Veggie seller’s London vacation

Basudeb Saha has been hawking opposite EC Park since 1994 and says he is lucky to have survived the periodic eviction drives

By Brinda Sarkar in Calcutta
  • Published 7.01.19, 5:32 PM
  • Updated 7.01.19, 5:32 PM
  • 2 mins read
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Basudeb Saha saved for years hawking vegetables on EC Block pavements to make his travel dream come true. Debasmita Bhattacharjee

Basudeb Saha, a vegetable vendor in EC Block, has never holidayed in Digha or Darjeeling. But he has been to London.

“Once when I was about 10 years old, my uncle commented in passing that the ultimate tourist destination was London. It had been my dream ever since,” says the Saha, now a 48-year-old with a wife and two college-going children.

So in the summer of 2017, when an LIC policy Saha had invested in matured, he encashed it for a round trip to the British capital. He went with a friend who is a contractor from Duttabad, his wife and two daughters.

“It was my maiden voyage on a plane,” Saha says, eyes twinkling like a child’s. “I couldn’t believe it when it lifted off the ground, although I did feel scared when it started shaking.” He remembers the air hostesses speaking in English and him trying his best to follow their instructions.

“We stayed for 10 days but it was an extremely expensive city and language was a problem. All of us put up in a single hotel room and mostly ate the dry food we had carried from home,” says Saha, better known as Basuda among customers.

Saha and his friends did minimal sight-seeing as their expenses were mounting but he remembers seeing “the queen’s palace”. He ran into Bengalis there and loved interacting with them. He also made it a point to visit the vegetable market. “Customers there don’t have the time to chop vegetables. So supermarkets sell chopped pieces. But they are not as fresh as the ones we sell in India.”

Peas cost Rs 150/kg there but Saha sells them for Rs 40, jhinge cost Rs 120/kg, Saha sells them at Rs 40. Saha’s friend had bought himself a shirt — for Rs 1,600 — but the hawker didn’t binge on souvenirs. “As it is, I did not tell my wife how much the trip cost. I didn't want to burn an even bigger hole in our pockets.” Saha makes about Rs 20,000 a month and the London trip had cost him more than Rs 60,000.

A few of Saha’s customers who know about his “London-returned” status are impressed. “It’s laudable! These are people who have to slog to earn a living. So he has clearly been saving up for years. It also shows what a high standard of living Salt Lake has,” says Suranjan Bonnerjee, a customer who lives in City Centre’s Residency apartments and who hasn’t been to London.

Saha has been hawking opposite EC Park since 1994 and says he is lucky to have survived the periodic eviction drives.

Saha’s only regret is that the pictures of the trip are lost. “I don’t use a smartphone so all pictures were clicked on my friend's phone. And that phone is now damaged,” he says, adding that it would be difficult for Calcutta to become London, as the chief minister wishes, since people here litter too much.