Ram Sewak Shah is selling fruits to keep himself sane during the lockdownThe fruit seller from Motihari finds himself stranded in a city, away from his friends and family.
Restaurants and eateries in Bakhundole that would have otherwise rung in the new year by welcoming customers are closed. An eerie silence has settled over the neighbourhood.
The quiet is occasionally broken, by 47-year-old Ram Sewak Shah, clad in a pink mask and white gloves, guides his fruit-laden bicycle through the streets, yelling. “mewa chahiye, mewa”. He’s advertising his papayas, as the day’s apples and oranges have already sold out.
A few pairs of eyes peek out at him from behind curtains but they quickly retreat. No one dares call him over. There is a lockdown in place and a pandemic has swept the world.
But Shah, who hails from Motihari in Bihar, is not too worried about catching Covid-19. He’s well aware of how many cases Nepal has reported so far—14, as of Monday. But he also has no other option. If he doesn’t sell his fruits, he won’t be making any money.
“More than myself, I am worried about my wife and children,” said Shah. “I can’t walk to my hometown and the border is already locked. If I do not work, I will have nothing to eat.”
According to Binaya Shrestha, deputy director at Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market Development Board, there are over 3,000 hawkers like Shah in the Valley who roam around selling fruits. Over fifty percent of them are from India.
Shah’s day begins at 4:30 am when he heads to the market to pick up fruits. He then heads out to the alleys. But for the first 17 days of the lockdown, he stayed in his rented room. On the 18th, he gave up and began to go out again.
“I spent over 17 days inside a single room alone. I am worried about my family members as over three dozen people have already been infected with coronavirus in Bihar,” said Shah.
For the past four days, Shah has been selling fruits in Sanepa, Bakhundole, Kupondole and UN Park areas, but most of the time, people are reluctant to buy his fruits.
His roommate and friends who used to sell vegetables and fruits already left Kathmandu in the first week of March to celebrate Holi. They never returned.
“I have to spend my day all alone. Selling fruits helps keep me sane, but people are scared of me and shout at me,” said Shah, a father of two schoolgoing daughters and a son. “If I do not work, I won’t have money to call my family members or buy food.”
Shah pays Rs 4,000 for a room in Kuleshwor. When he returns home, he cooks for himself and calls his family. He’s relieved when the day is over and he has money to buy food for the next. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but he has to be up at 4:30 am.