MIDWAY: A cat and mouse game

Prerana Marasini:

They’re shopkeepers but there isn’t really a shop. They buy from wholesalers and sell on the footpath which doesn’t cost them a rupee. They use the pedestals to sell the merchandise they buy from cheaper outlets. And it seems they make good money too. People who cannot afford expensive clothes have well benefited from these sellers.

Kathmandu is home to people of various income levels. It is not always easy for everyone to get two square meals a day. Difficult as it is to earn a living, these people have devised a unique business formula: sell and serve. They sell, so they earn. They sell at low price, so they serve. However trite it may appear, the choice of the location to spread their wares is not an accident. Footpath is one of the best places to get the attention of the passers-by.

That deal is further simplified by the fact that socks, gloves, shirts, jackets, saris, shoes, watches, blankets, undergarments and even books line the crossings. But the way they sell their stuff irks city police, who come to clear the footpaths and the overhead bridges. This drama defies all logic.

The everyday game of cat and mouse the hawkers play with the police takes a filmy twist, almost without fail. The plot takes a hilarious twist such as when staunch women dig heels and refuse to budge from their spots to willy-nilly policemen who have a soft corner for the hawkers’ means of livelihood to those policemen who just cannot bear to see the sight of street vendors, no matter what.

‘Yet in the majority of occasions, no sooner after someone gets an inkling of a clampdown, the alarm is sounded and the hawkers scramble to put back their wares into sacks from which they have just been taken out moments ago. That might even mean littering the streets with their wares if they cannot outperform the cops. That is not to say there aren’t those ready to fish in the murky waters. Some gleefully walk away with the “godsend” litter.

But even more ludicrous is the scene when the confiscated material is never returned to the right owners. What the police do with the stuff is anybody’s guess.

Divided as the police force itself is over the issue, some, however, urge their colleagues not to be too harsh. But no matter how I sympathise with the street vendors, I’ve faced complications while walking on a congested road, as have so many others. And clearing it is the job of the police. That said, the hawkers have nowhere to go. There is no sight of imminent end to this game of cat and mouse.