Of hawkers, roses and stickers

What does it mean to run after cars and bikes on traffic-ridden roads, to make ends meet during adolescence?

Stare out of the bus or car at any traffic signal in Bengaluru, and you will find young children carrying roses and stickers and waving them into the faces of bikers, auto rickshaw passengers and sometimes even car drivers who keep their windows down.

At a signal on the 100ft road in Indiranagar, there is a similar bunch of young children, who walk around the busy roads without any footwear, chasing after people with  fresh roses and brightly coloured stickers in their hands. Shravani and Ashwin are among the hawkers in this group, who attempt to sell their items at traffic signals every day.

Shravani, 14, and Ashwin, her older brother, 16, travel around the city with the rest of their family, in search of customers who would be willing to buy from them. “We are from Chitoor, and have come to the city because it is our summer vacation,” says Ashwin.

He introduces his family, a group of five siblings and his baby nephew. Ashwin’s eldest sister, Manju, says, “these are my siblings, Mahindra, Ashwin, Deepu and Shravani.” She is seen nursing an infant, who is her son, Anjan.

Ashwin and Shravani’s parents currently work at a factory in the city. When asked about their education, Manju replied very enthusiastically that all the other children are studying. Mahindra and Ashwin are doing I PUC, in the commerce stream. Shravani is in class 10 and Deepu studies in primary school. Manju dropped out of school after class 10, and now takes care of her child with the help of her parents. “I don’t live with my husband’s family,” she says, and refuses to speak further.

Every day, the children come to the traffic signal by 1 pm, and sell roses until 6:30 pm in the evening. Ashwin explains that many a times, they do not find customers to sell their roses to. Some people buy stickers for their children, but the roses are often thrown away once they dry up, which happens quickly due to the heat. When asked why they sell roses, Manju said, “because roses are the most beautiful and everyone smiles when you give them a rose.”

The intelligent salesmen and saleswomen charge after all pedestrians in turns, sometimes forcing them to buy from them. Ashwin flashes his SSC examination hall ticket to some people, while explaining to them that his parents cannot afford to pay for his school tuition and he must help them with whatever money he receives. “My college fee alone comes up to Rs 1,000 for every semester. My parents also have to pay for my siblings’ education. That is why we help them by doing these jobs,” he says.

Manju says that they receive the roses and stickers from a shop, and got paid for whatever they sold, after going back to the shop at the end of the day. She innocently adds that sometimes they sell the roses for a higher price and keep some of the money that they receive. Shravani, who speaks little, displays a few notes and says, “sometimes people give us money and don’t take anything in return.”

The children are shy to pose for pictures, but when asked if they can speak in English, each of them shows their prowess by conversing in the language. Manju says that Mahindra and Shravani are trying to teach her to speak in English as well.