A child selling balloons at sector 34-35 light point, Chandigarh.(Karun Sharma/HT)
Interactive sessions for the executive MBA programme at a leading business school in Delhi are organised on the weekends. The entrepreneurship course, part of the last semester was assigned to me as a visiting professor; the classes scheduled for the latter half of the day. After three hours of an intense session, it was usual for all of us to walk out together, discussing our plans for the evening.
On one such occasion, after finishing the class, I hotfooted to the parking in a tearing hurry. I had to rush home as my wife was anxiously waiting for me. In fact both of us excited like kids, were eagerly looking forward to pick up a surprise gift from our son. The sales team at the Mercedes showroom had given an assurance that they will drop shutters only after delivering the car to us.
Speeding out of the institute campus, once on the main road I found myself amid a chaotic jam. While quite at home with Delhi-NCR traffic woes, I wondered why it had to be this day! The timing couldn’t have been worse. The lanes were chock-a-block. Stuck at a traffic signal, utterly helpless, I felt suffocated.
As I rolled down the glass to feel the breeze, the sight of an elderly woman perched on the divider caught my eyes. She was deeply engrossed in inflating the balloons. Unmindful of the inclement weather, her frail arm moved in a rhythmic motion, pumping air while with the other hand she held the nozzle to the tip of the balloon. Knotted fingers artistically sealing the neck of the balloon and inflated ones deftly secured under the folded knees were unmistakable signs that she was adept at the trade. Soon, two cheerful girls in their early teens, possibly the old lady’s grandchildren collected the inflated balloons and were gently tapping at car windows to sell the product.
Overpowered by a sudden surge of emotions, I turned off the ignition and reached out to the old lady with a Rs 100 bill. Tagged at Rs 10 a piece, I picked up two balloons and asked her to keep the rest as an incentive. Taking a deep breath, with a visible sense of pride she murmured, “Hum kama kar khaten hain, mangkar nahin (We earn our living but don’t beg)”.
I was overwhelmed by her attitude, steadfast in the face of abject poverty. As the traffic began to inch forward, I hurriedly jumped into the car with the pair of balloons. Late in the evening when I made it home, the balloons proved to be a blessing in disguise in cheering up my wife and adding colour to the beige interiors of our new car.
The following week, I began the class with balloons in my hand, recasting last week’s narrative. Resilience and carpe diem or ‘seize the day’; the essence of entrepreneurial philosophy couldn’t have been better explained.
Devoid of any support, always on the edge, these footpath entrepreneurs are an epitome of the human will to survive. The flame of indomitable spirit of fellow countrymen needs to be nurtured passionately. Fortunate among us can pitch in. A symbolic gesture of buying a pair of balloons can make their day; a family meal with dignity.
(The writer teaches at Aligarh Muslim University)