I could feel the tension. The man serving chai at the corner stall looked at his two customers as they drank his tea, and in his eyes was a plea for them to drink faster. He watched them for a moment more as they slowly sipped the piping hot tea and then decided that the loss of two glasses was better than the loss of the kettle, makeshift table and other empty tumblers. He picked them all up and before the startled eyes of his tea drinking customers ran for his life. I watched him scurrying away, makeshift table in one hand, kettle and empty glasses in the other, his thin skinny legs going at top speed down the road.
Not so lucky was the man selling trinkets, plastic bangles, cheap earrings and plastic goggles. His table was bigger. Unlike the tea man he could not take his things and run. He looked up with surprise at the municipal van that stopped in front of him. He watched with dismay bordering on tears as two men in khaki stepped out, and grabbed his table.
I watched his wares fall all over the road. The men in khaki were rough. They pushed the man selling trinkets as he tried to save his things. He fell, plastic bangles in his hand. They broke as he fell. The van sped away.
I picked the man up. He pushed my hand away and grabbed the bangles lying on the ground. He picked them up, then sat on the pavement, put his head in his hand and wept. I have very rarely seen grown men cry. In his tears I saw a family that would go hungry and children staring at a father who returned home empty handed.
There was one broken plastic bangle in his hand. I took it gently from his fingers and placed hundred rupees instead. He barely looked up as I walked away.
I looked out of my home the next morning, plastic bangle in hand. I heard the sound of carpenters hammering away in the next colony. I watched as a house was extended a few square feet onto a road he did not own. I saw walls being built, girders being placed and land being robbed, land that did not belong to him.
This was someone who did not need to steal. His cars spoke of wealth and affluence, and yet worse than a common thief he stole a few square feet he could easily have bought elsewhere.
No municipal van came to break his structure. He had money to pay them off.
In my mind I saw the man selling trinkets as he sat on the pavement again; there was one broken plastic bangle in his hand. I watched him crying as the municipal van broke his stall and drove away…!
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