Being a researcher is about curiosity. It is about building rapport with a stranger.
Its about willingness to explore and go on an adventure on the landscape of a new person.
A story is hiding in the most unlikely places.
Be interested and the person opens up the treasure chest of his story.
Twelve plastic jars of ‘mukhwas’ in the tray from two months ago are nearly empty. Time for a refill. But before that, a story.
‘Supari’, ‘magai paan’ and ‘Calcutta meetha mukhwas’, elaichi balls, dried sweet mango slivers, dried spicy mango slivers, dried tangy mango, flax seed mukhwas… and more…
My client meeting in the high rise is over. Why not stop by to say hello to one more client? Getting out the lift I bump into an old friend. ‘Hey hi’. We hug happily while she makes a comment or two about my wild hair. ‘You have a minute before we can go upstairs? Need to pay for some mukhwas. Would you like some? Come along. We have him come by once a month. Its nice’ she says.
Dressed in a white shirt, tidy, pleasant countenance, compact build, he has two briefcases open on the table. I’m listening to him speak with a customer from the office in chaste Hindi. ‘Try this’ he says. ‘You won’t have any issue with quality’. He is standing right in front of a cut-out of Amitabh Bachchan a few feet taller than he. He sees me and quickly opens the jars and asks me to taste. Everything is delicious. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘From Allahabad’, he says. ‘Like him?’, I say pointing to Amitabh’s cut out with a smile.
A rapport is established. I move in. ‘You have a story. Tell me’. He smiles, ’do you have the time to listen?’. I quickly calculate. I was meant to call and meet someone. I decide to drop it and say, ‘Yes. I have the time’.
He hasn’t told anyone his story, he says. ‘No one asked me’, he says with a quiet smile. ’I was 22 and had just completed my graduation. I came to visit the city like everyone else. Before I knew it all my money was over, and I didn’t want to go back. I stayed on the steps of the Mumbadevi temple for eight days, surviving on prasad. Everything I owned was stolen, including my clothes and chappals. I was penniless, dirty and hungry. It was four days since I had taken a bath. Do you know what that can be like? In that condition I found myself walking along Marine Drive. I decided to jump in to bathe. I am a boy who was used to bathing in Ganga ji and I had no idea that this was going to be very different. Very soon a crowd gathered and started shouting. The police swung into action and ‘rescued’ me. My skin started burning because of the salt water as the day got hotter’. He flinches as he remembers the sensation of burning skin.
I am listening intently and he goes on. ‘One night I was fast asleep on the steps of the Mumbadevi temple and woke up to the touch of what felt like a stick. I thought it was the police, but it was a beautiful woman, a ‘pari’. She touched my arm with her staff. ‘Here’, he says, and starts to roll up his right shirt sleeve. He shows me a dark pink, almost red birthmark on his inner forearm. ‘Do you see its red now? It becomes red when I am earning money. The more money I earn, the darker red it becomes’. He goes back to the story. ‘She asked me to get up and start working. You will get what you need’. ‘I knew at that moment that I was blessed’. I got up and walked towards the right side outside the temple. It was a goldsmith’s shop with steps leading upto a room. I saw tendrils of smoke coming from the window. I climbed up the steps and found men sitting around, smoking ganja. They asked me to join but I turned around and started walking away. One of the persons left just after me and caught up with me. He asked me if I was hungry. Let us go and eat. I don’t have any money, I said. He took me to Bhagat Tarachand, where we ate a sumptuous meal. When the waiter presented us with the bill of 57 rupees, we went up to the cashier to say we didn’t have the money to pay. We offered to work to pay off our dues. The cashier asked us to leave and told us never to come back again. We left from there and… He continues his grand, bizarre movie-like story.
‘How did you start selling this? ‘Someone from my village needed help on a particular day. He said he wanted me to take the mukhwas to Dariya Mahal and gave me the name and address. When I went upstairs the lady of the house welcomed me. She invited a few of her friends. She asked me the price and I realised I had not asked my friend what the prices were. I started to say whatever number came to my mind. When I came downstairs, I was extremely worried. I didn’t want my friend to make a loss. We discovered that I had earned many times over than my friend’s price.
Dubeyji found a glimmer of a profession.
Living in Mumbai for over 25 years, Dubey ji is married, with a home in Thakur Complex. He also built a bungalow in Allahabad where his parents live. He and his wife have four children – a banker son who works at BKC and drives to work in a car, two daughters who are engineers, and a son studying in the XII. Dubeyji and his wife keep very busy making mukhwas every day. ‘The room in which we make this has flooring whiter than this’, he says pointing to the white table on which his wares are arrayed. ‘You won’t find a speck of dirt or a strand of hair. No one but me and my wife are permitted to enter this room. Not even my kids, let alone servants’.
His clientele is the who’s who of the country. Politicians, film stars, the rich and the famous. He drops names and I listen to him earnestly. ‘They call me and ask me to send and I never mention what they have to pay. They just pay me what they want to. I use the best quality ingredients. If I have any problem I only go to the Mumbadevi temple. She solves it in 15 minutes at the max. But there is one thing. I cannot do anything wrong. If I do anything wrong this mark starts burning’.
He has no business card. ‘Who has the time?’. ‘I want to write about you’, I say. ‘Accha likhna’ he says. ‘May I take a picture’. He poses. Convinced I am a journalist, he gives me his number, Ramashankar Dubey Supariwala.
Dubeyji sold me 12 boxes of mukhwas and gave me his priceless Bombay Dreams as a freebie.