Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Book Boys of Mumbai

The New York Times discusses Mumbai's street kids who sell books.

From the piece...

Ever since children have slept on Mumbai’s streets, they have worked on them, whether as sellers of trinkets or of talismans. The city has thousands of street children, but only a chosen few get to sell books. These are children like Yakub, who lives with his family and has a place to call home, even if it is on the pavement and contrived of bamboo poles and scavenged tarp. Such children are considered high-value sellers, more reliable than those who live in gangs without any parental supervision. Because the cost of one book is many times that of a handful of trinkets, book suppliers, who are called “seths,” or bosses, value trustworthiness in their ranks above all else. Suppliers traditionally hire only boys. “Boys move fast in traffic, and they carry many more books,” explained Ganesh, a seth I spoke with in Haji Ali. Ganesh, who uses only one name, is just 19 years old and has 15 boys working under his direction. 

Bosses like Ganesh pick child peddlers over adults because they’re happy to earn small amounts. And they do exactly as told. Selling in traffic is also considered a starter job. After dodging speeding buses for a few years, inevitably suffering injury, child peddlers typically graduate to safer work as hawkers of fruits or temple flowers. If they’re ambitious, they become seths, working a group of children as they themselves were once worked.

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