Life Lessons from a Paani Puri Wala

I have been away from this blog for a long time but that is not what is troubling me right now. The reason for the lack of updates is not that I have been terribly busy, which I have been, thanks for asking by the way. I have been thinking about lot of things about my life, the stuff I do at work and otherwise. Its good to introspect some time and raise questions about life and the direction of it. A lot of questions were raised including the reason for existence of this space, and the relevance of it in my life.

 

This month of May has been more of a learning experience for me. I have met a lot of new people travelled to a totally new place, but I witnessed something today which brought on the surface a lot of things which were simmering down under my mind. To set the context I would summarize about myself and my life a little. I am a 29 year old guy (man still sounds too old) with a business management degree from one of the finest B-Schools in India (No it is not my usual satire and I am not a shining diamond from the Chaudhary & Sons vulture venture) employed with one of the best known consulting firms in the country.

 

Coming back to today’s incident, I was returning from office early evening and it started raining cats & dogs. I was in a hurry to reach back home and log back in for work, but the lack of visibility from rain and the additional craziness of the Bangalore traffic slowed me down and I was actually observing the roads and surroundings while driving. This was when I observed a Paani-Puri wala on the side of the road. He had a small round stall of thin bamboo sticks like generally the street vendors have and he had a red cloth and a piece of plastic tied around to support Paani-Puris. He was standing on the footpath holding another huge sheet of plastic over his Paani-Puris to make sure they don’t get wet and spoiled. I could see him his hands keeping the sheet tight protecting his stall and getting drenched in the process.

 

The fact that it rained with utmost intensity and it kept raining till 2300 hrs it was highly unlikely that he would have got any customers for his Paani-Puris. Also given the highly windy rains for such a long period would have ensured that his Puris were all damp and he won’t be able to reuse them in any case. The way he was standing in the rain getting all drenched he also might have gotten sick. I think he knew all of this all along when he was sticking out in the rain protecting his business out there in the middle.

 

When I see people like him, is when my mind questions the littleness of things I do in my life. I tend to question my own work ethic in front of the dedication of this Paani-Puri wala, his love for his work & business compared to mine. I am saying this all in the light of that I have had one of the busiest months in my career and I haven’t slept for more than 4 hours since last few days. I have heard from so many colleagues that consulting is a high pressure industry and how we need to slog (which is true) but still I feel I have it lot easier compared to guys like these.

 

I also tend to wonder that what exactly holds me back to stick out like that guy for my work. I don’t think this has got to do anything to do with follow your heart and do what you love fad which is going around; I don’t really think that guy is following his passion of being a Paani-Puri wala (possible but too hard to believe). Is it because I have a qualifications that give me a comforting factor that I will be able to earn my living while he fights for his earnings everyday? Or is it because that irrespective of his size of business he owns it and feels responsible for it and I look and argue for every task that whose responsibility and job description it is? Or is it that despite being a Paani-Puri wala who might not even be educated has a clear sense of direction how he is going to move to the next phase of life by selling Paani-Puris while I clearly have loss of direction where I am going with all my work and what I intend to do with my life?

 

I really don’t know the answer, which might be simple or may be a complex mixture of everything above, but I am glad that two seconds of view of that Paani-Puri wala gave me a set of questions to think about and may be seek answers to them. So what do you guys think of these grass root level entrepreneurs, don’t they have a lot to teach us and make us ponder?

 

20 comments on “Life Lessons from a Paani Puri Wala”

  1. Shilpa Garg Reply

    Very profound and valid thoughts!!
    I believe it’s a mix of all, and also, that if the paani puri wala fails, he has no-one but only him to blame, so all the problems, decisions, mistakes are his… it’s a bigger personal responsibility and thus the “No Vacation” policy!

    • Prats Reply

      @Shilpa: Very true…. I some how expect to have same kind of responsibility and dedication towards my work. I don’t know if I will get it in the corporate world but seems like thats what I am looking for.

  2. Shail Reply

    Most times what sets us off thinking and examining ourselves is something like this. The pani-puri wala’s purpose in life as far as you were concerned was perhaps to set you off on that process of self examination. 🙂

    • Prats Reply

      @Shail: Now your comment throws me more into a guilt trip that I shouldn’t let this process of self examination go waste as it might be his only shot at the purpose oh his life 🙁

  3. Iya Reply

    A very valid post and here is what i think –
    These pani puris are his basic source of income and losing them might mean his family sleeps empty stomach. he doesnt have a fall back option, his stakes are higher (not in relative sense but in the absolute sense of it). End of the day he is the owner of hos wares and saving them means the world to him. he doesnt have the sense of security.
    The repercussion of a single bad day at work may mean very big things for him. he has it very difficult and hence he has his heart,soul and body into it.
    we might be more qualified but our sense of ownership sometimes gets limited.

    • Prats Reply

      @Iya: I agree with what you said, but I was wondering can’t I consciously make myself feel so motivated about my job…I mean why can’t I be so dedicated to my work as that person was to his?

  4. Ahmed Reply

    I think the reason for him being the way he is can be attributed to his fight for survival. I see labourers, delivery boys, street vendors and kids selling things at crossroads, braving heat, smog, dust and rain. What makes them more resilient than us? Its their fight to survive against all odds. If you had your back against the wall, no management degree and nothing to fall back on, wouldn’t you do the same? This is what all of us would do (or atleast most of us would). I think the real question is what can we do around us that will make our lives more meaningful.
    Prateek, with Rs 5,000-10,000 per year, you can give a kid in UP or West Bengal a quality education in a decent school. If you did that maybe you’ll enjoy your job a little more. Because what it does is not just provide you with a home and income but it transforms a child’s life…think about it. Sorry if this is a bit preachy but you seem like you’re in a contemplative mode.
    I see a number of people making repeated trips to London and Paris, buying expensive bags and shoes, its meaningless. At the end of the day you’re paying for some capitalist shark to smoke his/ cigar on his yatch in Monaco or lie on a beach in Miami or the Bahamas.

  5. Monika Reply

    thats the difference in working for survival and working for money… they are two different things… u and me today if we stop working for while, take a break we will not die our family will not starve, unfortunately his will 🙁

    great post raised a very valid point

    • Prats Reply

      @Monika: I am not sure given the kind of loans and EMIs people of our generation have, It would not be fair to say that we don’t fight for our survival, as a matter of fact we have a lot more to lose than the people like that Pani Puri Wala. I am not sure of the answers of the questions I have raised.

  6. Swaram Reply

    Hmm u got me thinking! I think its a combo of all that people have said! One thing is that I find them amazing. Whether he hs followed his heart or not, I find most of them dng what they r dng with a smile, which totally warms my heart!

    • Prats Reply

      @Swaram: I know what you mean and sometimes I wish that people like me in the white collar jobs could relate and feel the same way about our jobs.

  7. Bindu Reply

    It is purely a matter of survival. If he doesn’t do it, he and his family go hungry.

    As for the loans and EMIs of our generation, they still have the option of something else if the current situations does not work out. I am sure if what we do now was the only option we had and our very survival and sustenance depended on it, I am sure we also would have held on to our pani puris more desperately.

    • Prats Reply

      @Bindu: I think what you saying is true… But then there would be some way that we too held our work ethics in same regards?

  8. Pallavi Reply

    The poor guy, I wonder how bad his financial situation must be, for him to be so desperate to sell pani-puris in the rain. Incidents like this surely make us stop and think, and ponder about the shallowness of our own lives. Very well written, Prats. Glad I stopped by at your page today 🙂

    • Prats Reply

      @Pallavi: “Shallowness of our own lives” is the exact thought I had in mind when I saw that guy… I wish I had something with which I could add more meaning to the already very shallow life.

  9. Cocktail Party Reply

    Hmm..You def. hit the right note. But Isn’t it more than an evident instance of rich getting richer and poor getting poorer scenario. It is just a stark realization of the have’s and the have not’s. May be the question life poses in front of you through the Paani-Puri waala is – Can you make his life better? do you think you have the courage to make a difference in society?

    • Prats Reply

      @CockTail Party: In a way it is but then I believe in Economics to take care of it, I put in my best work ethic forward generate wealth in the ethical way I can. I pay my taxes on time and in transparent manner and let the government take care of the poor and provide for them. I know it doesn’t works very well in our country but I have a great faith in this model which I think is the correct way; I really don’t think the Paani Puri Wala who is so dedicated to his work needs my sympathy or charity which is dependent on my courage and consideration. I think he deserves assured help from the government which he can take rightfully to support education & fending for his family. I really don’t think it requires courage, all it requires is responsibility from my side, morality & efforts from the government and his knowledge of his right on his side.

      • Cocktail Party Reply

        Hmmm….There is a verse that says, “May your faith save you”…
        If the government was doing enough the government would have regulated these street vendors through a channel so that they would function in a structured manner….I know you would laughing at this…but don’t you think that’s what a good government should do..after all these are the people who vote for them…I haven’t voted in years not because I am against voting but because I haven’t found a single person in my place who doesn’t let his personal interests come before his subjects..

        • Prats Reply

          @Cocktail Party: I agree the government should need to do it, and its sad that its not. But I have the faith that over a period of time we will evolve and move towards better governance and a better society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *