In the scheme of everyday things, perhaps, it is not difficult to miss the little bright spots of happiness that we might encounter in the city’s nooks and corners, but there’s one spot that is hard to miss. And that spot is occupied by Md Nasim, our quintessential weight machinewala. He is ever-so-ready to greet you with a big warm grin and a tinkle of his bell.
The pavement right in front of the corporation building in New Market has been Nasim’s home since the past one and a half years. “I walked into this city in my early teens. I don’t remember the name of the person who brought me here. He promised me a job in the city and soon I found work as a helper in a hotel,” Nasim says while handing over the change to his customer.
Nasim’s trade is dwindling and he is one among the only few left in the city. With the advent of automated electronic weight machines in most malls, pharmacies and metro stations, there are few takers left for Nasim’s antiquated weight machine. Most people feel that these weight machines would not give an accurate number.
But the grim situation will not deter Nasim from doing what he does. Explaining his decision to join this trade, Nasim says through his gutkha-stained teeth, “I had an accident a few years ago and had to undergo a surgery on my hip bone. I have not been able to walk comfortably since. So I quit my job at the hotel. Who would have a limping man for such a job?”
“I sit here from 8.30 in the morning till afternoon, and then I shift to Roxy cinema in the evening since I get more customers there.” When asked about his earnings, he said, “I earn upto Rs 50-60 a day and get around twenty-five to thirty customers. That’s more than enough to afford two square meals a day.”
Moving through life with a swagger, Nasim says, “I don’t think people will stop coming to me and if such a day ever comes, I’ll move onto other job.” “In this city there’s no dearth of ways to earn money. I don’t have to pay any room rent. The person who has allowed me to sleep at his place at night is kind-hearted, he hasn’t charged me anything all these years.”
“This city is more my home than my village Makhdumpur in Jehanabad, Bihar. I know the streets of this place better than the streets of my native place,” says a chirpy Nasim. Sarkar babu, as Nasim likes to call one of his regular customers, is an employee of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Here’s what he has to say about Nasim. “This profession will never vanish but yes, they may go down in numbers. Not everybody will go to the metro or the malls to check their weight.”
Not very far away, sits Md Rafi with his weight machine, whose optimism has been seared, only a little though, by the intense heat of the day. “Who likes to sit on the footpath all day in this sweltering heat? We do it to feed ourselves,” complains Rafi. “I sit here all day, beginning from 8 in the morning till 10 at night. All I earn is just Rs 60-70, which is just about enough for me. I don’t need to send money to my family since my sons are earning,” he adds.
Nasim seems to take life in his stride and is not concerned with the hardships. “Aadat ban gayi (it has become a habit now). While there are lots of ways to earn here, there are hardly any jobs in Bihar. People shall never stop coming to us. There are still many who believe in the old way of life. Hence, I will continue to be in this profession as long as my health persists.”True, old habits die hard but how long these men with their little, round weight machines will continue to eke out a living is a big question mark.