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People of Bharat: Pathik

I am taking a walk outside the peripheral walls of Janeshwar Mishra Park in Lucknow city when I see Pathik. The sky is overcast with rain clouds and there is a gentle breeze. ‘Chote-bade sab le jaate hain. Yeh gudda kisse pasand nahi aayega?’ (Kids and adults both buy these. Who does not like these teddies?) I smile at Pathik as he hands me a dreamy-eyed stuffed teddy bear from the back of a van which is parked at the side of the footpath. I can see Pathik has displayed the stuffed toys on the iron railing fixture on the park’s wall. Pink, red, blue, yellow and purple stuffed teddy bears hang in a curved row along the wall.

Pathik is a tall, robust young man in his late twenties. He speaks softly and seems to be a natural at his job — selling stuffed toys. Born in Lucknow, Pathik lives with his parents in Lakshmanpura area: in the ancestral home. He tells me it’s a concrete dwelling that he shares with his siblings — six sisters and two brothers! Perceiving my thoughts he smiles and tells me four of his sisters are now married and live separately. I smile back sheepishly.

Pathik’s father works as a fruit and vegetable vendor in the market close by; a trade which has occupied 28 years of his life. He also sells packs and sells fruit baskets — called shagun — during Diwali and wedding seasons; an activity undertaken by the entire household. Pathik’s brothers joined their father’s business straight out of school. Pathik also quit his studies after the tenth standard and started learning the ropes but quit after a couple of months. ‘I didn’t like selling vegetables’ he explains.

A customer comes up and Pathik gets busy. Presently, a man gets up from the pavement where he was seated a few meters away but within ear shot. He is in his fifties and flicks away a beedi before he starts speaking to me. He introduces himself as Ramcharan and starts inquiring (somewhat authoritatively) about my intentions in questioning Pathik. ‘I am the owner of this business’ he asserts. Pathik successfully sells a stuffed panda to the customer and returns to the scene saying ‘these pandas sell the most. We have discovered this — many children like them. So we always pitch for the pandas’.

Pathik tells me he joined Ramcharan after he quit working with his father. ‘We were acquainted since a long time. My father didn’t mind’ he quips. Ramcharan, now more at ease adds: ‘It seems like yesterday but it’s been eight years!’ Ramcharan now joins the conversation avidly. He tells me he makes a monthly trip to Delhi to source the teddy bears and its stuffing material, spending INR 3000 per trip. The duo stuff the toys together which are available in two sizes large and small, priced at INR 250 and 800 respectively. They tell me they earn a profit of INR 60–80 on the sale of a one teddy-bear. They also stock their vans with a couple of seasonal products — plastic tubs sell well in summer while umbrellas sell during monsoon. They sell a lot of the stuffed toys in February. ‘It’s the month of love and this is Asia’s largest garden. Lots of foreigners come too. Business is good on Valentine’s Day’ explains Pathik. Ramcharan pays a small amount as monthly rent for the van. ‘This boy is educated and I am not’ says Ramcharan referring to Pathik. ‘He is good for business as I don’t know how to keep accounts’ he adds.

Ramcharan pays Pathik a salary of INR 12,000 each month — Pathik together with his father and brothers contributes towards the household income which is a total of INR 30,000. Of this, they spend INR 4–5000 on groceries and INR 2000 for school fees of their younger siblings. There is a usual expense of INR 1–2000 towards monthly health expenses but Pathik refrains from telling me the details. Pathik spends money on petrol; he owns a bike which he had bought from his savings a year ago. He also pays a monthly EMI (equated monthly installment) of INR 1250 towards the purchase of his smartphone. He manages to save INR 5–6000 each month in his savings account with the bank.

Pathik’s father had taken multiple loans for getting his four daughters wedded. ‘We were under a lot of debt. But we have repaid all of it!’ says Pathik. He does not use his smartphone for financial transactions. His younger sister owns a laptop which was given to her by the government under a scheme for promoting women’s education. ‘She owns it and does not share it with me more willingly!’ he exclaims with a twinkle in his eye, revealing a bit more of their sibling tiffs. Pathik has big plans for his future. ‘I am entrepreneurial — just like Bhai (brother) here. Together, we are saving to open a proper shop in a few years. We will sell toys and children’s garments.’ Ramcharan lets out a chuckle. ‘That’s what he says’ he smirks, poking fun at Pathik, ‘because he’s not married. He has no {understanding} of responsibility. As soon as he gets married, all his plans will change!’

They share a laugh together and my day gets a little brighter.

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