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Tale of resilience, half-century long

The printed word has been his friend and support for the last 50 years, when Meghalaya was yet to be born.

Devin Kharsyntiew, alias Bahrit, who could well be a septuagenarian now, has been a newspaper vendor since 1964, when very few newspapers were in circulation. At that time, the radio was the most sought-after gadget to catch up with the news.

In these past 50 years, multitudes of newspapers have flooded the market and most of them are being published daily — from local vernacular ones to the English media.

Bahrit at work; Bahrit being felicitated by the headman of Mawlai Nongkwar and his association and Bahrit sells a newspaper to a customer. Bahrit’s pictures by Lorenzo P. Warjri

The radio is no longer the sole disseminator of news.

At the same time, in this half-century, various newspapers have closed down for sundry reasons.

But for Bahrit, whose physical stature belies his inner strength and stamina to face the wind and the rain, the breeze and the sun, the routine life of coming early in the morning to Motphran, the commercial nerve centre near Iewduh, to collect his quota of newspapers, has been relentless.

Hailing from Mawlai Nongkwar locality of Shillong, Bahrit is a quiet soul whose smile seldom fades.

He is usually found in front of the RB Store and Eastylian Enterprise in the Motphran area where he sells the “printed word” in different languages to passersby and his permanent customers.

In his heydays, he would criss-cross the lanes of the city to sell newspapers when readership was miniscule and the curiosity for news remote.

Lorenzo P. Warjri, founding adviser to the Meghalaya Newspaper Hawkers and Vendors Association, points out one sterling trait of Bahrit’s. “What is peculiar about him is that, after all these years, he is still having a hard time keeping tabs on the proceeds and mostly relies on the honesty of the customers to pay him the right amount,” Warjri says.

“And they (the customers) pay every time, and some do not even bother to wait for the change. Just as he has trust in others, his customers also reciprocate,” he adds.

Warjri says Bahrit regularly supplied information to newspapers on civic issues that dogged him. “In one such incident, he highlighted the irregularity of weighing scales. This got the authorities to issue an order that all weighing scales of shopkeepers be fitted with chains instead of ropes. It was also through his expose of the dismal condition of the Jeep Stand that the authorities woke up and constructed the footpath and a proper drainage system in the area,” he recounts.

Bahrit also takes the trouble of delivering letters/articles to newspaper offices on behalf of his customers. In his usual style, he enters an office and catches hold of the first person he sees, delivers the letter and exits, without saying a word!

Recently, the headman of Mawlai Nongkwar, along with the association, felicitated Bahrit for his yeoman’s service.

“Bahrit belongs to this clan of people who pick themselves up from the morass of poverty to show the world that nothing stands in the way of grit, courage and tenacity,” Warjri says.

“Even as he completes 50 years on the job, Bahrit has no intention of stopping selling newspapers.”

Through this unassuming but dignified occupation, Bahrit has been supporting his family.

To best describe the 50-year journey of a man carrying the “printed word” to “deliver the news”, one feels like taking a leaf straight out of The Brook by Alfred Lord Tennyson, “For men may come and men may go/But I go on forever...”