They’ve Travelled Hundreds of Miles to Serve You Hyderabadi Haleem
Many young men leave behind their villages to move to cities and earn a living.
As I reach Shah Ghouse restaurant in Towlichowki on a hot afternoon, a young man dressed in a red t-shirt approaches me. In Hyderabad’s distinct Urdu, he asks me whether I want haleem or sweets. I am outside the restaurant, on the street. When I ask what sweets are on the menu, he replies, “Kaddu ki kheer aur Qubani ka meetha.” The rather large ID card around his neck over his red t-shirt says his name is Ramu. I decide on haleem and Ramu waits until I pay before walking away to place my order.
Like several other men, Ramu’s job during Ramzan is to ensure customers like me don’t turn away unattended. There’s no space left inside the restaurant and the owners don’t want to lose customers – the only time of the year that several pockets of Hyderabad serve the city’s famed haleem.
For these few dozen men who spend the month working their backsides off, with no sleep and no breaks, Ramzan is a limited blessing, not just a festival. What they’ve left behind in their villages or cities, is far worse than the hardship here.
The son of a farmer, Ramu says he is likely to earn about Rs 9,000 this time. He heard of the work in Hyderabad from a friend who used to do it earlier and this is his second stint. His is a large family and farming doesn’t even begin to cover expenses.
I liked what I heard about the work and decided to help my family. It’s not easy. We stand in the hot sun for more than eight hours a day, approaching people on the road (to take orders). Sometimes, your whole body aches. If we feel really weak, we bunk a day.
But the respite comes at a price: the day’s wages, Rs 200, has to be foregone.
I feel like seeing something of the city, but I’ll have to spend money for that. Someday, when I have money, I will.
The work day starts at 3 am. They have to be ready to serve people who turn up for the sehri – the meal before the fast. Towlichowki is quite crowded even at that hour as there is a large commercial area nearby and single men working there turn up for a snack.
After serving the sehri, they can go back to sleep again at 5 am in the accommodation provided by their employers. They wake up at 2 pm and work for 12 hours straight. Many of them are vegetarian, and eat only the dal-rice-roti provided by the restaurant itself.
A native of Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh, this is Karan Kumar’s first year as a working adult. His father’s death three years ago, robbed him of choices.
“My father was a farmer and daily wage labourer. After his death, I too started working on villagers’ farms,” Karan says. The measly Rs 200-250 daily wage was simply not enough to run the family. When a villager told him about Hyderabad’s Ramzan season work, he set out. This is his third year.
I have to get my sisters married. I can’t earn Rs 10,000 a month in UP, that’s why come here and help my family.
Twenty-five-year-old Mohammad Muqeem of Lucknow has done this job for eight years now, and says he can earn between Rs 6,000 and Rs 12,000 a month. It is the tips that make up the extra money.
Married at the age of 18, Muqeem has worked in several places, but likes Hyderabad.
People here are nice and friendly, that’s why I prefer to come here every Ramzan.
If he gets a break, he visits Golconda Fort and Charminar.
But he has another compelling reason to work even under harsh conditions.
I have two children and I want them to do engineering or join the police so that they don’t become like me. I travel for work whenever I can to earn money so that it will be helpful for their education.
At 18, Karan still hasn’t given up his own dreams of completing his education. After his father’s death, continued to study while working on farms, and topped the higher secondary board examination.
I don’t know if I will be able to continue my studies. But if I can, I want to become a doctor.
(This artcile has been published as part of special arrangement with The News Minute.)
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