a cylinder as the subsidy is paid later on. It is not possible to burn woodfire or coal in a city. It is so tough for the poor people. They have applied GST on every little thing, even on flour and lentils. The poor are not able to earn even one decent meal per day.

Story and photographs: Navjeet Kaur

English text: Jasdeep Singh

Edits: Sangeet Toor