COVID-19 In Odisha: Travails Of A Young Panipuri Seller During Lockdown

Dhenkanal: Fourteen-year-old Prem Kumar came here from Samastipur, Bihar in search of work six months back. He was studying in Class VII. His brother, who was already living here, said the family couldn’t afford his education and he would have to lend a hand in earning.


“I started selling Panipuri after coming here. My brother taught me the job at his stall. Then he bought a Panipuri stall for me. Initially, my business (my personal stall) went into a loss. I was penniless and stayed at home. Then I started again with renewed determination and things started looking up. I was still not earning much but it was better than before but now this lockdown has brought everything back to square one. Everyone is sitting at home and anyway, no one is allowed to put up a stall. My brother was also kicked out of work because the owner did not want too many people. So we are both stuck in another state, which is not our home.”

“We are out of all the money that we saved and we have nowhere left to go. We tried to head back to our hometown but we were stopped and thrashed. I come from a poor family. My grandfather was also very poor back in his time. We used to sleep on an empty stomach so many times in our village. My family was dependent on agriculture but didn’t give us enough money to fulfill our daily needs. Things had just starting lookin up here for us when the pandemic struck,” said the 14-year-old.

My father is 50 and my mother is 44 years old now. They have been working in agricultural fields since very long. But now they have health issues and are not able to work properly. I wish I could go back and take care of them. In such difficult times, we should stick together and survive.

“Panipuri selling provided me enough money to survive and take care of my family. Earlier, I was shy and used to feel embarrassed while calling out to customers to eat at my stall. Now, I have no such qualms. I enjoy an easy rapport with customers,” he added with a twinkle in his eye.

“I wish to expand my business and earn more money for myself and the family. Sometimes I feel that Panipuri selling is a big thing now. Just look around, before this lockdown, there were a lot of people who enjoyed eating it. They came back again and again to have more. It gave me hope for the future. I want to educate my younger sister and brother, which I didn’t get,” said the young boy.

“I used to work from 10 am to 9.30 pm. The earnings was no great but steady. I used to send half the money to my parents and pay the rent and buy raw material to make Panipuri. Competition was really high as you can see every other person here sells Panipuri. I had to make sure that I served good food to my customers. I always worked hard. Now, I feel helples,” rued Prem.

“In villages and smaller towns, we are looked down upon, not allowed into temples. The upper caste people believe they shouldn’t see our face first thing in the morning. But here in cities, we have respect and our work is valued, whether it is small and big. Our work is service-driven and we have to have a good relationship with the customer,” said he on a wise note.

“Sometimes, when I see other children playing and having a good time with their parents, I want to do the same. Then reality hits me. Now I have accepted my life and am trying to do well in this field,” said Prem.


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