| Trinamul leaders Sonali Guha and Arup Biswas feast on fruits at Esplanade. Picture by Sanjay Chattopadhyaya
Calcutta, Dec. 22: Mamata Banerjee is on a fast for 18 days, but there is a feast around her.
The dharna mancha, or dais built for her hunger strike, at Esplanade in the centre of the city has drawn thousands of Trinamul supporters from across the state. In their wake have come enterprising food vendors selling egg-toast, telebhaja (vegetable fries), cut fruits and all other varieties of street eats and making a killing out of a fast.
“This has been the best week of my life in terms of business. I come here at 12 noon and stay till Didi pulls the curtains. By the end of the day, I earn around Rs 500,” smiles Hiralal Sahani, happy with his decision to explore business opportunities near a political platform.
Mamata has been fasting here since December 4 to protest against the state government’s decision to acquire farmland for the Tata Motors’ factory in Singur.
Sahani, from a village in Bihar, does not own any farmland and came to Calcutta in search of livelihood. For over five years, the man has trawled the streets of Calcutta with his thela, trying to catch the hungry or the plain greedy near swank shopping malls.
“But the maximum I earned on that route was Rs 200. Here, the earning is more with less physical exertion,” adds the middle-aged man, sprinkling his special masala mix on telebhaja.
His customer, in a white kurta-pyjama, leaves with the packet and slowly approaches the police jeep, strategically parked to prevent vehicles from coming close to the podium. He sits under the shade created by the Mahindra jeep and sinks his teeth into the crunchy alur chop (potato fry) on a lazy December afternoon.
“Ei chawallah, edike (Tea-wallah, come here),” he shouts out, noticing a young boy running around with a kettle and plastic cups. Deepak Das is usually seen around Lal Dighi at Dalhousie Square, the office district, not too far from here.
The 14-year-old boy admits not being aware of what this mela-like scene is all about, but he has realised tea moves faster here.
“Where else will you find so many people through the day' If there are special events like processions, the number of people just doubles,” says cut-fruit seller Ajay Sau, explaining his decision to relocate from Lindsay Street, about 200 yards away.
Any time of the day, around 500-plus people, including Trinamul supporters, onlookers and policemen, can be spotted hanging around the dais.
“Yesterday, I ran out of stock, everything was sold by 3 in the afternoon,” said Sau, who has had Trinamul MLAs (Sonali Guha and Arup Biswas) as customers.
“I have served a lot of people, whom I have seen on the dais…. But I do not know their names,” smiles Nandu Sahani, selling jhal muri.
Although temporary pauses in business caused by arrivals of dignitaries like the governor do not rile him, Sahani dreads the approach of police.
“They eat our food, but do not pay. They say that we are illegally occupying the space…. But so are these political leaders, whom they are protecting,” Nandu says.
He wouldn’t mind, though, if the political leaders camped here for some more days.
As chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and governor Gopal Gandhi, to name just two, worry about Mamata’s health and appeal to her repeatedly to call off the fast, an agitation against an industrial venture has spawned its own business.
Bhattacharjee might wish if the Tata project’s publicised benefits don’t wash with Mamata, this would convince her of the theory of spin-off.